Jerry Fielding

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For the American politician, see Jerry L. Fielding.
Jerry Fielding
Birth name Joshua Itzhak Feldman
Also known as Credited as Jerry Feldman prior to June, 1947 [1][2][3]
Born (1922-06-17)June 17, 1922
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Origin Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died February 17, 1980(1980-02-17) (aged 57)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Occupation(s) Radio, record, film and television composer, conductor, bandleader and musical director

Jerry Fielding (June 17, 1922 – February 17, 1980[4]) was a brilliant and innovative American jazz musician, arranger and film composer who emerged in the 1960s after a decade on the blacklist to create boldly diverse and evocative Oscar-nominated scores, primarily for gritty, often brutally savage, western and crime action genres, including the Peckinpah masterpieces, The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971).

Childhood and education[edit]

Jerry Fielding was born as Joshua Itzhak Feldman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,[4] to Hiram Harris Feldman and Esther Feldman. After trying the trombone, he took up the clarinet and joined the school band. He was offered a scholarship to the Carnegie Institute for Instrumentalists. After a short attendance, because of ill health he was bedridden for two years with an undiagnosed ailment. While housebound, he listened to the radio, and became a fan of the big band sound and Bernard Herrmann’s music for Orson Welles’s radio dramas.

Freelance arranger[edit]

Somewhat recuperated, he worked at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater (where his fellow players included Erroll Garner, Billy May and Henry Mancini),[5] learning composition and arranging there from the theater's pit orchestra conductor, Max Adkins (as did Mancini and another notable Pittsburgh native, Billy Strayhorn).[6] In June 1941, shortly before his nineteenth birthday, Fielding left Pittsburgh to work for Alvino Rey’s swing band.[7] His arrangement of Picnic in Purgatory in 1942 became highly popular.[8][9]

This job ended when most of the band was drafted. He was too frail for service. He became vocal arranger for Lucy Ann Polk’s Town Criers [10] and then joined Kay Kyser’s band. He became their chief arranger in 1945.[11] He also arranged for the big bands of Mitchell Ayres,[12] Claude Thornhill, Jimmie Lunceford, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Les Brown.

Radio work: from Feldman to Fielding[edit]

Feldman arranged for Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge radio program, and then became the band leader for several radio programs: The Jack Paar Program (1947–1949), The Hardy Family 1952-1953, as well as work on The Fitch Bandwagon,[13] The Life of Riley, and the Sweeney and March Show.

In the spring of 1947, having suitably impressed prospective employer, radio emcee Jack Paar (and his production team), Feldman was compelled to change his name as a prerequisite to securing the position of providing live on-air music (records were still not allowed on the air in 1947). Thus was born the not-quite-25-year-old arranging wunderkind, Jerry Fielding, who would recount this transformation with some bitterness almost 25 years later:

"They told me I was not going on with any name as Jewish as Feldman. I don't think there's any lessening of prejudice today. There's just more politeness about where and when it happens now. I think it's going to be the downfall of Homo sapiens."[3]

In 1948, Fielding replaced Billy May as musical director on Groucho Marx’s radio program "You Bet Your Life." In 1951, the famous comedian brought Fielding along for the same musical directing job when he moved "You Bet Your Life" to television, one of the first hit shows of the new medium, and a job Fielding would hold until 1953.[14] In June 1952, drawing on the same musicians Fielding employed regularly during his radio and television work, he formed the Jerry Fielding Orchestra for live performing and recording his music while the television season was in its annual summer hiatus.[15][16]

Fielding later recalled the reasons for doing this: "So a couple of [professional jazz] guys formed little bands, not to go in buses on the road, but to record with, do a few weekends at the Palladium, just rehearse, and keep the thing going. We were doing it for each other, really. And the first records I made—that’s what they were. Frank had put a band together for the Palladium: and I said: “If he can do it, I can do it.” I had five radio shows at the time: so we put this bunch together, and we started to do some wild things. [...] In that band were Conrad Gozzo, Sam Donahue, Shelly Manne, Johnny Williams, Buddy Collette, Red Callender—everybody. I knew what these guys could do, and I wrote to the absolute limit of their abilities, which no one else did. We did some spectacular performances. Albert Marks recorded us a couple of times, and those are the early Trend records which are such collector’s items now. I think they were collector’s items the day they went in the store; they never really sold well."[17]

