Earle H. Hagen: Composer of film and TV scores

Earle H. Hagen was a trombonist for Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, and an arranger who worked with Marilyn Monroe, but is best known for scoring around 3,000 episodes of some of the best-loved US television series.

The 1960s were Hagen's busiest time, when he sometimes worked on five series simultaneously. His swinging theme for The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66) perfectly captured the star's energy, while That Girl (1966-71), about a would-be actress in New York, has an infectiously upbeat feel. But not all the series were successes: the comedy western Rango (1967) ran for only one season, although it had an enjoyable cowboy song theme performed by Frankie Laine.

Hagen didn't just score The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68), he also whistled the main theme, "The Fishin' Hole". But its laid-back charm hid a struggle: "The creative process is something like peeling an onion," he said. "Half of coming up with something good is throwing away what's not." Obviously it was good, as Hagen scored the spin-off Gomer Pyle U.M.S.C. (1964-69) and the follow-up Mayberry R.F.D. (1968-71).

Hagen scored more than 60 of the 82 episodes of I Spy (1965-68) and wrote the sassy, tropical title music. Robert Culp and Bill Cosby were television's first equally matched black and white co-stars and, despite the expense, the globe-trotting duo were filmed on location around the world. Rather than use stock music, Earle wrote a fresh score for every episode. After travelling with the crew to be inspired by local music, he would mix it with his own, to create what he called "semi-jazz". In the process he amassed a huge collection of world music recordings. The series won him three of his four Emmy nominations.

In The Mod Squad (1968-73), three hippies, "one white, one black, one blonde", agree to become crimefighters to avoid prison. Despite its poppy premise, Hagen actually used elements of dodecophony in the music. He ended his television work with Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer (1984-85) and the Andy Griffith Show reunion movie Return to Mayberry (1986). Hammer used "Harlem Nocturne" as the theme, the 1940s feel helping give the impression that the gumshoe was slightly out of sync with the 1980s setting.

Earle Hagen was born in Chicago, in 1919, but his family moved to Los Angeles while he was a boy. Leaving home at 16, he taught and played trombone with various bands, adding Harry to his name after a favourite uncle. Tommy Dorsey spotted him and, knowing that Benny Goodman was looking for a trombonist, recommended Hagen. Soon afterwards Dorsey himself called and the teenager found himself playing in both bands.

Hagen then swapped Dorsey and Goodman for the Ben Pollack Band and the Ray Noble Orchestra, for whom he also did arrangements. Hearing Duke Ellington's saxophonist Johnny Hodges in 1939 inspired him to write his first hit, the sultry "Harlem Nights", for Noble's Jack Dumont. When Noble disbanded the orchestra Hagen joined CBS before enlisting and marrying Noble's singer Lou Sidwell in 1942. Hagen took lessons from Ernst Toch and made arrangements for Sinatra, Crosby and others.

In 1946 he joined 20th Century-Fox, orchestrating dozens of films, and occasionally writing incidental music. Musicals were a forte, but he also took on darker films like the Tyrone Power circus-geek melodrama Nightmare Alley (1947). In 1952 he and his fellow arranger Herbert Spencer left Fox to form the Spencer Hagen Orchestra and, sharing the writing and with Hagen conducting, they served the growing television industry.

Their first success was Make Room for Daddy, a sitcom about a nightclub singer. Hagen proved to be a master of encapsulating the idea of a series in a minute or so of memorably melodic title music, and underlining the drama with ongoing incidental music. The producer Sheldon Leonard met Hagen, satisfied himself that he was reliable and signed off: "Good. Then you'll never see me." True to his word, Leonard left Hagen to his own devices for 20-odd years.

Hagen returned occasionally to film, bringing his jazzy touch to projects including With a Song in My Heart (1952), Call Me Madam, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and There's No Business Like Show Business (1954). In 1960 he and Lionel Newman shared an Oscar nomination for the Marilyn Monroe vehicle Let's Make Love.

After retiring from full-time composing, Hagen taught at the BMI Film Scoring Workshop. He wrote three books. Scoring for Films: a complete text (1971) did exactly what it said on the tin: at the time it was the only book to deal in detail with the technicalities of the work. In 1990 he brought it up to date with Advanced Techniques of Film Scoring. In 2002 he published his autobiography, Memoirs of a Famous Composer (Nobody Ever Heard Of).

John Riley

Earle Hagen, composer: born Chicago 9 July 1919; married 1942 Lou Sidwell (died 2002; two sons), 2005 Laura Roberts; died Rancho Mirage, California 26 May 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of English for this co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Service General Administrator

£16000 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance & IT Assistant

£20200 - £24800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Senior PHP Developer - Zend Framework

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This number one supplier of Coo...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea