Elmer Bernstein: American composer and conductor (1922 - 2004) | Biography
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Elmer Bernstein
American composer and conductor

Elmer Bernstein

Elmer Bernstein
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Quick Facts

Intro American composer and conductor
Was Musician Educator Composer Conductor Music educator Painter Actor Teacher Pianist Dancer Songwriter Film score composer
From United States of America
Field Arts Academia Dancing Film, TV, Stage & Radio Music
Gender male
Birth 4 April 1922, New York City
Death 18 August 2004, Ojai (aged 82 years)
Star sign Aries
Residence New York City
Children: Peter BernsteinGregory Bernstein
The details (from wikipedia)


Elmer Bernstein (April 4, 1922 – August 18, 2004) was an American composer and conductor who is best known for his many film scores. In a career which spanned fifty years, he composed music for hundreds of film and television productions. His most popular works include the scores to The Magnificent Seven, The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ghostbusters, The Black Cauldron, Airplane!, The Rookies, Cape Fear, and Animal House.
Bernstein won an Oscar for his score to Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and was nominated for fourteen Oscars in total. He also won two Golden Globes, an Emmy, and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

Early life

Bernstein was born in New York City, the son of Selma (née Feinstein, 1901-1991), from Ukraine, and Edward Bernstein (1896-1968), from Austria-Hungary. He was not related to the celebrated composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein; but the two men were friends, and even shared a certain physical similarity. Within the world of professional music, they were distinguished from each other by the use of the nicknames Bernstein West (Elmer) and Bernstein East (Leonard). They pronounced their last names differently; Elmer pronounced his (BERN-steen), and Leonard's was (BERN-stine).

During his childhood, Bernstein performed professionally as a dancer and an actor, in the latter case playing the part of Caliban in The Tempest on Broadway, and he also won several prizes for his painting. He attended Manhattan's progressive Walden School and gravitated toward music at the age of twelve, at which time he was given a scholarship in piano by Henriette Michelson, a Juilliard teacher who guided him throughout his entire career as a pianist. She took him to play some of his improvisations for composer Aaron Copland, who was encouraging and selected Israel Citkowitz as a teacher for the young boy. Bernstein's music has some stylistic similarities to Copland's music, most notably in his western scores, particularly sections of Big Jake, in the Gregory Peck film Amazing Grace and Chuck, and in his spirited score for the 1958 film adaptation of Erskine Caldwell's novel God's Little Acre.

Throughout his life, Bernstein demonstrated an enthusiasm for an even wider spectrum of the arts than his childhood interests would imply and, in 1959, when he was scoring The Story on Page One, he considered becoming a novelist and asked the film's screenwriter, Clifford Odets, to give him lessons in writing fiction.


Bernstein wrote the theme songs or other music for more than 200 films and TV shows, including The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Ten Commandments (1956), The Man with the Golden Arm, To Kill a Mockingbird, Robot Monster, and the fanfare used in the National Geographic television specials. His theme for The Magnificent Seven is also familiar to television viewers, as it was used in commercials for Marlboro cigarettes. Bernstein also provided the score to many of the short films of Ray and Charles Eames.

In 1961 Bernstein co-founded Äva Records an American record label based in Los Angeles together with Fred Astaire, Jackie Mills and Tommy Wolf.


In addition to his film music, Bernstein wrote the scores for two Broadway musicals, How Now, Dow Jones, with lyricist Carolyn Leigh, in 1967 and Merlin, with lyricist Don Black, in 1983.

One of Bernstein's tunes has since gained a lasting place in U.S. college sports culture. In 1968, University of South Carolina football head coach Paul Dietzel wrote new lyrics to "Step to the Rear", from How Now, Dow Jones. The South Carolina version of the tune, "The Fighting Gamecocks Lead the Way", has been the school's fight song ever since.


Along with many in Hollywood, Bernstein faced censure during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s. Bernstein was called by the House Un-American Activities Committee when it was discovered that he had written some music reviews for a Communist newspaper. After he refused to name names, pointing out that he had never attended a Communist Party meeting, he found himself composing music for movies such as Robot Monster and Cat-Women of the Moon, a step down from his earlier Sudden Fear and Saturday's Hero.


John Landis grew up near Bernstein, and befriended him through his children. Years later, he requested that Bernstein compose the music for National Lampoon's Animal House, over the studio's objections. He explained to Bernstein that he thought that Bernstein's score, playing it straight as if the comedic Delta frat characters were actual heroes, would emphasize the comedy further. The opening theme to the movie is based upon a slight inversion of a secondary theme from Brahms's Academic Festival Overture. Bernstein accepted the job, and it sparked a second wave in his career, where he continued to compose music for high-profile comedies such as Ghostbusters, Stripes, and Airplane!, Animal House, as well as most of Landis's films for the next 15 years.

