Alfred Newman: The Original

Alfred Newman was born in 1901 in Connecticut.  Born into a large family, he was interested in the piano at an extremely young age.  He took piano lessons and then quickly began performing in recitals and in theaters.  Attracting attention as a child prodigy, he attended Von Ende School of Music and studied piano with Sigismund Stojowski.  He also took compositions classes and learned about counterpoint and harmony.

Moving to New York with his family seemed a wise choice, with Newman performing at various venues like the Harlem Opera House and Strand Theater as a pianist starting at age thirteen.  It was through these performances that Newman jumped on the vaudeville circuit.  He became the pianist for star Grace La Rue and her show, Hitchy-Koo in 1917.  Many times he would conduct certain performances.  His conducting led to becoming a music director on Broadway at the young age of seventeen.  He conducted several Gershwin revues and musicals like George White’s Scandals (1920 and 1921), Funny Face (1927), and Treasure Girl (1928). 

Upon connecting with stage composer Irving Berlin, Newman set up base in Los Angeles becoming a musical director for Reaching for the Moon (1930).  He also was musical director for the Chaplin film City Lights (1931).  He began working for Samuel Goldwyn at United Artists and composed scores to Street Scene (1931), and tons of films between 1931- 1935.  Newman’s biggest break-through was meeting Darryl F. Zanuck, who began working with Newman in 1935.  Also that year, Newman composed his most famous composition, the Fox Fanfare.  Newman continued to score films for other companies through this time, like RKO and Seznick International Pictures.  His classic scores around this time included The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), and The Hurricane (1937).  It was these two pictures that Newman was nominated for his first Academy Awards (and the start of the string of nominations and wins throughout his career). 

Some of his great scores came right in the late 30s and early 40s including:
Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) – his first Oscar win
Gunga Din (1939)
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Beau Geste (1939)
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)

In 1939, Newman was made the Music Director at 20th Century Fox.  He was responsible for the scoring activity within the studio and hiring of composers.  Firmly planted at 20th Century Fox, it was here Newman composed the scores to films like: Tin Pan Alley (1940) and The Mark of Zorro (1940).  There he continued to score many films with director John Ford, including several World War II docudramas and documentaries.  His lush romantic scores often worked best, films like How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Song of Bernadette (1943).        

The 1940s continued to be successful for Newman, who as musical director began hiring and hiring fellow composers David Raksin, Hugo Friedhofer and Bernard Herrmann.  Newman continued conducting, arranging and composing for such films as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), the musical State Fair (1945), The Razor’s Edge (1946), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), Captain from Castile (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948) and Twelve O’Clock High (1949).  He was also the music director (and sometimes uncredited composer) for scores composed by Cyril Mockridge like My Darling Clementine (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). 

The 1950s saw Newman arranging and musical directing more, especially as musical adaptations continued – notably the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.  He scored such films as All About Eve (1950), David and Bathsheba (1951), and With a Song in My Heart (1952).  One can say something about his career in Hollywood when he scored the remake of The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), some 15 years earlier.  

In 1953, Newman added a few seconds onto the Fox Fanfare for the CinemaScope extension.  The first films used with this new fanfare were How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and the biblical epic The Robe (1953).  For 'Millionaire', Newman even stepped in front of the camera as a conductor, something he also did in a few films in the 30's.  He teamed up with composer Irving Berlin as music director and music supervisor for Call Me Madam (1953).  He also collaborated with composer Bernard Herrmann for the blood-and-sandal film The Egyptian.  He returned to several familiar faces being the conductor/music supervisor for another Berlin production There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) and scoring another Marilyn Monroe film, The Seven Year Itch (1955).  He scored the romantic drama Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), which is most known for the hit title song (by Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster).  He also scored the drama Anastasia (1956).  

Newman continued to wear many hats at Fox, being musical supervisor, conductor, and orchestrator for many Rodgers and Hammerstein productions including Carousel (1956), The King and I (1956), South Pacific (1958) and Flower Drum Song (1961).

With director George Stevens, Newman composed the memorable score to The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).  In 1960, he resigned from 20th Century Fox, but continued to find work in other studios.  He reunited with director John Ford for one last old-fashioned Western How the West Was Won (1962) and George Stevens for the biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).  As conductor/music supervisor, Newman worked on the film adaptation of Camelot (1967), which would be his last Oscar win.  His last big hit was for the disaster drama Airport (1970) which he completed a few weeks before his death in February, 1970.

Alfred Newman's touch on film scoring is still around, with his fanfare still being used by 20th Century Fox.  His Newman System, a special print of the film to easily synchronize the music and film-still used in every recording studio.  He felt comfortable with any genre, from musical adaptations, to heavy melodramas, comedies and epics.  His musical style fit the picture with his old-world composing style, and his conducting experience led to some of the best orchestral performances for films.  His record at the Academy Awards is still legendary, with an astounding 45 nominations (many of which appearing in the same year).  His record of nominations was eventually broken by John Williams, who played piano on several scoring sessions with Newman.  Of those nominations, he won 9 Academy Awards.

In addition to his music, his family has continued the family legacy with brothers Lionel and Emil (Oscar winner and nominee, respectively), uncle to songwriter/composer Randy Newman, composer/musician children Thomas Newman, David Newman and Maria Newman.  The scoring stage at 20th Century Fox naturally was named the Newman Scoring Stage after its renovation in 1997.  

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  1. Awesome first post. Looking forward to more!

    I actually just read some history on the Fox Fanfare in Mike Matessino's liner notes for the A New Hope SE soundtrack. Originally a very short cue written in the mid-30's, Newman expanded it for films using the CinemaScope process in 1954. By the late 60's, CinemaScope was all but extinct and the fanfare was used inconsistently until George Lucas resurrected it for Star Wars. It was only after this that it became a staple of Fox pictures.

    As we know, John Williams rerecorded it for Empire Strikes back and Elliot Goldenthal butchered it for Alien 3.

  2. I did know about that CinemaScope extension, it always led so perfectly into Williams' recordings. In the 90s, it was re-orchestrated slightly when the new-CGI version came out. I think only the Williams recording was for the Star Wars films.