November 25, 2013
20th Century Fox Honors Lionel Newman
Studio dedicates music building to composer's memory by Jon Burlingame
CENTURY CITY, Calif.—The Fox Music Building was formally renamed The Lionel Newman Music Building Thursday afternoon in a dedication ceremony attended by an estimated 300 friends and colleagues on the 20th Century-Fox lot.
Lionel Newman headed the studio music department for 22 years beginning in 1963, and was one of the most colorful musicians in Hollywood history. He began at Fox in 1943 as a rehearsal pianist (working under his older brother Alfred Newman) and went on to compose, conduct or supervise more than 250 scores until his retirement from Fox in 1985.
Fox chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos opened the 20-minute program, noting that "we have always acknowledged that we are the custodians of a great legacy. The man we're honoring tonight played a very central role in that legacy for decades. This was his headquarters for over 40 years," he said.
Director Steven Spielberg reminisced about being introduced to Lionel by his new collaborator John Williams shortly after they scored Jaws in 1975. "The first day I met Lionel, I realized I needed to be on his side – because you didn't want to be on the other side of Lionel, ever," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
"Lionel would hold court," Spielberg said. "When he was in a very good mood, we would have a wonderful hour having lunch together. But when somebody crossed Lionel, you heard such language come out of Lionel's mouth.... I never learned to swear until I came here to Fox," he added, eliciting more laughter from many in the crowd who knew Lionel's reputation for salty language.
Williams recalled first playing piano for Alfred Newman in the 1950s, then meeting Lionel in the 1960s "when he invited me over here to compose some television scores," which led to Williams having an office just down the hall from Lionel's for the next 25 years.
"Lionel was inimitable and irreplaceable and an original," Williams said, adding that, for him, they were "indescribably wonderful and rich and fabulous times." He called the renaming of the building "a singularly great thing that Fox is doing in remembering this great man."
Randy Newman, Lionel's nephew, predictably had the crowd in stitches, starting with the observation that "Lionel was not a great lover of humanity. He was rough on the rest of the family," he explained, adding that, given the prominence of his older brother, "it couldn't have been easy for Lionel."
But, Randy said, Lionel "was enormously serious about music, and good at it. I look at those pictures of him conducting, and sometimes I think that was where it was the most real for him." He told of Lionel's penchant for funny (and sometimes cruel) nicknames for other composers (Elmer Bernstein was "the wrong Bernstein," Jerry Goldsmith was "Gorgeous," presumably for his beautifully coiffed hair) and added that "he was a great conductor and a great musician and a very good guy. I miss him."
Speaking for the third generation of Newmans in film music was Lionel's grandson Joey Newman (who scores ABC's The Middle), who called him Poppy. "My grandfather was an incredible role model," Joey said. "Here's to Poppy."
At the conclusion of the program, a brass quintet and drummer performed the famous Fox fanfare (composed by Alfred) as Randy Newman and John Williams unveiled a bronze plaque featuring a smiling Lionel at the podium.
The 2,000-square foot building, believed to have been built around 1940, is on the east corner of Stage 4, itself located east of the massive Fox scoring stage (which was renamed the Newman Scoring Stage in 1997 to honor all the Newmans). Over the years, the structure housed the studio Post Office, the Messenger/ Package Department, Optical Printing and Cutting rooms, TV Film Editing rooms, finally becoming the Music Department sometime after 1960. In addition to Randy and Joey Newman, more than a dozen Newmans were present, including fellow composers David Newman and Thomas Newman (both sons of Alfred); and all three of Lionel's daughters – Carroll, Jenifer and Deborah.
The plaque cites Lionel's success as a hit songwriter ("Again," from 1949's Road House); TV theme composer (Daniel Boone, Dobie Gillis and others); his Oscar win (for Hello, Dolly! in 1969, one of 11 nominations); his fame as Marilyn Monroe's musical director (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, There's No Business Like Show Business); some of his dramatic scores (The Proud Ones, Love Me Tender, Compulsion); and his role as conductor for some of the studio's biggest films (Cleopatra, The Omen, Alien). He died in February 1989.
Attendees were presented with a commemorative 18-track CD sampler of some of Lionel's work at Fox, including "Again," "Kiss Them for Me," "North to Alaska," "New York" from How to Marry a Millionaire, and themes for The Proud Ones and Hong Kong.
©2013 Jon Burlingame