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 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 2:17 AM   
 By:   Chris1770   (Member)

A quick search gives no results that a thread about Mr. Gershenson had been opened on this board before. So, inspired by MMM's rececent thread on a *somehow* related topic (see http://fsm.rciwebhosting.net/board/posts.cfm?threadID=47426&forumID=1&archive=0), it made me start the first official FSM Gershenson thread myself.

Of course, we have the entry in IMDb:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0314829/

where we find long lists of his work, mostly as a musical supervisor/conductor (302 entries). He's listed there as a composer, too. But just for six films.

There seems to be quite little information available about Mr. Gershenson's life.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0314829/bio

Surprisingly, there's no Wikipedia entry to be found so far.

Who was the man behind the name? How was it to work for him at Universal studios? Just curious...

 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 2:51 AM   
 By:   shicorp   (Member)

I think he was the head of the Universal music department (similar to Johnny Green at MGM and Alfred Newman at Fox). I could be wrong, though.

 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 3:13 AM   
 By:   Chris1770   (Member)

I think he was the head of the Universal music department (similar to Johnny Green at MGM and Alfred Newman at Fox). I could be wrong, though.

Of couse, you find that information on IMDb:

"Hired by Universal Pictures for its music department, he was made the department head in 1940. Gershenson's name appeared on virtually every Universal film made as music supervisor from 1949 until his retirement in 1969 after Angel in My Pocket (1969)."


I figure he took credit for whatever he could in his position. Was he a fine musician or just an very efficient administrator?

 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 5:41 AM   
 By:   Ray Faiola   (Member)

I'm sure Mr. Monstrous will provide plenty of bio details on old Joe. But here's a cute story. In addition to being head of the music department at Universal, Gershenson also produced quite a few pictures including the Abbott and Costello feature LITTLE GIANT. In the film, the head of the Hercules vacuum cleaner company was P. S. Van Loon (pronounced Van Loan). As it turns out, there was a staff composer at the studio named P. S. Van Loon. I've always wondered if P. S. Van Loon - whose name appears on several cue sheets - was an alias! Maybe for old Joe?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 6:01 AM   
 By:   Bill Finn   (Member)

There are a lot of bits and pieces in the Mancini autobio "Did They Mention The Music" about Gershenson (Mancini worked at Universal in the early 1950's).

At one point, Mancini says: "When several of us worked on a score, Joe Gershenson was given the credit as musical director, which was all right with us. But when Joe assigned us a score for a picture of our own, he would always make sure we got full credit."

It would be interesting to learn more about Gershenson. He seems to have been more of a music supervisor (like Lionel Newman) than a composer. I do recall that his conducting had it's own sound (or maybe that was just that Universal had such a small orchestra ;-). A number of early Goldsmith scores for Universal were conducted by Gershenson I believe, such as THE SPIRAL ROAD and A GATHERING OF EAGLES. Other notable scores Gershenson seems to have conducted: THE WAR LORD (Moross) SHENANDOAH (Frank Skinner)THIS EARTH IS MINE (Friedhofer).

I've always felt that Gershenson produced his own unique sound as conductor at Universal. A smaller orchestra than Fox or Warners had, but usually very much together and well-recorded.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 1:35 PM   
 By:   MMM   (Member)

Ray is right about Gershenson's production credits. He either produced or executive produced well-known sci-fi/fantasy/horror titles like HOUSE OF DRACULA, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, and the great THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, as well as CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, and to a much lesser extent, THE LEECH WOMAN.

Joe ran the music department from the late forties until the sixties, and his credit is seen on countless films from the forties and fifties instead of a composer's credit. This is partly due to the fact that Gershenson used multiple composers on many films, but also because it was Gershenson's choice to do that, including when he didn't have to. By giving more than one composer the "job," studio politics allowed for only the music department head to get credit. Enough said. There were also times when only one composer wrote the score but still didn't get credit. When a composer did get credit, Gershenson's name was right up there on the screen with theirs, and having a lot of letters in it, it usually dominated the screen.

Gershenson's credits for musical director or music supervisor covered both his executive tasks as well as the fact that he often conducted the scores. And he was a more-than-competent conductor. But he was not a film composer, and the only cue sheet and score credits I've seen for him have to do with lyrics for rather "slight" songs -- sometimes comic throw-aways.

In Gershenon's oral biography he talks about how he loved his composers and would do anything for them. That included some things that were decidedly not to the composers' benefit, which I won't go into at this point. One thing he did do was try to keep his composers under wraps, telling them that he would take good care of them and that they should never fraternize with directors and producers on the lot. This was done so that the composers wouldn't have opportunities to mingle and perhaps find work outside Universal. The composers were requested to eat together at the commissary and things like that.

