It was so sad to hear of the death of Marni Nixon, a wonderful lady with whom I’d just recently conducted a long, on-camera career history (for the Film Music Foundation, to be posted online soon). I wrote this obituary for Variety that talks a bit about her three famous “ghost singing” gigs: for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. But she was much more than that, singing (from the late 1940s on) as part of the Roger Wagner Chorale, in many classical and opera performances, and even classic TV themes (she was in the choir for I Married Joan in 1954!).
Category Archives: Obituaries
The late, great Van Alexander
We lost a beloved figure in the Hollywood music community on Sunday. Van Alexander, the bandleader and composer who (with singer Ella Fitzgerald) wrote the jazz classic “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”; who scored dozens of favorite 1960s sitcoms as well as several cult-classic films; and who wrote a seminal work on arranging for big bands that influenced dozens of arrangers in later years, died at the age of 100. I wrote an obituary for Variety that sums up his career, but I’d also like to point you to a story I wrote about his 100th birthday party just over two months ago that shows how strongly the community felt about him. Van was not only a fantastic musician, he was a sharp and very funny guy.
Robert Drasnin, composer for classic TV, dies
Bob Drasnin was one of the last of the great composers of the classic era of TV that spanned the 1950s through the 1980s. He scored everything from The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90 to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. I was proud to have included excepts from all of his U.N.C.L.E. music on the albums I produced for FSM a few years ago. In his later years he was a teacher and mentor to dozens if not hundreds of film-scoring students… and he was a nice guy with great, often very funny, stories about his years in the trenches. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; and here is a longer, more detailed appreciation of his work.
Leigh Chapman, “U.N.C.L.E.” Actress, Writer
We knew her as Sarah Johnson, the beautiful, very efficient (and gun-toting) secretary in U.N.C.L.E. headquarters on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But after a handful of guest spots in ’60s TV, she ditched the acting career for a typewriter, penning some of our other favorite spy shows including Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief. Later she wrote a number of action and adventure films (including the original treatment for guilty-pleasure blaxploitation flick Truck Turner, starring Isaac Hayes). Here’s my obituary for Variety.
Ian Fraser, TV’s most honored musician
Ian Fraser, whose extraordinary musicianship and good taste lent a polished, classy sound to many of television’s great musical specials, died this morning at his home after a long battle with cancer. Anyone who knew Ian adored him. He held the record for the most Emmy wins (11) and nominations (32 total) within the music categories over the years. I wrote the obituary for Variety, drawing in part on a video interview I did with him for the Archive of American Television in 2012. Julie Andrews and songwriter Leslie Bricusse, two dear friends, were happy to contribute reminiscences to an appreciation I’ve since written of this delightful and immensely talented Englishman.
John Leach, cimbalom player, dies
This amazing player of unusual percussion instruments — especially in film scores like The Ipcress File, The Quiller Memorandum, The Man Who Would Be King and others — died recently in London. I had interviewed him in 2008 about his work with John Barry, especially the unusual sound of the theme for TV’s The Persuaders!, and wrote this appreciation of the man.
Marvin Hamlisch dies at 68
Unexpected, and very sad: The death of Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy winner Marvin Hamlisch. Anyone who knew Marvin couldn’t help but smile at his energy, creativity and sense of humor. To this day I still have his cell phone number on a Post-It next to my desk. He was so kind, giving me all the time I needed while writing the Spy Who Loved Me chapter in my Bond book; and he really liked what I had written about his clever, should-have-been-nominated score for The Informant! Here is the obituary, and here is an appreciation of Marvin’s music that I was happy to write for Variety.
John Barry obituary and appreciation
This was a tough one to write. I was in South Carolina, visiting my dying brother, when word came that John Barry had died of a massive heart attack. I knew the career so well — and we had been friends for over 20 years — that I was able to write it in my hotel room before getting on a plane to head home. Two days later I wrote this appreciation of the man, and five months later I wrote about his memorial concert in London.
Allyn Ferguson dead at 85
Allyn Ferguson was like so many great TV composers: You knew his tunes but most folks didn’t know his name. Think of Charlie’s Angels, Barney Miller and all those Norman Rosemont-produced TV-movies based on classic literature. He was enormously talented, had been around forever, and had one of those wonderfully crusty exteriors. I liked him a lot. Here’s his obituary.
Earle Hagen, television music pioneer
Earle Hagen, who composed the iconic themes for The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy and many other TV classics, died at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. I knew Earle well and I loved the guy. We first met when I was writing my first book, on TV themes; he allowed me to audit his BMI film-scoring class; and I consulted on the writing of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; here‘s a longer appreciation I created for The Film Music Society; and here is the five-hour interview we did together in 1997 for the Archive of American Television. I was glad to contribute a few quotes to the Los Angeles Times obit on Earle, too.