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Jerry Goldsmith, 75; Created Memorable TV, Film Scores

July 23, 2004|Jon Thurber and Susan King | Times Staff Writers

Jerry Goldsmith, the Emmy- and Academy Award-winning composer who created memorable scores for films as varied as "Planet of the Apes," "Patton," "Chinatown" and "The Omen," has died. He was 75.

Goldsmith died in his sleep Wednesday night at his Beverly Hills home after a long battle with cancer, said Lois Carruth, his longtime personal assistant.

During his five-decade career in Hollywood, Goldsmith was prolific and highly sought after. He composed music for nearly 200 feature films and memorable themes for several television shows, including "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," "Dr. Kildare," "The Waltons" and "Barnaby Jones."

Goldsmith was nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning for 1976's "The Omen." His other nominations included "A Patch of Blue," "Planet of the Apes," "Patton," "Chinatown," "Under Fire," "The Wind and the Lion" and "Basic Instinct."

He was nominated for seven Emmys, winning five for "Star Trek: Voyager", the miniseries "Masada" and "QB VII," and the TV movies "Babe" and "The Red Pony." He was also nominated for numerous Grammys and Golden Globes.

Goldsmith's early TV background taught him to be fast as well as prolific. He was brought in at the last minute to replace the score of 1974's "Chinatown," and he finished the music for the film noir thriller in just 10 days. For the 1997 action thriller "Air Force One," he wrote the score in just over four weeks after the original work was rejected.

Considered an innovator, he added avant-garde instruments to film orchestras and new ideas to film scoring. In 1968's "Planet of the Apes," for example, he used stainless-steel mixing bowls to create an unusual percussion sound.

He also used his orchestras in unusual ways. For "Planet of the Apes," he had the brass players create sound by blowing into the mouthpieces of their instruments without the instruments attached.

"As modern acting came from Brando, modern film scoring came from Jerry Goldsmith," Lukas Kendall, editor and founder of Film Score Monthly, a magazine, website and record label dedicated to vintage film scores, told The Times on Thursday.

"It's very rare for a Hollywood musician to find success in one genre, but Jerry did it in every genre. For a composer to be as relevant in 2004 as he was in 1964 is unprecedented."

Director Joe Dante, who did nine movies with Goldsmith, including the "Gremlins" films and "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," told The Times on Thursday that there was a joke on his sets that if a scene wasn't working right, "Well, Jerry will save it." He said the composer's scores improved every film they worked on together.

"He never got stale. He didn't repeat himself," Dante said.

Film music historian and writer Jon Burlingame said Thursday that Goldsmith did not like to intellectualize his scores. "He operated almost viscerally and he would ascertain internally what a film needed," he said.

Goldsmith once chalked up his success to a mix of flexibility and pragmatism.

"I'm a chameleon," he told The Times' Elaine Dutka some years ago. "My longevity comes from my adaptive skills. I let the picture dictate the style. And I accept the fact that there will be gunshots and dialogue over my music. Movies are a director's medium and I'm not center stage."

Charles Bernstein, a composer and friend of Goldsmith's, said he watched Goldsmith accommodate director Rod Lurie while scoring "The Last Castle" a couple of years ago.

"He did it with such grace," Bernstein said.

Rick Berman, executive producer of several of the "Star Trek" series and films that Goldsmith composed for, said Thursday that he never saw him riled.

"If a director or a producer suggested something be altered slightly, he was always enthusiastic to do that," Berman said.

Goldsmith once said he waited until a film was at least in a rough-cut stage before he started scoring.

"I can't get ideas from a script," he once told the Washington Post. "One can look at a piece of music and envision the sound, or look at a painting and get the idea, or even read a play and imagine; but a script is just a blueprint, and what comes to the screen is so totally different that you really can't conceive of it until you see it.

"Plus, I can't really start to write until the film is locked in since we write to the 10th of a second; a foot [of film] changes and it throws off the music."

Goldsmith's scores never overpowered the material, and he knew the power of silence.

"Jerry will stop the music for 10 or 20 bars, so when it starts it will be new again," director Paul Verhoeven, who worked with Goldsmith on "Total Recall" and "Basic Instinct," told Dutka.

"Jerry gives emotional context to the images without making them cheap or hollow. There's nothing 'on the nose.' Instead of accentuating sound effects, he goes for the soul of a film."

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