Gershenson also talked about how he would "audition" the composers when a number of them would write a theme and he would have to decide which to "okay." This was pretty much fanciful thinking. The composers wrote what they wrote and it was seldom discarded. None of them even recalled such auditions, or if they occurred at all, they were minimal and the composers found such events to be rather amusing. Making musical decisions regarding how to score a picture was mainly the composers' job. As for making choices about what tracked (library) music to use, that also fell to the composers, and sometimes to Gershenson's assistant Milton Rosen.

The "unique sound" mentioned did not come so much from Gershenson, but rather it was a combination of Universal's Stage 10, the staff of composers that were constantly used (Stein, Lava, Salter, Skinner, Roemheld, Gertz, Mancini, Scharf, etc.), the medium-sized orchestra made up of the particular players, and orchestrators like David Tamkin and Charles Maxwell.

To sum up, I would say that Gershenson was a savvy businessperson. He was a more-than-capable film conductor, a great judge of talent (this is something many people agree on), but he was not a film composer.

Some members of his family stated that Joe cared little about himself and put everybody before him. That might have been true at home, but on the studio lot, Gershenson, like many others in similar positions, was a driven individual who had his own interests and those sometimes took precedence over the interests of others, in particular the composers working for him. The composers respected him for what he did well, but they also knew that there were times when they could have been taken care of a little better than they were.

 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 1:49 PM   
 By:   WILLIAMDMCCRUM   (Member)

There is of course the oft-told story of how Jerome Moross, when asked in an interview why he himself didn't personally conduct 'The War Lord', said, " ... because the musical director of the studio insisted on doing that because otherwise, he had no job ..."

 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 3:14 PM   
 By:   Ron Pulliam   (Member)

Ray is right about Gershenson's production credits. He either produced or executive produced well-known sci-fi/fantasy/horror titles like HOUSE OF DRACULA, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, and the great THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, as well as CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, and to a much lesser extent, THE LEECH WOMAN.

Joe ran the music department from the late forties until the sixties, and his credit is seen on countless films from the forties and fifties instead of a composer's credit. This is partly due to the fact that Gershenson used multiple composers on many films, but also because it was Gershenson's choice to do that, including when he didn't have to. By giving more than one composer the "job," studio politics allowed for only the music department head to get credit. Enough said. There were also times when only one composer wrote the score but still didn't get credit. When a composer did get credit, Gershenson's name was right up there on the screen with theirs, and having a lot of letters in it, it usually dominated the screen.

Gershenson's credits for musical director or music supervisor covered both his executive tasks as well as the fact that he often conducted the scores. And he was a more-than-competent conductor. But he was not a film composer, and the only cue sheet and score credits I've seen for him have to do with lyrics for rather "slight" songs -- sometimes comic throw-aways.

In Gershenon's oral biography he talks about how he loved his composers and would do anything for them. That included some things that were decidedly not to the composers' benefit, which I won't go into at this point. One thing he did do was try to keep his composers under wraps, telling them that he would take good care of them and that they should never fraternize with directors and producers on the lot. This was done so that the composers wouldn't have opportunities to mingle and perhaps find work outside Universal. The composers were requested to eat together at the commissary and things like that.

Gershenson also talked about how he would "audition" the composers when a number of them would write a theme and he would have to decide which to "okay." This was pretty much fanciful thinking. The composers wrote what they wrote and it was seldom discarded. None of them even recalled such auditions, or if they occurred at all, they were minimal and the composers found such events to be rather amusing. Making musical decisions regarding how to score a picture was mainly the composers' job. As for making choices about what tracked (library) music to use, that also fell to the composers, and sometimes to Gershenson's assistant Milton Rosen.

The "unique sound" mentioned did not come so much from Gershenson, but rather it was a combination of Universal's Stage 10, the staff of composers that were constantly used (Stein, Lava, Salter, Skinner, Roemheld, Gertz, Mancini, Scharf, etc.), the medium-sized orchestra made up of the particular players, and orchestrators like David Tamkin and Charles Maxwell.

To sum up, I would say that Gershenson was a savvy businessperson. He was a more-than-capable film conductor, a great judge of talent (this is something many people agree on), but he was not a film composer.

Some members of his family stated that Joe cared little about himself and put everybody before him. That might have been true at home, but on the studio lot, Gershenson, like many others in similar positions, was a driven individual who had his own interests and those sometimes took precedence over the interests of others, in particular the composers working for him. The composers respected him for what he did well, but they also knew that there were times when they could have been taken care of a little better than they were.


