The Film and Television Music of David Rose

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Gareth Bramley conducts an in-depth investigation into


The name David Rose may not mean much to the average TV viewer or cinema-goer but when you explore the wealth of material he composed and arranged in this medium you begin to appreciate the vast legacy of music that was left behind when he died in 1990. Hardly a day went by in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when a TV show bearing his trademark theme or background score wasn’t being shown somewhere in the world. In fact, by 1970 a survey showed that David Rose’s music was being used in twenty two shows in syndication and re-runs and that was just in the United States!

Sadly, a lot of David’s glorious music for these shows remains unreleased but it is here that we will now explore his output for film and TV, paying particular attention to the latter where most of his later work appeared. In addition Rose recorded hundreds of popular songs and tunes - not only composed by himself, but those written by others – firstly for RCA, then MGM and Capitol; before his final studio recordings for Polydor in the early 70s. One only has to check his discography to appreciate the full range of his talents and to discover that he arranged so many of the contemporary themes composed by his colleagues. These included many ‘epics’ such as ‘Ben Hur’, ‘Exodus’, ’Spartacus’, ‘10 Commandments’, ‘The Robe’ and ‘Cleopatra’ (to name only a few) and westerns such as ‘Cimarron’ and ‘The Alamo’ in addition to his own score for ‘Hombre’. He also recorded his own versions of the scores from ‘Butterfield 8’ and ‘The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm’. Add to this the hundreds of orchestral themes and songs he covered and you can well imagine the number of recordings he made.

I personally stumbled upon David’s music from watching episodes of ‘Bonanza’ and ‘Little House on the Prairie’ when they were repeated. But even before this I had bought those superb albums he had recorded in London for Polydor in the 1970s: The first was ‘Portrait’ (1972) – an album of twelve popular tunes from the time issued in January 1973 and later reissued in July ’76 as ‘In the Still of the Night’. The second was ‘The Very Thought of You’ (April 1974) with two of his own compositions ‘When You’re With Me’ and ‘King’s Road’; and finally ‘Melody Fair’, an album of 13 contemporary easy listening tunes, issued in September 1977.

His 1962 ‘Stripper’ LP - recorded for MGM - was re-released in November 1971. Some of his popular MGM material was also re-issued on ‘The Special Magic of David Rose’ (December ’74), including the self-composed: ‘Holiday for Strings’, ‘One More Time’, ‘Holiday for Trombones’ and ‘Dance of the Spanish Onion’; and ‘Great Orchestras of the World’ (May 1978) was a re-issue of some of the popular film themes he arranged and recorded for MGM in 1961.

David was actually born in London on 15 June 1910, and during his career he was an established composer, arranger, conductor, pianist, and orchestra and band leader. His work for TV alone earned him four Emmy awards. Having moved to Chicago at the age of four Rose entered the army during World War 2, and it was at this time that he met Red Skelton who asked him to be the conductor for his ‘Raleigh Cigarettes Programme’. He joined the cast in 1948 and then worked with Skelton on his TV show for over 20 years between 1951 and 1971. He even worked in radio with NBC and Mutual, where he had his own show (with orchestra) for which he wrote the tune ‘California Melodies’ after the title of the programme. He worked for MGM from 1949-1963, composing both for films and records – writing the scores for more than thirty-six of their films. Other radio show themes composed by Rose in the 1940s and 1950s included ‘Hallmark Theme’ for the radio series ‘Hallmark Playhouse’, and ‘Bold Venture’ for the radio and TV series of the same name.

Most people, however, remember David for his striking composition ‘The Stripper’ which was recorded in 1958 and reissued countless times on single, LP and CD - though when first issued in May1962 it was actually a B Side (of ‘Ebb Tide’ from the MGM film ‘The Sweet Bird of Youth’). This tune has since been used in many film and TV shows and topped the charts in the States in May 1962. It was actually adapted from a short piece originally created for the 1958 TV show ‘Burlesque’ for which he wrote the score, and had only come to light when MGM executives were looking for a B side for the ‘Ebb Tide’ single. ‘Stripper’ was re-issued by MGM in April 1971 - this time backed with another 1962 track called ‘Night Train’.