The group would be featured on Fielding's own short-lived but well-received all-music TV series, the JF TV Show,[12] and by the following summer, had released its debut LP, Jerry Fielding and His Great New Orchestra {Trend, 1953}.[18])

Exiled by Anti-Communist Paranoia, but welcomed in Vegas[edit]

Though never a Communist, Fielding was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in December 1953 during the anti-Communist hysteria which gripped the rightwing Republicans, particularly in Congress and the FBI, who were in the throes of punishing the many talented FDR supporters in entertainment who had helped to defeat the pro-Fascist isolationists before Pearl Harbor. This was done by smearing them with innuendo and charges of Communism. Fielding's sin appeared to be his Radio Union membership (which was obligatory for all nationally broadcast radio performers) which was in turn one of a dozen or more unions in the Hollywood Writers Mobilzation which was founded in 1941 to promote show business efforts against Nazism and in support of the American war effort. However, Fielding later joked that all the committee really wanted was to get him to name Groucho Marx as a communist, which he refused, of course, to do. He also believed he was being singled out for his integrated bands, using African-American jazz performers in his radio and television music, which was carried live at the time. All integration and equal rights to black performers were deeply offensive to the notoriously racist HUAC members, and to FBI head, J. Edgar Hoover, leading the anti-Communist witch-hunts.

Fielding took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to divulge the names of any colleagues who might be suspected of "Communism," doing so knowing that pleading the Fifth would damage his thriving radio and television career, as it did. He was blacklisted by the national television and radio networks, who were being pressured by these same pro-Fascist forces with a similar fate if they 'failed to cooperate."

The blacklist destroyed Fielding's embryonic career as an on-screen television host, but the talented musician survived what would be a decade-long exile from broadcasting by returning to his live performing and recording careers, both as a featured artist and a freelance arranger. In Las Vegas, Nevada he led a band at the Royal Las Vegas Hotel; in addition, he toured for the only time with his name orchestra, which also released several albums during this period, first for a little-known independent label, with Jerry Fielding Plays a Dance Concert (Trend, 1954), followed by Sweet with a Beat (1955), Fielding’s Formula (1957), and Hollywoodwind Jazztet (1958), all on Decca. His jazz and pop background allowed him to survive while the blacklist destroyed the concert and film-based careers of great musicians such as Schoenberg champion and film composer Louis Gruenberg and the first black Broadway and film star, Paul Robeson.

The End of the Blacklist[edit]

In 1959, musical star Betty Hutton insisted that the still-blacklisted Jerry Fielding direct her new series, The Betty Hutton Show, a TV series for CBS, having gotten to know him while they were both working the music circuit in Las Vegas.[19] Television had been a surreptitious haven for the blacklisted writers, directors and composers for many years, and it was Desilu Productions, founded by Lucille Ball, who'd briefly been a member of the Communist Party and also dragged before HUAC in the early '50's, who backed Hutton's choice. With her own career hanging by a thread, Hutton - along with Desilu and CBS - made a brave stand against the blacklist in television, but the show unfortunately failed.

Fielding's career as a film composer did not begin until 1962, when leading Hollywood director Otto Preminger, himself a refugee of Nazism, hired him to compose the score for his all-star, Washington DC-based adaptation of the best-selling novel, Advise and Consent. Preminger was grateful to the liberal and left-wing Americans in his adopted country who had helped defeat the rightwing homegrown Fascists who sought to allow HItler's triumph by staying out of the war in Europe. Preminger deliberately violated and thus finally ended the blacklist in American filmmaking - he released Man with the Golden Arm in 1955 without the Production Code's seal of approval and named blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in his first onscreen film credit since his blacklisting fifteen years before, in Exodus (1960), His hiring of blacklisted actor Franchot Tone and composer Fielding for Advise and Consent was particularly fitting for a film which attempted to expose the evil of innuendo and blacklisting in political Washington.[20] It was his friend, prolific and long-suffering blacklistee Dalton Trumbo, who had suggested Fielding to Preminger for the job.

