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Overview (3)

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada  (heart attack)
Birth NameJoshua Itzhak Feldman

Mini Bio (1)

A three-time Oscar nominee, Jerry Fielding was among the boldest and most experimental of all Hollywood film composers. His music typically utilized advanced compositional procedures, producing dense, often richly dissonant orchestral textures, sometimes flavored with jazz. Fielding's film music career was marked by enduring and rewarding collaborations with Sam Peckinpah, Michael Winner and Clint Eastwood.

Born Joshua Feldman in Pittsburgh in 1922 to immigrant Russian parents, Jerry Fielding was brought up in a music-loving but non-musical household. As a home-bound, somewhat sickly teenager, Fielding derived early inspiration from the radio productions of Orson Welles, with their groundbreaking Bernard Herrmann scores. He was also fascinated by the increasingly advanced orchestrations being done for the swing bands of the time, with their heavy reliance on aspects of classical music. The young Fielding joined the studio of Max Adkins, the noted director of theatrical music who also included Henry Mancini and Murray Gerson among his students. After picking up vital arranging skills, Fielding toured with some of the leading dance bands of the 1940s. This led to Hollywood, where his radio and television assignments included conducting and arranging for many of the most popular variety shows of the time, including those of Groucho Marx.

At this time the shadow of McCarthyism was looming over America and Fielding, a self-confessed "loud-mouthed crusader", found himself among its many victims. His hiring of black musicians for his television orchestra (unheard of in those days) brought criticism and threats. His progressive affiliations brought him to the attention of the FBI and HUAC. Despite his strong liberal beliefs, Fielding said that McCarthy's men were probably more interested in getting him to name Groucho Marx as a "fellow traveler". He took the Fifth Amendment and promptly found his Hollywood career in ruins. He eventually found employment in the safe haven of Las Vegas, where he became musical director for the stage shows of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher and others. He also began recording the first of many pop and swing LPs, such as "Fielding's Formula", "Sweet With A Beat" and "Hollywood Brass".

The approach of the 1960s saw the end of McCarthyism and Fielding's return to Hollywood. In 1962, at the suggestion of his writer friend Dalton Trumbo, Fielding was hired by Otto Preminger for the film Advise & Consent (1962), a tale of political intrigue amid the halls of Washington, DC. It was a remarkable debut score that combined light orchestral lyricism with hints of the richer, almost ethereal textures of his later work. It was also drenched in Fielding's own brand of dark irony--a trademark of the composer.

Around this time Fielding, hungry to expand his compositional technique, enrolled as a student of the venerated composer and teacher Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, who, incidentally, had given similar instruction to Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. More television work followed, including scores to Mission: Impossible (1966) and Star Trek (1966). In 1967 Fielding scored ABC Stage 67: Noon Wine (1966), a contemporary western for television directed by Sam Peckinpah. It was the first in a legendary though sometimes tumultuous partnership. In 1969 came The Wild Bunch (1969). This landmark western was Peckinpah's and Fielding's breakthrough movie. 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. However, as always, the nostalgia was tempered with Fielding's characteristically steely irony. It earned him his first Oscar nomination. A second came with Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971) in 1971. This controversial though somewhat garbled tale of the violence lurking within a meek man saw Fielding's music take a new direction. Inspired by Igor Stravinsky's "Histoire Du Soldat", and with a large orchestra supplying dense, yearning sound clusters, this remarkable work gives voice to both the characters' inner turmoil and the desolate Cornish landscapes of the film's setting.

Fielding provided another sensitive, beautifully forlorn score for Peckinpah's proxy self-portrait, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). However, some Peckinpah collaborations were not so happy. Fielding's music for The Getaway (1972) was rejected in favor of a score by Quincy Jones. Then in 1973 Fielding backed out of working with Bob Dylan on the score for Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973).

Fielding's association with Michael Winner began in 1970 with Lawman (1971), for which the composer supplied an epic score tinged with jazz--something of a first for a western! Then followed the searing, impressionistic music for Chato's Land (1972), The Mechanic (1972) and Scorpio (1973). A standout score was for Winner's gothic melodrama, The Nightcomers (1971). This gave Fielding a chance to indulge his love of 19th-century baroque music. The composer considered it among his finest works. His final score for Winner was for The Big Sleep (1978). It was an admirable consummation of the composer's various techniques.

Clint Eastwood was well served by Fielding's scores to The Enforcer (1976) and The Gauntlet (1977). The composer responded to their hard-edged urban milieu with full-on jazz compositions that featured some of the best jazz players in the business. In 1976 Fielding received his third and final Oscar nomination for Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).

Jerry Fielding was a man who fought hard to get his brand of music into films. He was not a glad-hander. He was an uncompromising artist who perhaps sacrificed many choice assignments by spurning easy, producer-friendly routes. These stances may have taken their toll on him. From the mid-'70s onwards, the composer endured a series of heart attacks. In 1980 he suffered a fatal heart seizure while in Canada scoring Funeral Home. He was 57 years old. Jerry Fielding had an innately humane approach to film scoring. He eschewed traditional "mickey-mousing" techniques (i.e., slavishly following every on-screen action). Rather, his music sought to mirror and illuminate the motivations and deepest inner lives of the characters. This it did with great compassion, beauty and sensitivity. Producer Gordon T. Dawson touchingly described Fielding's music as being " . . . like a man in a green suit walking in a forest."

And so it is.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Heathcliff Blair <heathblair@yahoo.com> (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (2)

Camille J. Williams (6 August 1963 - 17 February 1980) ( his death) ( 2 children)
Ann Parks (December 1946 - 1963) ( divorced) ( 2 children)

Trivia (4)

Blacklisted in Hollywood from 1953 until 1961
Musical director for NBC Radio's "The Jack Paar Show" (1947).
Brother of Van Alexander.
Jerry Fielding was one of two popular composers who worked in the 1960's and especially the 1970's with the first name Jerry. The other is Jerry Goldmith, whose scores were more mainstream (in a good way) while Fielding's style was more avant gard: a creative, often cerebral hybrid of jazz and orchestration, often dreamlike and surreal.

Personal Quotes (9)

The Wild Bunch (1969) 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. [on the film score that put him on the map]
I was able to evaluate it at a screening for an advanced film class at USC. It was much too long, over three hours, and no music had been inserted. After the final shootout, the film reached a point that should have touched the sensitivities of the young audience. But this is a generation of kids who don't like to be pushed into emotional corners, so instead, they laughed, out of embarrassment. I added music after all the shooting and carnage in that final bloodbath, so that there was no silence: instead, I had a heavy entrance of the lowest possible strings, the beginning of a long dirge. After the edited, two-hour version was shown, there was still almost 75 minutes of music - and the critics thought the closing scene was one of the film's strongest points. [on the evolution of the final scene in The Wild Bunch (1969)]
What you hear in a dubbing room is not what reaches the screen. You have to deal with laugh-machine people, dialogue people, sound effects people, all screaming for their own causes, and invariably it's the music that takes it on the jaw. Producers and directors are partly to blame. They don't know how to manipulate the medium, when to use music and when not to. They put in music as soon as there's a moment of silence, even though there are occasions when silence can be the most eloquent effect. But the main fault lies with the cost analysis people. They pressure the producers. They try to run the whole operation the way you'd run a tire manufacturing company. When you start cutting creative costs to the bone, the product must suffer. Maybe they read somewhere that a Moog synthesizer is the new thing - well, they'd rather use that than hire a 70-piece orchestra. [on the trials and tribulations of a film composer]
I've had it with Eddie - there's not enough money to make me work for him again. I'm going back to Hollywood to start working on the 'Danny Kaye' television show; he's a REAL talent. [on the frustrations facing a conductor working for Eddie Fisher]
Every time I make a very special arrangement of a tune to be used on the quizzer, the contestant invariably gets it on the first few notes. Out the window goes the arrangement. Not that I begrudge anyone winning Groucho's money, but I do enjoy listening to music. [on the frustrations facing a musical director on You Bet Your Life (1950), the comedy / quiz show hosted by Groucho Marx]
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 how it happens now. I think it's going to be one of the things to render the downfall of homo sapiens - [on how Jerry Feldman became Jerry Fielding at the age of 23, in order to land a job with Jack Paar]
He's practically psychotic. He lives in England. He won't even come back here. He's become impossible to talk to, and rightly so. The man is a giant, and no one has ever given him his due. [on composer Bernard Herrmann (1972)]
He's impossible. He's a very bright and well-educated man who plays games with people. I owe him a great debt though, because he gave me my first big picture after I was blacklisted and out of commission. It was a brave thing for him to hire me because I was so politically unpopular. [on director Otto Preminger (1972)]
Peckinpah and I hit each other a lot. He's a terribly volatile person. We are close friends, but we fight an awful lot. In many ways Sam doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. In other areas, he's a fantastically gifted man. He has very strong instincts about the job music ought to do. He has less than no idea of how to go about accomplishing that. I usually know what he wants to do. Sometimes he tells me what he wants and I let it go in one ear and out the other. Then I do the score, and if he hates it, we have a fist fight. But it all comes out in the end. [on his relationship with director Sam Peckinpah (1972)]

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