It was Rose’s ‘Holiday for Strings’ which was used as the theme for the aforementioned ‘Red Skelton’ TV show; recorded for an MGM LP in 1950 but not released till August 1955 (being a remake of his earlier 1942 RCA recording which reached No.2 in the US charts in 1944). A version was also released by HMV on an EP in 1955, the same year that an extended concert version was written for the MGM film ‘Unfinished Dance’ and issued on the ‘David Rose Plays David Rose’ LP. Rose also composed other themes for the show including his ‘clip-clop’ theme for the character Freddy the Freeloader (‘Lovable Clown’) which has recently been issued on the 2-CD set ‘King of Strings – The Hits and More’ by Jasmine. Others composed for the show were ‘Silent Spot’ (‘The Sad (Sad) Rockin’ Horse’) (1961) and ‘The Christmas Tree’ (1959) (both recorded on ‘David Rose Plays David Rose’) and ‘Our Waltz’ written as far back as 1942 winning him one of five Grammy awards.

Whilst composing for ‘Red Skelton Show’ and ‘Red Skelton Revue’ David was conductor and musical director on eight episodes of ‘It’s a Great Life’ (1954-55) and after acting as Musical Director on the Academy Awards show of 1956 was MD on two episodes of the TV series ’Showers of Stars’. The same year he composed and conducted the theme music for the popular US TV series ‘Highway Patrol’ which ran from 1955-1959. This piece was composed under his pseudonym Ray Llewellyn and versions by Ken Mackintosh and Cyril Stapleton were released in Britain. This main theme bore a resemblance to ‘march’ theme which was written for ‘Men into Space’. The name Llewellyn was used when he needed to score for TV shows when working outside union jurisdiction, especially for the low-budget series produced by ZIV-TV. Other shows scored under his pseudonym were ‘Martin Kane - Private Eye’ (1949-54), ‘I Led Three Lives’ (1953-56), ‘Meet Corliss Archer’ (1954), ‘Science Fiction Theatre’ (1955-57), ‘Dr. Christian’ (1956), ‘Sea Hunt’ (1958-61) and ‘King of Diamonds’ (1961).

More TV series followed with the themes for ‘Mr Adams & Eve’ (1957-58), ‘Bold Venture’ (1959), ‘The Jim Backus Show’- ‘Hot off the Wire’ (1960-1), and ‘Men into Space’ (1959-60). In between these he was musical director on two TV specials with Fred Astaire. He also wrote the themes for the series ‘The Case of the Dangerous Robin’ (1960-61) and the ‘The Monroes’ (1966-7). Rose also worked as musical director on ‘The Bob Hope Show’ and ‘Jack Benny Show’ - both of which began in the 50s.

By this time David was becoming more and more sought after by TV producers and in 1967 David Dortort asked him to score the music for the pilot for his then-new western series ’The High Chaparral’. This was to become one of the most popular westerns of all time – repeated by the BBC year after year until their rights lapsed in 1994. Aside from the ‘standout’ title theme (which had previously been used in an episode of ‘Bonanza’) he wrote various themes for characters in the pilot episode, including the main heroine ‘Victoria’, and John’s first wife ‘Annalee’. In 1968 David recorded the up-tempo 4th season version of his theme for a Capitol single in the States (backed with a track called ‘Merci Cherie’). In Germany the single appeared with the ‘Victoria’ theme as the B side – which was also featured on the 1968 Capitol LP (USA) called ‘Something Fresh’. Rose’s single of ‘High Chaparral’ appeared on the Bear Family collection ‘From Alamo to El Dorado’ released in June 1997.

