Rudy Schrager was one of a legion of émigré composers who came to American motion pictures in the years ahead of and during World War II, when Hollywood filled up with expatriate Europeans. Born Rudolph Noachim Schrager in 1900, in a section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that has since become part of the Ukraine, he was trained as a musician in the teens and '20s. He subsequently emigrated to the United States and made his way to Hollywood, where his earliest known movie work consisted of an uncredited contribution to the score of Universal Pictures' My Man Godfrey (1936). Three years later, he was one of several hands that contributed to the score of 20th Century-Fox's Stanley and Livingstone (1939). During the early '40s, Schrager wrote music for radio, and he saw his first lingering success in 1942, when he scored a Lux Radio Theatre version of "City for Conquest," one theme from which was later picked up as the permanent secondary opening theme for the program itself, which ran into 1957. He also wrote music for the detective series Box 13, and for a broadcast version of The Wizard of Oz.
In 1942, Schrager returned to movies as the music director on Private Snuffy Smith, a low-budget Monogram Pictures release, and two years later he was also composing for films, making the rounds between the B-units of majors studios, such as Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox, with occasional forays to Poverty Row outfit Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), on Take It Big (1944), Career Girl (1944), Tokyo Rose (1945), Deadline for Murder (1946), and Swamp Fire (1946). Though he was trained classically, Schrager could also loosen up, as when he served as music director for the country music showcase Dixie Jamboree or the breezy musical Take It Big.
After years of laboring on less-than-prominent B-pictures, Schrager's career took a decided upward turn in 1947. He still worked on B-movies for the majors, including the delinquency drama Dangerous Years (1947) at Fox and the Westerns Gunfighters and Coroner Creek at Columbia Pictures; but some of the B's that he scored were decidedly more memorable, as exemplified by two brilliant examples of film noir adapted from the works of Cornell Woolrich: John Reinhardt's The Guilty, from Monogram, and Maxwell Shane's Fear in the Night. Fear in the Night was the better and more widely seen of the two, but events would unfold over the next few years that would earn Schrager more money and musical exposure for some of his work on The Guilty. Schrager's major breakthrough, however, was his work as music supervisor on Charles Chaplin's production of Monsieur Verdoux (1947). This was easily most prestigious picture with which he'd ever been involved, receiving the widest release and the greatest critical attention of any movie he'd ever worked on. A year later, Schrager scored Sleep, My Love, directed by Douglas Sirk, a UA release of a Mary Pickford production. Like most film composers who didn't work full-time for a studio music department, Schrager was scrambling for work regularly during the late '40s, as film production slackened and budgets shrank. It was during this period that he first became associated with David Chudnow, a music director and producer who specialized in assembling scores for producers and directors. Their early collaborations were Sleep, My Love and The Green Promise; ultimately, Schrager was one of a handful of composers who fell in with Chudnow in a fascinating musical and business venture, in response to a unique creative and legal situation that prevailed at the time in American entertainment.
The reason behind the retrenchment in the movie industry was the growth of television, which had been regarded as a major threat from the start of the first commercial broadcasts in 1946. Dozens of composers, including Schrager, Gilbert, and Mullendore, saw their opportunities in movies fading away amid the growth of television, and were now prevented by their union from earning anything from the new medium to make up the loss. David Chudnow provided the solution to their problem. He arranged for Schrager, Gilbert, and the others to provide him with music -- some of it new and some of it derived from scores that they had previously written and used -- which he then recorded in Europe, in new arrangements (many by Mullendore), by orchestras whose members were working almost literally for pennies an hour. Chudnow used pseudonyms for the actual composers to protect them from the wrath of the union and packaged this material -- which, so far as any documentation stated, was of European origin, by composers who were not AFM members or subject to its jurisdiction -- as a music library, and sold it to eager television producers (and even occasionally to under-budgeted movie producers). As a result of this deception, sections of Schrager's music for The Guilty (and portions of Gilbert's score for Open Secret, and a half-dozen other composers from as many movies) turned up in episodes from the first season of The Adventures of Superman; this and other music of his was made available to the producers of such series as Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Mr. and Mrs. North, Ramar of the Jungle, and others. Chudnow, who also controlled the publishing on this music and collected copyright fees on behalf of the non-existent credited authors, would quietly funnel the money paid for the use of the music to the actual composers.
It's because of this activity, and the longevity of The Adventures of Superman, in particular, on broadcast television, cable, and home video, that some of his music for an obscure little B-thriller like The Guilty has remained familiar to three generations of television viewers, in the "Superman" underscore. Schrager closed the 1940s with work on the Westerns The Sundowners (1950) and High Lonesome for Eagle Lion Films, and through his association with Chudnow, he scored the historical adventure The Eagle and the Hawk. He turned his attention to television in the 1950s and, in collaboration with Herschel Burke Gilbert, wrote music for the series Wanted: Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen, and also contributed to the scoring of Rawhide. Schrager returned to movies one last time in the biggest-budgeted project of his career, MGM's release of the Andrew Stone-directed disaster thriller The Last Voyage. During the mid-'60s, Schrager wrote the music for the series The Wackiest Ship in the Army, but by the 1970s he had retired.