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FMS FEATURE ARTICLE...
February 13, 2004
Richard Shores Remembered
A look back at the life and career of a remarkable composer
by Jon Burlingame
Editor's Note: This is the second of a three-part tribute. You may access Part I by following the link in the sidebar to the right.
Richard Shores began working at CBS in 1964. He was one of few composers to write original music for Perry Mason (10 episodes during the series' final two seasons, 1964-66), most of which were tracked with music from the network's extensive music library. In fact, he scored the only color episode of Raymond Burr's long-running courtroom series, "The Case of the Twice-Told Twist," which aired in February 1966. A contemporary take on the Dickens story "Oliver Twist," it was a story about teenagers stripping cars and prominently featured Shores' upbeat, jazzy juvenile-delinquent music.
He also did one of the last original scores for The Twilight Zone, "Caesar and Me" (about a ventriloquist's dummy, starring Jackie Cooper), which aired in April 1964. Also at CBS between 1964 and 1966, he found himself back in the saddle with three Gunsmokes and two Rawhides. He even did two episodes of the short-lived sitcom The Cara Williams Show.
By this time, Shores had acquired a reputation for versatility. He had done westerns, dramas, detective shows, comedy and fantasy, and other studios began hiring him as well. MGM, in particular, put him to work on three series between 1966 and 1968: the World War II series Jericho (five scores, more than any other composer), the spy spoof The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (three) and the final season of the spy classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (six scores, covering most of the series' fourth season).
All three shows were from Norman Felton's Arena Productions. Shores had known Felton back in Chicago, during their radio days. "He was at NBC when I was," Shores said. "I did a couple of radio shows, dramatic shows that he was involved with as a producer."
Jericho, of course, demanded plenty of military-style suspense scoring, and Shores often referred back to Jerry Goldsmith's heroic theme (something that other composers rarely did). Girl From U.N.C.L.E., an otherwise hopeless adventure series, was improved by Shores' lighthearted action music themes that turned out to be so integral to the series that they found their way into nearly every episode.
As for The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Shores' music dominated the final season of international derring-do by Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. The producers were attempting to return to a more serious action-adventure format, after a year of Batman-influenced camp that sometimes led to overly silly musical choices. Shores' intense accompaniment ranged from the creative use of timpani and those great '60s bongos to cleverly employed electronic keyboards and unexpected time signatures.
His first two efforts for the series, "The 'J' for Judas Affair" and "The Summit-Five Affair," contained music that was recycled throughout the remainder of the season. And his exotically flavored two-parters, "The Prince of Darkness Affair" and "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair," were turned into feature films (retitled The Helicopter Spies and How to Steal the World, respectively) that received international theatrical distribution and considerable television replay later around the world.
His favorite show of the '60s was not at MGM, however. "I have very fond memories of The Wild Wild West at CBS," he said. "It was a western, but not a western. They had a lot of tricks and gizmos, private-eye stuff. It was clever and funny and fanciful. I liked that show." Shores wound up doing six episodes of the Robert Conrad-Ross Martin favorite: one each in the first, second and third seasons, and three in the fourth. (Several more were tracked with his music, and as per common practice of the time, he received screen credit when a majority of a show's music was his hence his name on a total of 15 Wild Wild Wests.)
His first was "The Night of the Burning Diamond," composed in March 1966 for a 17-piece ensemble, including for the disappearing bad guy the use of Jack Cookerly's souped-up organ with Echoplex (an early indication of Shores' ongoing fascination with the tricks that the technology of the time offered).
"The Night of the Eccentrics," the second-season opener and first to feature Victor Buono as black-magic purveyor Count Manzeppi, featured music of appropriately bizarre charm, with an effective combination of harpsichord and Fender bass. "Night of the Firebrand," a third-season adventure with Pernell Roberts and Lana Wood, was especially music-driven, featuring the complex melodic lines and surprising rhythmic patterns that had made his U.N.C.L.E. scores so distinctive. Fourth-season episodes ("Night of the Kraken," "...the Sedgewick Curse" and "...the Big Blackmail") were marked by offbeat percussion and keyboard effects.
"The Wild Wild West was perfect for his style," recalls Don Ray, "because it wasn't really 19th-century. He wrote, essentially, in a very sophisticated dance-band style, beyond Stan Kenton. When he was writing for Gunsmoke, it wasn't of the period, but it was so good psychologically and musically that it worked."
It was also on Wild Wild West and U.N.C.L.E. that Shores' penchant for electronics first became apparent. As his frequent lyricist Stewart Cohn wrote at the time: "Not always content with the limitations of the conventional musical instruments at hand, Shores is in constant search for new sounds for his film scores. Happily, some of the new 'now' instruments, such as the Gibson Electric Organ, are extremely facile and may be utilized in an infinite number of musical situations." The '70s would see a similar fascination with the ARP synthesizer and Yamaha Electone organ.
Bill Calkins, who regularly played flute and clarinet for Shores, became such an integral part of the Shores ensemble that the composer began writing specifically for him (CBS scores at the UCLA music library have "woodwind" crossed out and "Calkins" written for that line instead). "At that time, I started using amplified woodwinds," Calkins explained, "with sound boxes and so forth. I used Echoplex a lot. Dick liked those sounds."
The year 1966 was among Shores' busiest yet. In addition to all his work at MGM and CBS, he also launched a relationship with Walt Disney Productions, scoring a live-action theatrical short, Run, Appaloosa, Run, about a Native American girl and her beloved horse (more widely seen on TV's The Wonderful World of Color in 1967 and '68). He would return to Disney for other shows including Chester, Yesterday's Horse, the two-part Mystery in Dracula's Castle (both of which aired in 1973) and Twister, Bull from the Sky (1976).
Back at CBS, Shores scored one of the best episodes of Stuart Whitman's 90-minute western series Cimarron Strip. Called "The Roarer," it aired in November 1967 and guest-starred Richard Boone as a drunken, out-of-control soldier whom Marshal Crown (Whitman) must hunt down and bring in. Shores' music particularly his elegiac finale ranked with the finest TV western scores of the era.
In another brief shot at features, MGM music chief Robert Armbruster hired Shores to score The Last Challenge, a 1967 western starring Glenn Ford, Angie Dickinson and Chad Everett. In reviewing the film, the Motion Picture Herald commented that "Richard Shores' background score is a powerful undercurrent for the action."
Bouncing back and forth between studios, Shores returned to Universal to score one of the first episodes of Robert Wagner's spy series It Takes a Thief, "A Very Warm Reception" with Simon Oakland. Less than half of the 66 "Thief" episodes were scored with original music, and Shores' music was regularly tracked into subsequent shows.
© 2004 Jon Burlingame
Richard Shores Remembered, Part I
Richard Shores Remembered, Part II
Richard Shores Remembered, Part III