Film Score Monthly
FSM HOME MESSAGE BOARD FSM CDs FSM ONLINE RESOURCES FUN STUFF ABOUT US  SEARCH FSM   
Search Terms: 
Search Within:   search tips 
You must log in or register to post.
  Go to page:    
 Posted:   Oct 24, 2008 - 6:00 PM   
 By:   Jeff Eldridge   (Member)

On Friday, October 24, 1958 at 9:00 PM (8:00 Central) viewers of NBC stations around the United States witnessed an important piece of film and television history. The show was M Squad, starring Lee Marvin as Lt. Frank Ballinger of the Chicago Police Department. The episode was "The Trap," guest starring Robert Fuller as a young man who mistakenly thinks he shot a pawnshop owner; Ballinger tries to track him down before the desperate man commits a more serious crime. "The Trap" was a serviceable, if not a particularly remarkable, entry in a series that had already logged one season on the network.

M Squad's first season had been scored with library music under the supervision of Stanley Wilson, music director of Revue Studios (the TV production arm of MCA, which produced the series). Wilson had also provided the series' first theme. Beginning in the fall of 1958 (due to a change in musician union rules) Revue adopted a policy of original scoring for many of its programs, including sophomore series like Wagon Train, Bachelor Father and M Squad, some of which also received new themes. For M Squad, jazz great Count Basie was commissioned to write and record a new title theme, which made its debut on September 19, 1958--three days before Henry Mancini's much more famous "crime jazz" theme for Peter Gunn. That second-season premiere of M Squad sported a score by Ernest Gold and the ensuing three weeks saw scores from Gerald Fried, Alexander Courage and Herman Stein.

While the scores for these first four 1958-59 episodes can be described as "jazzy" or even "jazz-based," M Squad did not find its true "crime jazz" musical voice until the season's fifth episode, "The Trap," for which Wilson turned to a young pianist, arranger and orchestrator who also played on Mancini's Peter Gunn sessions (and the subsequent Gunn soundtrack album): John Williams.
"The Trap" is notable because this appears to be the first-ever screen credit as composer for Williams, who for this episode was billed as "John T. Williams Jr.":



Williams retained that billing the subsequent week, when he scored the season's sixth episode, "Force of Habit." For the seventh episode, "The Phantom Raiders," Wilson tapped jazz saxophonist Benny Carter, who had played on one of Williams' earlier M Squad dates. This was another remarkable moment in the history of TV scoring, as it represented the first time an African-American composer had received screen credit for a prime-time TV score.

In all, John Williams would provide music for eight of the 40 M Squads that aired during the 1958-59 season (switching his billing to "Johnny Williams" after the first two episodes). Only Benny Carter would score more (17); Carter went on to write all of the music for the show's third (and final) season. A soundtrack LP, featuring an extended version of Basie's theme along with selections by Williams, Carter and Wilson, was released during the second season.

Williams' first feature credit would come toward the end of 1958: Daddy-O, a fairly awful low-budget crime film with music very much in the vein of the composer's scores for M Squad. Before the year was out, Williams would also score an episode of Wagon Train ("The Beauty Jamison Story," with three more to follow during the balance of the 1958-59 season); in January 1959 he also took over scoring responsibilities (from Jeff Alexander) for the sitcom Bachelor Father. The following season Williams would be assigned his own crime show, the detective series Checkmate (FSMCD Vol. 9, No. 8), and continue scoring Bachelor Father.

I doubt anyone watching M Squad 50 years ago tonight realized that they were witnessing history in the making, but we can now look back and recognize that it represented an important first step in a magnificent career that has--as of this moment--reached the half-century mark.

###

A few footnotes:

1) Anyone interested in the history of television music, including Peter Gunn, M Squad, Wagon Train and more, should read Jon Burlingame's TV's Biggest Hits.

2) M Squad served as the inspiration for the short-lived Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker TV series Police Squad!, starring Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin. Despite its brief six-episode run, the program quickly attained a cult status and later served as the basis for three feature films, beginning with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. Anyone who has seen Police Squad! will find it nearly impossible to watch M Squad with a straight face. Ira Newborn's theme and episode scores for Police Squad! pay close homage to the Count Basie M Squad theme and the original scores by Williams and Carter.

3) Timeless Media Group recently announced that they will be releasing the entire 117-episode run of M Squad on DVD on November 11, 2008. The set will also include a CD with the M Squad soundtrack. Like some of TMG's other releases (such as selected episodes of Checkmate and Wagon Train), the M Squad set appears to be derived (at least in part) from collector prints rather than studio masters (although the set is licensed from NBC Universal).

 
 Posted:   Oct 24, 2008 - 6:21 PM   
 By:   MRAUDIO   (Member)

Interesting post - thanks for sharing.

It's hard to believe that John Williams has been around so long and still at it - here's to another 50 years of great Williams music...:-)

--
Sent on a phone using T9space.com

 
 Posted:   Oct 24, 2008 - 6:50 PM   
 By:   Scott M (Oldsmith)   (Member)

I was watching the Indiana Jones/Crystal Skull DVD bonus features and they had some time devoted to John Williams and his music (of course). And it amazed me how young he is in his manner, his voice and personality. He doesn't even physically look his age, and he still has the enthusiasm of a young composer.

God love him, I hope he's around for some time to come. It would be a sadder world with a little less magic without him.

 
 Posted:   Oct 24, 2008 - 7:13 PM   
 By:   Charles Thaxton   (Member)

In addition to all of his cinematic masterworks, I've always loved Mr. Williams' work for LOST IN SPACE tv series. I've often wished he could do a re-record of all those tracks with new technology and maybe a bigger orchestra. "My Friend Mr. Nobody" is a real gem. You can hear many of his scores to come within a lot of these LIS cues (also his LAND OF THE GIANTS "The Crash" music)

 
 Posted:   Oct 24, 2008 - 7:55 PM   
 By:   mxmx   (Member)

Thanks, Jeff, for being such a great resource and for sharing this fascinating information on this historic occasion.

