LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Elmer Bernstein, whose eclectic film
music ranged from the rousing theme of "The Magnificent Seven" to the
lighthearted score for "Thoroughly Modern Millie," for which he won an
Oscar, died Wednesday at his home in Ojai, Calif. He was 82.
composer died after a lengthy illnessthe exact cause of death has
not been determinedwith his wife, Eve, and his two daughters,
Elizabeth and Emilie, by his side, a spokesperson said.
worked steadily in films and television since the early '50s, writing
more than 200 major film and television scores, encompassing a range of
"Never has anyone reinvented
themselves so many times," said Richard Kraft, Bernstein's former agent
and longtime friend. "And he didn't just compose one film in each
genre, he did a few. He would become the go-to guy for completely
different genres, and he kept that going for 50 years. From the first
Oscar (nomination) to the last is almost a five-decade span."
recently, Bernstein's "Fanfare for the Hollywood Bowl" was performed by
conductor John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in June to
celebrate the inaugural season of the Bowl's new stage.
wrote his last major film score, a lush evocation of '50s melodrama,
for Todd Hayne's 2002 drama "Far From Heaven," for which Bernstein
received the last of his 14 Academy Award nominations.
last project was a documentary on Cecil B. DeMille for TCM (Turner
Classic Movies)," said Jeff Bond, senior editor of Film Score Monthly.
"It was a great score that let him revisit his 'Ten Commandments' style
and adapt some early silent film scores."
memorable film score depends on a memorable melody, Bernstein insisted,
reminiscing last year at a luncheon of the American Society of Music
Arrangers and Composers. Calling melody "the emotional core of a film,"
Bernstein said "a good line will always win."
introduced jazz elements into American film scoring with 1955's "The
Man With the Golden Arm," Otto Preminger's groundbreaking drama about
heroin addiction, and went further in that direction with 1957's "Sweet
Smell of Success," which captured the moody tempos of Broadway by
night, and 1962's "Walk on the Wild Side," scored to the rhythms of a
New Orleans bordello.
simultaneously, his work also ranged from sweeping epics like 1956's
"The Ten Commandments," with all its biblical sound and fury, to
intimate Americana like 1962's "To Kill a Mockingbird," which
introduced its themes with just a piano and solo flute.
turning out his indelible theme for 1960's "The Magnificent Seven"
it is quoted in Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" and,
inevitably, evokes a laugh of recognition from audiencesBernstein
frequently turned to Western fare in the '60s. He scored John Wayne's
last seven films, including "True Grit" and "The Shootist."
the '70s and '80s, he was frequently sought out by a new generation of
filmmakers including John Landis and Ivan Reitman who had been raised
on his films and who invited him to score such comedies as "National
Lampoon's Animal House," "Airplane!" "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters."
began a long-running collaboration with director Martin Scorsese when
he composed the score for Stephen Frears' 1990 feature "The Grifters,"
which Scorsese produced. Scorsese and Bernstein worked together on
"Cape Fear," "The Age of Innocence" and "Bringing Out the Dead."
liked taking risks with new directors," Kraft said. "He knew what made
movies work. He brought new filmmakers his expertise, but he was not
stodgy in his expertise. The knowledge and experience he brought to
other people and their films can never be replicated."
was born April 4, 1922, in New York. By age 12, he had earned a
scholarship in piano, given by Juilliard teacher Henriette Michelson,
who guided him throughout his career as a pianist.
was invited to demonstrate improvisations for composer Aaron Copland,
who was impressed by the young musician and recommended him to Israel
Citkowitz, who became his teacher. Bernstein later credited Citkowitz
for his musical training.
his career as a concert pianist and, during World War II, arranged folk
music and wrote dramatic scores for the Army Air Corps Radio Shows. In
1949, two shows that Bernstein did for United Nations Radio brought him
to the attention of Sidney Buchman, then-vp of Columbia Pictures, who
offered him work writing music for 1951's "Saturday's Hero" and 1952's
Even before it truly
began, Bernstein's career was almost derailed by the blacklisting of
the '50s. Having been sympathetic to left-wing causes, he found work
hard to come byhe considered himself "graylisted"and had to
settle for such low-budget science-fiction films as "Cat Women of the
Moon" and "Robot Monster," earning just $800 for the latter.
DeMille's "Ten Commandments" proved a turning point in his life.
Originally hired to write just the film's dance music, Bernstein was
soon asked to write the score for the entire picture.
In addition to his wife and daughters, Bernstein also is survived by his sons Peter and Gregory and five grandchildren.
Memorial plans have not yet been decided.