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Oscars '98

The Newman Conquests

With 70 Oscar nominations in film music, Alfred, Emil and Lionel and their modern-day descendants outscore the rest.

March 22, 1998|Amy Wallace | Amy Wallace is a Times staff writer

Fox Stage 1, a cavernous, 7,500-square-foot soundstage built in 1928, has long been the spot where big-name talents recorded movie music. Horne, Merman, Presley and Temple laid down tracks there, not to mention some of the best orchestral musicians in the land.

But last January, when 400 musicians, composers and sound technicians gathered on the stage's hard maple floor, they came to honor a name that to them was even bigger: Newman.

The newly renovated room on the 20th Century Fox lot was getting a new title, the Newman Sound Stage, and the lack of specificity about which Newman was significant. With all the accomplished musicians, conductors and film composers in the family--Alfred, David, Emil, Lionel, Maria, Randy and Thomas--it would be difficult to choose just one.

"The Newman family is now a dynasty," John Williams, the composer and five-time Academy Award-winner, told those who had come to dedicate the fabled room. "You have the Bachs of Leipzig and the Strausses of Vienna. And now you've got the Newmans of Hollywood."

Among them, the members of this musical clan have been nominated for 70 Oscars, with Alfred, the family patriarch, racking up an incredible 45 nominations by himself. David Newman, one of Alfred's sons, is nominated this year for the orchestral score to Fox's animated remake of "Anastasia" (just as his father was in 1956, for the score to the original film starring Ingrid Bergman). Should David win, he would bring the total number of Newman-held Oscars to 11.

More impressive even than the family's accolades is its breadth of work. From "All About Eve" (1950) and "Hello, Dolly!" (1969) to "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994) and "Toy Story" (1995), Newmans have made music for all kinds of movies. They've scored live-action and animation, dramas and comedies, Westerns, religious films and even a few horror flicks.

According to Jon Burlingame, who is writing a book about the family titled "The Newmans of Hollywood," the older generation--brothers Alfred, Lionel and Emil--played a significant part in creating and defining the art of film composing beginning in the early 1930s.

Today, as many bemoan a decline in the quality of film music and as collections of pop songs often take the place of orchestral scores, the younger Newmans--particularly Alfred's sons David and Thomas and their cousin, Randy--are seen as stalwart defenders of the struggling art form.

The numerous Newmans are so varied in their accomplishments--Alfred's daughter Maria, for example, is a classical composer with no Hollywood ties--that Burlingame had to hang a huge family tree on his wall to keep track of them all.

"Like the Hustons and the DeMilles," he said, "they're one of Hollywood's first families."

A DYNASTY BEGINS

In 1900, a son was born to Michael and Luba Newman, a New Haven, Conn., fruit peddler and his wife. The baby, Alfred, was the first of what would be 10 children. He would grow up to be a Hollywood legend.

Alfred's musical talent showed itself early--he gave his first piano recital at the age of 8, and by 18 he was working on Broadway as a conductor. During the 1920s, he worked with such popular songwriters as George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers and was touted in the press as the youngest musical director in the history of Broadway.

The debut of sound in the movies, with "The Jazz Singer" in 1927, made musicals all the rage, and Alfred caught Hollywood's attention. Irving Berlin brought him west in 1930 to be musical director on the United Artists film "Reaching for the Moon." Alfred planned to stay three months. He never left.

Alfred met Samuel Goldwyn, the independent producer who released his films through United Artists, soon after he arrived and served as UA's musical director for eight years. But it was at Fox, where Darryl F. Zanuck made him music director in 1940, that Alfred made his most lasting mark.

During nearly two decades there, Alfred oversaw, composed or conducted the music for more than 200 films. He wrote the horn fanfare still heard over the Fox studio's screen logo (which has recently been rerecorded in a session conducted by his son, David). He adapted and wrote dozens of scores and helped launch the careers of several other film composers, including David Raksin, whom he hired to write the haunting score to the 1944 film "Laura."

"In the history of movie music, there were three important pioneers who shaped how music was written and played," Burlingame said, noting that two of them--Max Steiner ("Gone With the Wind") and Erich Wolfgang Korngold ("The Adventures of Robin Hood")--were from Europe. The lone American was Alfred Newman, and according to Burlingame he remains Hollywood's greatest conductor ever.

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