Composing for the Screen[edit]

Preminger had recently used the great jazz leader, Duke Ellington and his band for an all-jazz score for his pioneering realist trial drama Anatomy of A Murder (1959) - unusual at a time when most film scores were still lush symphonic orchestrations and even more unusually in that he featured the African-American Ellington and other band members in the film itself. Thus Fielding was given permission to employ his own wide-ranging and eclectic musical skills for the film. It was a remarkable debut score, the first to contain Fielding's signature ability to bring dark irony to his themes.

Fielding was now also free to write television scores for hit 1960 shows, Mission Impossible (1966) (though not the famous theme, which is by Lalo Schifrin) and Star Trek in its first season. It was his composing for a contemporary made-for-TV Western, Noon Wine, directed by then-unknown Sam Peckinpah, that led to Fielding's breakthrough score for Peckinpah's first critical and box-office hit, The Wild Bunch (1969) as well as a volatile but ultimately legendary collaboration between the two men. A neo-Noir Western with a wordless, staggeringly violent final shootout still imitated to this day, The Wild Bunch's quartet of taciturn, bitter gunmen, led by Bill Holden, are given power, humor and voice largely through Fielding's brilliant score. The composer "caught the weariness, dust, dirt and blood of a vanishing West in a rich underscore that interspersed sprightly action cues with wistful Mexican folk melodies and nostalgic, bittersweet dirges," writes British film composer Heathcliff Blair [21] The soundtrack brought his first nomination for an Oscar for Best Dramatic Score.

"The Wild Bunch gave me a chance to illustrate to the public, and the entertainment industry, that if a composer is given real freedom to create, he can produce a score that is unlike any other ever written," Fielding said later. In his next film outing, the quaint English countryside is blown apart by sadistic violence in Peckinpah's second masterpiece, Straw Dogs (1971) in which Fielding for the first time used Stravinsky-influenced "sound clusters," another highly-influential score whose echoes can be heard, for example, in the following year's French Connection's brittle quarter-tone score by jazz composer Don Ellis. Straw Dogs was also followed by an Oscar nomination; and together, in the Peckinpah canon, these first two collaborations certainly demonstrate the truth that all great films have equally great music.

The following year, in Peckinpah's The Getaway (1972), a troubled production starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, Fielding's score was removed from the final picture, and replaced by music of Quincy Jones, much to his shock and dismay, an ordeal documented in a short film by his wife, Camille and daughter Elizabeth Feilding in 2007.[22] Peckinpah then asked Fielding to compose around songs by Bob Dylan, for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). While already lionized for his protest and rock music by 1972, Dylan had no formal musical training whatsoever and Fielding eventually backed out in frustration. Despite this, Fielding returned to score Peckinpah's surreal anti-Western, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974); in this stunningly out-to-lunch black comedy, once reviled and now revered, Fielding again expresses the despairing subtext and unspoken whimsy of his frequently inchoate collaborator, this time in a film whose exercise in futility seems a personal statement by Peckinpah indeed. "In many ways, Sam doesn't know what the hell he's talking about," Fielding said of the director, whom he considered a close friend. "In other ways, he's a fantastically gifted man." Fielding claimed the two used to sort out their differences in fist fights.[21]

Fielding had fruitful and rather less stressful relationships with two other leading 1970's action directors: first, British import Michael Winner, for whom he demonstrated his versatility through six films, from the first jazz-tinged score for a Western in The Lawman (1970) to the Gothic period melodrama The Nightcomers (1971), where Fielding delighted in creating a neo-Baroque orchestral score of which he was most proud. Winner would go on to team with Charles Branson in Death Wish. His last film for Winner was the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep, starring Robert Mitchum and considered a classic of 1970's neo-LA Noir.

