Gerald Fried, the Oscar-nominated, oboe-playing composer who created iconic gladiatorial fight music for the original Star Trek series and collaborated with Quincy Jones to win an Emmy for their theme to the landmark miniseries Roots, has died. He was 95.
Fried died Friday (Feb. 17) of pneumonia at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut, his wife, Anita Hall, told The Hollywood Reporter.
After meeting Stanley Kubrick on a baseball field in the Bronx in the early 1950s, Fried wound up scoring the filmmaker’s first four features: Fear and Desire (1953), Killer’s Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957).
Fried also supplied the music for such cult Roger Corman classics as Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), The Cry Baby Killer (1958) and I Mobster (1959). He also worked with directors Larry Peerce on One Potato Two Potato (1964) and The Bell Jar (1979), as well as with Robert Aldrich on The Killing of Sister George (1968), What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969), Too Late the Hero (1970) and The Grissom Gang (1971).
And chances are if you are a fan of Gilligan’s Island, Lost in Space, Mission: Impossible, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Emergency!, Flamingo Road or Dynasty, you have heard his music.
Fried first worked on NBC’s Star Trek midway through the first season on the December 1966 episode “Shore Leave,” but he really made his mark on the second-season opener, “Amok Time.” His relentless “The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah” score dramatizes a memorable “fight to the death” on the planet Vulcan between Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
In the 1999 book The Music of Star Trek, author Jeff Bond describes the music as “a model of action-scene bombast, wildly percussive and bursting with exclamatory trumpet, flute and woodwind trills to accentuate the hammering of the brass-performed fanfare.”
Passages were reused for 18 other Star Trek episodes and popped up in The Cable Guy (1996) and installments of Futurama and another animated series.
“I started to get royalty checks from The Simpsons,” Fried noted in a 2003 conversation with Karen Herman for the TV Academy Foundation website The Interviews. “I didn’t write any music for The Simpsons. What they did was when Bart Simpson would get angry and cross the living room or something like that, they quoted the music for ‘Amok Time.’”
A year after Fried received an Oscar nomination for Birds Do It, Bees Do It (1976), a documentary about the mating rituals of animals and insects, he won his Emmy for his work on the first episode of ABC’s Roots.
Jones had been hired to write the music for the miniseries, but as the January 1977 premiere date loomed, he was missing deadlines. So producer Stan Margulies called Fried.
“Quincy, for whatever reason, went into some kind of writer’s block and did not come up with a main theme,” Fried said. “And they needed a main theme for advertising. It was three weeks before airtime. So they called me in. I wrote the main theme. I finished episode number one. The first show, Quincy did 56 percent of that, and I had to finish that. And I’m very happy I was on Roots. It was quite an honor.”
Fried also was nominated on his own for his underscore on the eighth and final episode.
“There were two shows that I did in television that had reverberations far beyond what you’d expect from the venue and the possibilities,” Fried said during a 2013 Q&A with StarTrek.com. “One was Star Trek, and the other was Roots. There was an atmosphere, doing both shows, that these were a little special and certainly more important than most shows. So I’m not totally surprised, but the enormity of Star Trek is a little bit startling and wonderful.”
Born in Manhattan on Feb. 13, 1928, Fried was raised in the Bronx by his father, Samuel, a dentist, and his mother, Selma. He credited his mom’s side of the family for his musical talents. Her father, a trombonist, earned passage for the family to America as a traveling musician in Eastern Europe. And Fried’s aunt was a pianist who provided live music for silent movies.
“She was one of these perfect-pitch types of people who could hear and reproduce anything,” he said. “I studied with her, and because they forced me to take piano lessons, I got my revenge by being the world’s worst pianist.”
His love of music grew after Fried entered New York’s High School of Music & Art and was assigned the oboe. He took to that instrument and the tenor sax, then enrolled at Juilliard as an oboe major.
In 1948, Fried began a three-year stint as the English hornist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Following gigs with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and a return to Dallas, he returned to New York to perform with The Little Orchestra Society.
Fried was playing baseball in the Bronx for a club team called The Barracudas when he met a kid who “wasn’t a very good athlete” but still wanted to play. Fried encouraged his teammates to let the guy join in, and they became friends.
“This turned out to be Stanley Kubrick,” Fried said. “He found out that I was a musician. He saved his pennies. He made a short [film] that was actually quite good. And I think I was the only musician he knew. He said, ‘Hey, Gerry, you know how to write and conduct movie music?’ ‘Sure,’ I said, ‘I do it all the time.’ I spent the next three or four months going to about 20 movies a day to learn what to do.”
Fried’s crash course resulted in the music for Day of the Fight (1951), about middleweight Walter Cartier preparing for a bout. Bought by RKO-Pathe, the 16-minute film would help launch their show business careers.
Fried came to Los Angeles and worked on Terror in a Texas Town (1958), starring Sterling Hayden of The Killing and written under a pseudonym by Dalton Trumbo; filled out the scores for episodes of such shows as M Squad, Wagon Train and Riverboat; and often collaborated with Corman.
Fried went on to work on other series like Gunsmoke, Ben Casey, My Three Sons, Mannix, The Flying Nun, It’s About Time and Police Woman and other films like Dino (1957), I Bury the Living (1958), Cast a Long Shadow (1959) and Soylent Green (1973).
He received three more Emmy noms, for his compositions for the telefilms The Silent Lovers in 1980 and The Mystic Warrior in 1984 and for the miniseries Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story in 1987.
More recently, Fried taught at UCLA and played the oboe with the Santa Fe Great Big Jazz Band and Santa Fe Community Orchestra. The oboe is “the instrument of passion. It somehow gets into people’s guts,” he said.
In addition to his wife, survivors include his children, Daniel, Debbie, Jonathan and Josh; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His son Zach died from AIDS in 1987 at age 5 as the result of a blood transfusion.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.
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