May 28, 2008

Emmy-winning composer Earle Hagen passes

Theme music guru was 88

Rancho Mirage, CA Earle H. Hagen, Emmy Award-winning television composer who gave us theme classics for such iconic series as The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, died Monday evening at his Rancho Mirage home. He was 88.

Formerly a big-band trombonist for Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, among others, Hagen wrote jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne" and began his TV/film music career as an arranger and orchestrator with 20th Century Fox in 1946. There, he worked on such movies as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Farmer Takes a Wife.

After segueing into television seven years later, Hagen spent the next three decades scoring more than 3,000 programs and creating some of the most well-known theme songs for some of television’s most-watched shows: The Mod Squad, That Girl and many more.

Author Jon Burlingame, whose 1996 book TV's Biggest Hits remains and formidable reference on the craft of television scoring, notes that very little original music was being written for television when Hagen delved into the art.

“He was one of the very few people who took the leap and saw the potential of music for television in terms of what could be accomplished dramatically and comedically," Burlingame said. “Hagen had an ability to capture the tone of any show he worked on."

Of his ubiquitous Andy Griffith Show theme , Hagen writes in autobiography, "Memoirs of a Famous Composer -- Nobody Ever Heard Of," that he was home "wracking my brain for an idea” when the idea for a simple, stark whistle dawned on him.

At that point, he spent about an hour writing the melody, then gathered a few musicians later than evening to record the studio demo. Hagen whistled while his 11-year-old son Deane contributed the finger-snaps.

The show’s executive producer liked the new theme immediately when Hagen played it for him the next morning, and went on to brainstorm how the opening would play visually, with Andy and a veryyoung Ron Howard walking along a bank with fishing poles on their shoulders.

The Chicago native garnered three Emmy nominations for outstanding achievement in musical composition, a one win in 1968, for his work on I Spy. He shared an Oscar with Lionel Newman in 1961 for their work on musical film Let’s Make Love.

In addition to his TV/film contributions, Hagen did arrangements for Frank Sinatra and Frances Langford, among others. He also taught BMI’s workshop for film and TV composers for several years and wrote key craft textbooks Scoring for Films (1971) and Advanced Techniques for Films (1990).

Hagen's wife, former big-band singer Elouise "Lou" Sidwell, passed six years ago.  The two were married for 59 years.

He survived by wife Laura, whom he married in 2005; two sons, Deane and James; three stepchildren, Rebecca Roberts, Richard Roberts and Rachael Roberts and four grandchildren.

Services for Hagen are set for this Sunday, 11 a.m. at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, 69855 East Ramon Road in Cathedral City.

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