Many thanks for this overview, MMM!

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 3:28 PM   
 By:   MMM   (Member)

You are most welcome. Maybe I'll provide further information and/or stories down the line, but one has to be careful what one says on a public forum, doesn't one?

Speaking of similar situations, one of my favorite examples is the fact that Frederick Hollander wrote the score for the 1942 classic TALK OF THE TOWN, but a number of very important cues, including the most memorable one at the beginning of the picture, were written by Daniele Amfitheatrof (you'll remember that name from the well-researched thread about his contributions to PLACE IN THE SUN!). The score was deemed good enough to be nominated for an Academy Award.

So who got nominated for TALK OF THE TOWN? Hollander and Musical Director Morris Stoloff! I would have loved to have known how the neglected Amfitheatrof felt about THAT slight oversight!

 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 6:34 PM   
 By:   Heath   (Member)

Was Gershenson alive when Alien came out? If so, I'm surprised he didn't demand a "musical direction" credit on the picture. wink

Seriously though, if his conducting of the nuanced, complex music of Freud is anything to go by, he was indeed a very fine conductor... or is there a story behind that too?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 9, 2008 - 8:04 PM   
 By:   MMM   (Member)

Gershenson died in 1988, but I really doubt he had anything to do with ALIEN. And as I stated, he was an excellent conductor. Even if he weren't, the composers probably wouldn't have wanted to conduct, as most of them preferred to be in the booth rather than in front of the orchestra, because they heard it through the microphones (the way it was being recorded and would be heard in the film), as opposed to hearing it the way the orchestra was playing it live.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 6:50 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

Very nice summary, MMM. Is that oral history available somewhere? Your whole account nicely reinforces Miklos Rozsa's reasons for disliking "the Hollywood music directors" and helps to explain (if explanation be needed) why he was unhappy at Universal. Rozsa did conduct his own Universal scores, as far as I am aware.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 7:05 AM   
 By:   Bill Finn   (Member)

I don't understand where ALIEN fits in here? Wasn't that a TCF film conducted by L. Newman?

Interesting comments about Gershenson however.

 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 7:27 AM   
 By:   Ray Faiola   (Member)

There's a photo of Joe on the back of either the MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION or MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES album.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 8:43 AM   
 By:   CinemaScope   (Member)

There is of course the oft-told story of how Jerome Moross, when asked in an interview why he himself didn't personally conduct 'The War Lord', said, " ... because the musical director of the studio insisted on doing that because otherwise, he had no job ..."

Yes, that story is in the liner notes of the Varese "The War Lord" CD (great CD!).

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 9:51 AM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

No employee likes the boss.....

 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 10:48 AM   
 By:   Heath   (Member)

I don't understand where ALIEN fits in here? Wasn't that a TCF film conducted by L. Newman?

Interesting comments about Gershenson however.


The Alien quip was a gag on my part - quite clever but not remotely funny. Freud, as conducted by Gershenson (I think), was re-used quite extensively in Alien. Is this news?

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 11:38 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

No employee likes the boss.....

Maybe so, but you never hear complaints about Alfred Newman or Ray Heindorf. And at least some of the MGM composers liked Johnny Green.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 2:15 PM   
 By:   Bill Finn   (Member)

I don't understand where ALIEN fits in here? Wasn't that a TCF film conducted by L. Newman?

Interesting comments about Gershenson however.


The Alien quip was a gag on my part - quite clever but not remotely funny. Freud, as conducted by Gershenson (I think), was re-used quite extensively in Alien. Is this news?


No, actually I guessed that was what was meant soon after posting. I just had forgotten about
FREAUD showing up in ALIEN for a moment.

 
 
 Posted:   Jan 10, 2008 - 4:01 PM   
 By:   MMM   (Member)

I believe the oral history is at the American Film Institute, but I don't have my files in front of me. Most of what I know about Gershenson came from the fact that I know or knew many Universal composers and all of their families, and I never got much disagreement from my sources.

Regarding Alfred Newman, I once asked a composer who worked for Fox if he liked Newman, and he said Newman was so busy he almost never got to see him.

Rozsa worked at Universal just before and around the time Gershenson arrived, so Joe probably wasn't as involved as he might have been later. But my guess is he still would have allowed Rozsa to conduct, as Universal brought him in from outside and obviously wanted him. And they re-used music from his Universal films in many subsequent pictures. A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE came around the time the studio music departments were shutting down, and I don't know too much about Universal in 1958, as all my sources got fired around that time!

 
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