Sadly, no original music was issued from this series but in March 1971 a lavishly-illustrated double LP set of ‘Music from Bonanza & High Chaparral’ was released, produced by lyricist Joe Lubin and David Cavanaugh of Capitol Records. This contained Rose’s theme for ‘The Big Bonanza’ (see later), ‘Jamie’ based on a regular character in the series, ‘The Big Man’ and the original series theme. From ‘The High Chaparral’ series were David’s theme ‘Victoria’ and a vocal based on the title theme entitled ‘All for You’ - with lyrics by creator David Dortort and Jay Lubin. Although the LP was credited to The Xanadu Pleasure Dome (where Xanadu was the production company behind the series), all the tracks were arranged and conducted by Sydney Dale and recorded at CTS Studios London under the auspices of John Richards. Sadly, in the UK the album was released as a single LP and ‘Jamie’, ‘Big Man’, and ‘All For You’ did not appear. No CD of any of these recordings has appeared, thus far.

Also in 1967 Rose composed another western theme for ‘Dundee and The Culhane’ which ran for only a mere thirteen episodes and ‘Bracken’s World’ (1969-70). The latter theme (all 57 seconds of it!) was included on his latest LP ‘Happy Heart’ released on Capitol.

Rose had scored some of the early ‘Bonanza’ episodes after it had begun in 1959 and creator David Dortort asked him to score further episodes of the ‘all-new’ ‘Bonanza’ for the 12th season in 1970. Rose called the new theme ‘The Big Bonanza’ which was a re-orchestration of the ‘Ponderosa’ theme he had composed in 1959. In 1972, after the death of Dan Blocker, one of its main characters, the opening titles were re-shot and the Livingston-Evans’ title theme was replaced with a tune which later became the theme to ‘Little House on the Prairie’.

His original music for the some of the early episodes was re-recorded – with his concert orchestra - and released on an MGM LP in the States. On the original LP sleeve notes David commented: "Making the right choice of basic material turned out to be a time-consuming job. I finally selected eleven themes I had composed for various ‘Bonanza’ television shows, plus the title song which was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. I spent the better part of two months developing my own compositions, and then I got to work orchestrating all twelve completed tunes". For the actual soundtrack scores Rose used a 34-piece orchestra at the Scoring Stage at Paramount Studios for the first eleven series (1959-70) and Warner Brothers Studios for the last three (1970-72). A special cue (‘The Peacock’) was composed for the logo (NBC Living Colour Peacock) which was used to open the show when it was first shown in colour in 1961 (‘Bonanza’ was the first regular TV series to be filmed in colour). Other special and regular cues were the ‘sting’ for the ‘episode title’ (appearing directly after the main credits) which again was based on the theme (he wrote) called ‘The Ponderosa’ and the commercial break bumpers.

The ‘Bonanza’ album was recorded in December 1960 (with his Concert Orchestra) and released August the following year. The title theme and two others from the original album (‘Ponderosa’ and ‘Hoss’) appeared on the ‘Very Best of David Rose’ CD issued by Taragon in the USA in February 1996. The complete album was issued on CD by Harkit Records in March 2008 – though it was dubbed from LP. The 1960 MGM recording on the ‘Bonanza’ title theme was released by Bear Family on ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ in December 1999. The guitarist on the original TV version was Tommy Tedesco, who also played on ‘Batman’, ‘Green Acres’ and ‘M.A.S.H.’ and on hundreds of pop records in the 60s and 70s. The music for this theme was created entirely by Rose (and arranged for the show by Billy May) since Livingston & Evans merely gave producer Dortort a set of lyrics which neither he nor Rose liked. They were sung (by three of the cast) in the pilot episode but thankfully it was edited out before broadcast.

Star of ‘Bonanza’, Michael Landon, produced the memorable ‘Little House on the Prairie’ in 1974 which ran 205 episodes between 1974 and 1983 and David wrote some tremendous scores – it was so popular that he was nominated for four Emmy awards – winning two (see below). His theme was recorded, quite faithfully, under the title ‘When You’re With Me’ for his second Polydor album in 1974 ‘The Very Thought of You’, again produced by Wayne Bickerton and recorded at Abbey Road with Tony Clarke as engineer. Sadly, no other music from the show has materialised apart from the main title theme which appears in its original format on the CD ‘Television’s Greatest Hits Vol. 3 - 70s & 80s’. ‘Little House…’ was produced by Kent McCray who had worked on ‘Bonanza’ and ‘High Chaparral’.

