By Emil Franzi
The head of an incredible musical family.
Alfred Newman (1901-1970) received nine Academy Awards in his 40 year career as composer, conductor and arranger of film music and was nominated 45 times. Only one person has garnered more – the ten awarded to Walt Disney, and only one musician has had more nominations, John Williams.
Like the first three composers featured in this series, Newman was a child prodigy with serious classical training. He differed from them only in being American born, to poor immigrant parents in New Haven, Connecticut.
Newman gave his first piano recital at age seven, He got the attention of the great Polish pianist Sigismund Stojowski and went on to win silver and gold medals in competitions judged by conductor Karl Muck and the legendary pianist/composer Ferruccio Busoni. He studied composition with Rubin Goldmark, the teacher of Leonard Bernstein, and later with Arnold Schoenberg’ At 13 he was the family bread winner with a job as piano soloist at the Strand Theater.
By age 20, Newman was working on Broadway as a conductor in musicals written by George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, and Jerome Kern…again, a similarity to his contemporaries Steiner and Tiomkin. At 30 he moved to Hollywood for a project with Irving Berlin and stayed to work for Samuel Goldwyn at MGM. In 1940, he became music director for 20th Century Fox, a position he kept for 20 years before moving to independent free-lancer.
Great film composers like Newman leave tracks in our culture long after their demise. Like Steiner’s adaptation of the then popular song “As Time Goes By” from 1942 in Casablanca or Elmer Bernstein’s “Magnificent Seven” theme from 1960, Newman can claim at least two cultural icons of his own. Please note “Conquest” from “Captain from Castile” (1947) next time you see USC play, and the fanfare still used by 20thCentury Fox.
Newman was a superb conductor, considered by many to be the finest ever to record a Hollywood production. In this egalitarian era where conductors are ranked somewhere around the armorer in a movie or the gown designer at the opera, it would make for better “products” if the conducting role was re-established to its former relevance.
Newman wrote in multiple sub genres and played many musical roles. His film adaptations for musicals including a batch of Rodgers and Hammerstein films including “State Fair”, “Carousel”, “The King and I”, “South Pacific” and “Flower Drum Song” as well as “Call Me Madam”, “April Love” and “Camelot”.
Among the over 200 films for which he wrote music are 32 westerns, starting with “Flaming Guns” in 1932 and including “Jesse James” (1939), “Drums Along the Mohawk” (1939), “The Westerner” (1940), “My Darling Clementine” (1946), “Broken Arrow” (1950), “Viva Zapata” (1952) – and yes, Mexican revolution movies count as westerns- “The Bravados” (1958), “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962), “Nevada Smith” (1966) and “Firecreek” (1968). Note that three of them were directed by John Ford.
Many consider his greatest western score to be “How the West Was Won” (1962). It is ranked 25th in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years of Film Scores, but more important, the five other gentlemen who share my VOICES OF THE WEST radio show consider it the top of the Top Ten in the western category.
Alfred Newman is the patriarch of a musical family the largest and most prolific this sides of the Bachs. Both his brothers, Lionel and Emil, wrote, arranged and conducted over 100 movies themselves. His sons David and Thomas have scored almost as many films as their father, his daughter Maria is also a composer, as is his nephew Randy, his grandnephew Joey, and his granddaughter Jaclyn Newman Dorn is an award-winning music editor.
NEXT : Victor Young