Cape Fear

When Martin Scorsese announced that he was re-making Cape Fear, Bernstein adapted Bernard Herrmann's original score to the new film. Bernstein leapt at the opportunity to work with Scorsese, and to pay homage to Herrmann. Scorsese and Bernstein subsequently worked together on two more films, The Age of Innocence (1993) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999). Bernstein had previously conducted Herrmann's original unused score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1966 Torn Curtain.


Having studied composition under Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, and Stefan Wolpe, Bernstein also performed as a concert pianist between 1939 and 1950 and wrote numerous classical compositions, including three orchestral suites, two song cycles, various compositions for viola and piano and for solo piano, and a string quartet. As president of the Young Musicians Foundation, Bernstein became acquainted with classical guitarist Christopher Parkening and wrote a Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra, which Parkening recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra under Bernstein's baton for the Angel label in 1999. In addition, Bernstein was a professor at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music and conductor of the San Fernando Valley Symphony in the early 1970s.


Over the course of his career, Bernstein won an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and two Golden Globe Awards. In addition, he was nominated for the Tony Award three times and a Grammy Award five times.

He received 14 Academy Award nominations and was nominated at least once per decade from the 1950s until the 2000s, but his only win was for Thoroughly Modern Millie for Best Original Music Score. Bernstein was recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with Golden Globes for his scores for To Kill a Mockingbird and Hawaii. In 1963, he won the Emmy for Excellence in Television for his score of the documentary The Making of The President 1960. He is the recipient of Western Heritage Awards for The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965).

He received five Grammy Award nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and garnered two Tony Award nominations for the Broadway musicals How Now Dow Jones and Merlin.

Additional honors included Lifetime achievement awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the Society for the Preservation of Film Music, the USA, Woodstock, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach and Flanders International Film Festivals and the Foundation for a Creative America.

In 1996, Bernstein was honored with a star on Hollywood Boulevard. In 1999, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Five Towns College in New York City and was honored by the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Bernstein again was honored by ASCAP with its marquee Founders Award in 2001 and with the NARAS Governors Award in June 2004.

His scores for The Magnificent Seven and To Kill a Mockingbird were ranked by the American Film Institute as the eighth and seventeenth greatest American film scores of all time, respectively, on the list of AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores. Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner, and Jerry Goldsmith are the only composers to have two scores listed, and are therefore in second place for the most scores on the list, behind John Williams, who has three. Other Bernstein scores for the following the films were nominated for the list:

  • The Age of Innocence (1993)
  • Far from Heaven (2002)
  • The Great Escape (1963)
  • Hawaii (1966)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
  • Summer and Smoke (1961)
  • Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  • The Ten Commandments (1956)
  • Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Personal life and death

Bernstein made his home in Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara, California, in the 1990s. Bernstein died of cancer in his sleep at his Ojai, California, home on August 18, 2004. His publicist stated that he had a lengthy illness. He left behind his wife, Eve, two sons Peter and Gregory, and two daughters, Emilie and Elizabeth. He had five grandchildren at the time of his death.