And second, his collaboration with the famously jazz-loving Clint Eastwood began when Eastwood, as producer and star, fired Philip Kaufman from directing The Outlaw Josey Wales, (1976), and took over the directing reins himself (an action the horrified DIrectors Guild soon made illegal). He chose Fielding to compose, doubtless in admiration of Straw Dogs, whose brutal rape scene Eastwood tried to outdo in the horrific rape in 1975's High Plains Drifter. Fielding presumably didn't know that the author of the original novel and a co-writer of the screenplay was a man using a pseudonym to hide his true identity as a vicious Ku Klux Klan member with a murderous history of white supremacist violence and hate-spewed anti-Semitic writing and radio screeds behind him.[23] Fielding, assuming he was scoring a popular young people's Western novel, researched and included Irish folk tunes from the Civil War, creating another newly explored direction for period films and winning his third and final Oscar nomination. On that Oscar night, Fielding was up against Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen, Lalo Schifrin's Voyage of the Damned, and the two final scores by his former hero in 1930s radio, prolific Hitchcock favorite Bernard Herrmann, for Scorsese's Taxi Driver and de Palma's Obsession. (Goldsmith won.)[24]

In his next two films for Eastwood, Fielding employed edgy urban scores that gave full throttle to some of the greatest living jazz musicians for The Enforcer (1976) and The Gauntlet (1977). Other notable scores were for Demon Seed (1977), a startling musical work that included electronic instruments and atonal passages and The Bad News Bears (1976) - perhaps a surprising choice until you consider that this was a father of daughters. The surprise hit kid's film, starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal, benefitted from a witty, almost silly, score of the principal themes of the famous 19th century opera Carmen by the French composer, Bizet, who probably didn't know what baseball was.

Funeral Home (1980) was the film he was scoring at the time of his death.

Popular Television Themes[edit]

Fielding combined his film scores with television work, not an unusual combination at the time, particularly since the theme song for a hit TV series could go on paying dividends for years, paying royalties each and every time it was played on the air. He scored two episodes of the first Star Trek television series: cult classic The Trouble With Tribbles and Spectre of the Gun. He also wrote the title themes for what became enduring 1960's TV shows of the network era: Hogan's Heroes; Run, Buddy, Run; He & She and The Bionic Woman. His last television theme tune was for the 1970 situation comedy The Tim Conway Show.[25] He also did notable work with Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974). His last television soundtrack, for the mini-series High Midnight, won an Emmy.

Personal life[edit]

Fielding married twice, first to Kay Kyser band production assistant, Ann Parks(d), in December 1946 in Tijuana. They raised two children, Georgia (d) and Hillary. This marriage ended in the spring of 1963. His second marriage took place on August 6, 1963, to Camille J. Williams, a Las Vegas dancer. They had two children.

He died, at the age of 57, from a heart attack followed by congestive heart failure, while in Toronto where he was scoring the motion picture Funeral Home (aka: Cries In The Night.) He was survived by wife Camille and two daughters: Claudia and Elizabeth; and former wife Ann(d) and daughter Hillary. He is interred in Crypt 30 at Glen Haven Memorial Park in Los Angeles.[26]

Awards and honors[edit]

Year Award Result Category Film or series
1970 Academy Award Nominated Best Music, Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical) The Wild Bunch
1972 Best Music, Original Dramatic Score Straw Dogs
1977 Best Music, Original Score The Outlaw Josey Wales
1980 Emmy Award Won Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Limited Series or a Special (Dramatic Underscore) High Midnight

On Thursday November 12, 2009, Jerry Fielding was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his composition in "The Wild Bunch" which celebrated its 40th anniversary. It was received by his daughter Claudia Fielding.