Mike

 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2008 - 12:28 AM   
 By:   chriss   (Member)

Thanks for posting this!

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2008 - 2:24 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Yes, thanks for commemorating this event, Jeff. You are the master of all things that have do with Williams dates and airtimes etc.! smile

It is perhaps worth noting that although M SQUAD may have been Williams' first screen credit (and subsequently his earliest film/TV music recording), there was a jazzy tune called "Hello" on an album called THE JOHN TOWNER TOUCH that was recorded on October 18th, 1956 that deserves credit for being his first COMPOSITION released commercially. So that is also a historical milestone in Williams' career. This tune, along with many other archival tunes performed or arranged (or even composed) by Williams was released on the 2CD set JAZZ BEGINNINGS from Fresh Sound Records two years ago (one of the most important film music-RELATED releases these last few years, IMO). More opinions about that set here:

http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/board/posts.cfm?threadID=37241&forumID=1&archive=1

Amazing to think that Williams was only 26 years old when his first episode of M SQUAD aired, and by then he had already worked in the biz for quite a few years. Certainly puts my own ambition or career in perspective, as I'm sure it does for most "normal" people. I'm coming up on 31 years myself and haven't achieved even 1/100 the stature that Williams had at a much earlier age.

I've never seen a single episode of M SQUAD, but I've seen DADDY-O. A very bad film, but not bereft of entertainment value due to its dated cheesiness. There are some pretty suave rock'n'roll songs in there (not composed by Williams) that have seemingly no other narrative purpose than add a "contemporary" vibe to the proceedings. This was obviously a film made in the mold of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE. Hope the score is released some day.

Anyways, here's to Williams' 50th anniversary in the business! I still hope to see him live some day.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2008 - 7:52 PM   
 By:   TomD   (Member)

Thanks for the alert, Jeff. Unfortunately, I saw it about 25 hours too late for a proper celebration.

 
 Posted:   Oct 25, 2008 - 9:35 PM   
 By:   Michael Condon   (Member)

Thanks for the cool anniversary post. It's interesting that scores to "Poseidon Adventure," or "The Cowboys" might be considered as "early" in his career.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2008 - 2:32 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

Thanks for the cool anniversary post. It's interesting that scores to "Poseidon Adventure," or "The Cowboys" might be considered as "early" in his career.

I don't consider them early. They were written well into his established career.

 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2008 - 6:02 AM   
 By:   MaurizioCaschetto   (Member)

Thanks Jeff for this nice anniversary reminder.

It's really amazing to realize that the Man's music is accompanying us since 1958.

Thanks for all the amazing music, Maestro Williams. Here's to another 50 years of magic.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2008 - 8:13 AM   
 By:   TomD   (Member)

Thanks for the cool anniversary post. It's interesting that scores to "Poseidon Adventure," or "The Cowboys" might be considered as "early" in his career.

I don't consider them early. They were written well into his established career.


John Williams' establishment as a major figure seems rather diffuse. Certainly he was much admired by his colleagues in the 60s, but ascension to the throne was in fits and starts, collecting more gold statues for arranging than for composing. It is not clear that his Oscar nomination for arranging VALLEY OF THE DOLLS lifted him out of the pack. And, what was he doing between his double Oscar nomination for 1969 and premiere of THE COWBOYS in early 1972? Did JANE EYRE and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF take up two years?

I knew his name from hearing the theme from CHECKMATE way, way back when it was first on TV, and there was plenty of fine TV work throughout the 60s. However, I wouldn't consider him firmly established (in a public sense) until THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). It should have been the THE COWBOYS, but the album that the public was begging for in record stores incomprehensibly did not appear.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2008 - 8:29 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

I knew his name from hearing the theme from CHECKMATE way, way back when it was first on TV, and there was plenty of fine TV work throughout the 60s. However, I wouldn't consider him firmly established (in a public sense) until THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). It should have been the THE COWBOYS, but the album that the public was begging for in record stores incomprehensibly did not appear.

Oh yes, when you've gathered Oscar nominations, arranged for and performed with top artists in the industry and provided scores for famous TV shows and semi-famous feature films for more than a decade, you're definitely established in the industry. But of course, his big breakthrough as A-list composer could probably be argued. Most would pick JAWS as that milestone. Some would pick TOWERING INFERNO.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 26, 2008 - 11:41 AM   
 By:   TomD   (Member)

I knew his name from hearing the theme from CHECKMATE way, way back when it was first on TV, and there was plenty of fine TV work throughout the 60s. However, I wouldn't consider him firmly established (in a public sense) until THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). It should have been the THE COWBOYS, but the album that the public was begging for in record stores incomprehensibly did not appear.

Oh yes, when you've gathered Oscar nominations, arranged for and performed with top artists in the industry and provided scores for famous TV shows and semi-famous feature films for more than a decade, you're definitely established in the industry. But of course, his big breakthrough as A-list composer could probably be argued. Most would pick JAWS as that milestone. Some would pick TOWERING INFERNO.


JAWS certainly was the bigger fish and a real milestone, but I think that TOWERING INFERNO began his continuous string of "big" movies.

 
 
 Posted:   Oct 27, 2008 - 10:48 AM   
 By:   Thor   (Member)

JAWS certainly was the bigger fish and a real milestone, but I think that TOWERING INFERNO began his continuous string of "big" movies.

Yeah, that's a fair assertion.

 
You must log in or register to post.
  Go to page:    
© 2014 Film Score Monthly. All Rights Reserved.