  • Saturday's Hero (1951)
  • Battles of Chief Pontiac (1952)
  • Sudden Fear (1952)
  • Cat-Women of the Moon (1953)
  • Robot Monster (1953)
  • Silent Raiders (1954)
  • The Eternal Sea (1955)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score)
  • Gunsmoke (1955) TV series (one episode only, S18: "Hostages!")
  • The View from Pompey's Head (1955)
  • The Ten Commandments (1956)
  • Men in War (1957)
  • Drango (1957)
  • Fear Strikes Out (1957)
  • Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
  • The Tin Star (1957)
  • Desire Under the Elms (1958)
  • Kings Go Forth (1958)
  • God's Little Acre (1958)
  • The Buccaneer (1958)
  • Some Came Running (1958)
  • The Miracle (1959)
  • Johnny Staccato (1959) (TV)
  • Riverboat (TV series) (1959) (TV)
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score)
  • The Rat Race (1960)
  • The Story on Page One (1960)
  • From the Terrace (1960)
  • The Comancheros (1961)
  • By Love Possessed (1961)
  • The Young Doctors (1961)
  • Summer and Smoke (1961) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score; Golden Globe winner)
  • Walk on the Wild Side (1962) (Academy Award nomination, Best Song – "Walk on the Wild Side")
  • A Girl Named Tamiko (1962)
  • Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
  • Kings of the Sun (1963)
  • The Caretakers (1963)
  • The Making of the President, 1960 (1963) (Emmy Award winner)
  • The Great Escape (1963)
  • Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)
  • Hud (1963)
  • The Carpetbaggers (1964)
  • The World of Henry Orient (1964)
  • The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
  • The Hallelujah Trail (1965)
  • Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965)
  • 7 Women (1966)
  • Return of the Seven (1966) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score)
  • National Geographic Specials – "Voyage of the Brigantine Yankee" (1966) TV series
  • Hawaii (1966)
  • Cast A Giant Shadow (1966)
  • The Silencers (1966)
  • National Geographic Specials – "Yankee Sails Across Europe" (1967) TV series
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) (Academy Award winner, Best Original Score)
  • The Scalphunters (1968)
  • I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968)
  • Powers of Ten (1968) (short documentary, rereleased in 1977)
  • The Green Berets (1968) (rejected)
  • The Gypsy Moths (1969)
  • The Bridge at Remagen (1969)
  • Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)
  • True Grit (1969) (Academy Award nomination, Best Song – "True Grit")
  • The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970)
  • Cannon for Cordoba (1970)
  • A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970)
  • Big Jake (1971)
  • Doctors' Wives (1971)
  • See No Evil (1971)
  • The Rookies (1972) (TV)
  • The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972)
  • The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)
  • Arthur of the Britons (1972) TV series
  • Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973)
  • Gold (1974) (Academy Award nomination, Best Song – "Wherever Love Takes Me")
  • McQ (1974)
  • Deadly Honeymoon (1974)
  • The Trial of Billy Jack (1974)
  • Ellery Queen (1975) TV series
  • Mr Quilp (1975)
  • Report to the Commissioner (1975)
  • Once an Eagle (1976) TV miniseries (theme)
  • Captains and the Kings (1976) TV miniseries (Emmy nomination)
  • From Noon Till Three (1976)
  • The Incredible Sarah (1976)
  • The Shootist (1976)
  • Slap Shot (1977) (music supervisor only)
  • Powers of Ten (1977)
  • Casey's Shadow (rejected) (1978)
  • National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
  • Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1978)
  • Bloodbrothers (1978)
  • Zulu Dawn (1979)
  • The Great Santini (1979)
  • Meatballs (1979)
  • Airplane! (1980)
  • Trust (1980 film) (1980)
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • Saturn 3 (1980)
  • Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980)
  • Heavy Metal (1981)
  • Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)
  • Going Ape! (1981)
  • The Chosen (1981)
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • Stripes (1981)
  • Genocide (1982)
  • Five Days One Summer (1982)
  • Airplane II: The Sequel (Themes) (1982)
  • Michael Jackson's Thriller (1983) (music video)
  • Class (1983)
  • Trading Places (1983) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score)
  • Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)
  • Prince Jack (1984)
  • Marie Ward - Zwischen Galgen und Glorie (1984)
  • Bolero (1984)
  • Ghostbusters (1984)
  • The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • The Journey of Natty Gann (rejected) (1985)
  • Spies Like Us (1985)
  • ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
  • Legal Eagles (1986)
  • Leonard Part 6 (1987)
  • Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)
  • Funny Farm (1988)
  • The Good Mother (1988)
  • Da (1988)
  • Stars and Bars (rejected) (1988)
  • A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (rejected in the US version) (1988)
  • My Left Foot (1989)
  • Trust Me (rejected) (1989)
  • Slipstream (1989)
  • Murder in Mississippi (rejected) (1990)
  • The Field (1990)
  • The Grifters (1990)
  • Cape Fear (adaptation) (1991)
  • Rambling Rose (1991)
  • A Rage in Harlem (1991)
  • Oscar (1991)
  • A River Runs Through It (rejected) (1992)
  • Mad Dog and Glory (1993)
  • The Age of Innocence (1993) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score)
  • Lost in Yonkers (1993)
  • The Cemetery Club (1993)
  • The Good Son (1993)
  • I Love Trouble (rejected) (1994)
  • Roommates (1995)
  • Search and Destroy (1995)
  • The Scarlet Letter (rejected) (1995)
  • Canadian Bacon (1995)
  • Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
  • Frankie Starlight (1995)
  • Bulletproof (1996)
  • Last Man Standing (rejected) (1996)
  • Buddy (1997)
  • Rough Riders (1997) two-part TV-movie
  • The Rainmaker (1997)
  • Hoodlum (1997)
  • Twilight (1998)
  • Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
  • Wild Wild West (1999)
  • The Deep End of the Ocean (1999)
  • Keeping the Faith (2000)
  • Rat Race (rejected) (2001)
  • Gangs of New York (rejected) (2002)
  • Far from Heaven (2002) (Academy Award nomination, Best Original Score; Golden Globe nomination, Best Original Score)

Broadway theatre

  • Peter Pan (1954) – Incidental music composer
  • How Now, Dow Jones (1967) – Composer – Tony Co-Nomination for Best Musical, Tony Co-Nomination for Best Composer and Lyricist
  • Merlin (1982) – Composer and Incidental music composer – Tony Co-Nomination for Best Composer and Lyricist

The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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