  1. ^ "Music Popularity Chart: New Records". Billboard. June 15, 1946. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
  2. ^ Lohman, Sidney. "Radio Row: One Thing and Another". The New York Times. April 27, 1947. Retrieved 2014-04-14 via ProQuest. "Jack Paar, comedian, will occupy jack Benny's time spot (Sunday, 7 P.M., NBC), beginning June 1. Music will be provided by the Page Cavanaugh Trio and Jerry Fielding's Orchestra."
  3. ^ a b Blank, Edward L.. "Fielding Mercurial Over Film Music; Changed Name". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 14, 1972. Retrieved 2014-04-15. "He worked for Kay Kyser under the name Feldman but had to change it when he was 23 to get a job on a Jack Paar show."
  4. ^ a b - accessed January 2010
  5. ^ "The Gambler". Focus on Film. Volume 19. 1974. Retrieved 2014-04-15. "In his youth, he played in the local theater's orchestra pit alongside, at times, Henry Mancini, Billy May and Errol (sic) Garner."
  6. ^ "Composers / Arrangers". Pittsburgh Music History. Retrieved 2014-04-15.
  7. ^ Cohen Harold V.. "The Drama Desk; Local Scrappings". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 12, 1941. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
  8. ^ "'I'm Glad There Is You': fox trot (Music, 1942)". WorldCat. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
  9. ^ "Just Released - B11501 'I'm Glad There Is You' and 'Picnic in Purgatory'". Billboard. April 18, 1942. Retrieved 2014-04-14.
  10. ^ Johnson, Erskine. "In Hollywood". The Courier News. January 17, 1945. Retrieved 2014-04-15. "Cradle row has something new to crow about, Hollywood's "hottest" singing group, The Town Criers, average 19 years of age [...] Their arranger is a baby, too - 22-year-old Jerry Feldman."
  11. ^ "Arranger for Band". The Jewish Criterion. March 9, 1945. Retrieved 2014-04-15. "Jerry Feldman, son of Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Feldman, of Wightman Street, is now head arranger for the Kay Kyser Band."
  12. ^ a b Ames, Walter. "Frustrated Jerry Fielding Scoring On Own Video Show". The Los Angeles Times. October 17, 1952. Retrieved 2014-04-16 via ProQuest.
  13. ^ Rodack, Jaine (1980). "LA Years". Be Of Good Cheer: Memories Of Harmonica Legend Pete Pedersen. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4259-6006-3. 
  14. ^ You Bet Your Life (quiz, with Groucho Marx). ClassicThemes. Retrieved 2014-04-16.
  15. ^ Ames, Walter. "Television, Radio, News and Programs: Radio and TV Tidbits". The Los Angeles Times. June 25, 1952. Retrieved 2014-04-16 via ProQuest. "Jerry Fielding, Groucho Marx's musical director, has organized a band for recording sessions during the summer lull."
  16. ^ Tomkins, Les. "Jerry Fielding Interview One: From the Bands to the Films". Jazz Professional. !974. Retrieved 2014-04-16.
  17. ^ Ibid.
  18. ^ “Album and LP Reviews”. Billboard. August 15, 1953. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
  19. ^ Cook, Howard. "Fielding Inked by Signature". Billboard. October 26, 1959. Retrieved 2014-04-16.
  20. ^ Publisher's Weekly, Oct. 21, 2007,
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^
  23. ^ NY Times, Oct. 4, 1991
  24. ^
  25. ^ The Tim Conway Show (1970)
  26. ^ The Jerry Fielding Papers 1950-1977 at Brigham Young University in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections.


  • Gelfand, Steve. Television Theme Recordings: An Illustrated Discography, 1951-1994. Ann Arbor, MI: Popular Culture, Ink., 1994
  • "Jerry Fielding, Writer of Scores for Movies; Named for 3 Oscars" New York Times, February 19, 1980, page B4.
  • Redman, Nick. “Jerry Fielding” Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 10: 1976-1980. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center, Gale, 2008.
  • Terrace, Vincent. Radio Programs, 1924-1984. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.

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