Landon was also involved with the final two series Rose scored – ‘Father Murphy’ (running for 34 episodes between 1981 and 1983) and 110 episodes of ‘Highway to Heaven’ between 1984 and 1989. Collectors should note that ‘Television’s Greatest Hits Vol. 4’ contains the original theme (with opening narration) to ‘Highway Patrol’ but the themes from ‘The Red Skelton Show’ and ‘Highway to Heaven’ on Vols. 4 & 6 respectively are re-creations.

As detailed previously in JIM (Issue 190 – December 2011) Rose appeared at the 1971 Filmharmonic concert organised by Sidney Samuelson and the CTBF. Amongst others he conducted a rousing version of the theme to ‘Bonanza’ (which was credited to himself!) and three tunes from his early MGM films. His encore for the evening was the self-composed ‘The Stripper’. Whilst David had been commissioned to re-appear at the 1981 event – it was sadly cancelled due to financial constraints.

In the world of films David started as early as 1938 and scored ‘Winged Victory’ in 1944 for 20th Century Fox. In the late 40s he joined MGM Studios where he wrote the music for over thirty six films. He had been nominated for Academy Awards in 1945 and 1946 – for ‘The Princess & The Pirate’ and ‘Wonder Man’ respectively. Three of his films – ‘Holiday for Sinners’ (1952), ‘Great Diamond Robbery’ and ‘Rogue Cop’, both from 1954, used stock music which he had already composed for MGM. Another MGM film ‘Jupiter’s Darling’ followed in 1955. The theme for ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956) was inspired by the movie. His original theme was written for the film but dropped from the score – it was recorded and released as a single in April 1956 and later appeared on his MGM LP ‘David Rose Plays the Theme from ’The Americanization of Emily’’.

Whilst he was working on many TV shows he wrote the score for ‘Quick Before It Melts’ in 1964. MGM released four themes from the film on an album with some of David’s other themes at the time of the film’s release. One of the four – which was also used in the film – was ‘The Stripper’! Co-producer, Douglas Laurence, suggested to Rose during a screening session that a particular sequence required music similar to Rose’s smash hit record (‘The Stripper’). Rose agreed and replied ‘Why not use ‘The Stripper’?! Another cue on the album was a reissue of ‘Hoss’, one of his themes from the ‘Bonanza’ show.

He then scored a TV movie called ‘Clown Alley’ (1966), appearing with his orchestra, and an excellent Western score for a film called ‘Hombre’ (1967). Just over 21 minutes of this score was released in September 2000 in the States by specialist film music label Film Score Monthly and limited to 3000 copies. With all the music he was turning out for TV scores, he had little time to accept any film invitations but did score a TV movie called ‘Make Mine Red, White & Blue’ in 1972.

His first Emmy award was for ‘An Evening with Fred Astaire’ in 1959 (one of three TV specials he did with him) and in 1966 he as nominated for his music for the TV series ‘Bonanza’. Five years later in 1971, he won the Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition Emmy for an episode of this series called ‘Love Child’. Another five years later he was nominated for a 1974 episode of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ (‘Remember Me –Parts 1 & 2’) and won the award in 1979 for ‘The Craftsman’ episode of the same series. The music for this series was so popular that a further nomination followed in 1981 (for ‘The Lost Ones – Part 1’) and he won the award again a year later for the episode ‘He Was Only Twelve – Part 2’. Although this was to be his last Emmy award, he picked up two further nominations: 1983 for the ‘Father Murphy’ episode ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and in 1985 for an episode of ‘Highway to Heaven’ called ‘Thoroughbreds’. This series was to be David’s last before his death in 1990. In addition he was awarded 22 Grammies; won six gold discs for his exquisite long-playing albums; and in 1997 was posthumously awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award.

This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of ‘Journal Into Melody’.

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