The Online Magazine
of Motion Picture
and Television
Music Appreciation
Film Score Monthly Subscribe Now!
film score daily 

The REAL Michael Hennagin Story

By Jeff Bond


From FSM Vol. 7, No. 8...

Way back in FSM Issue, Vol. 6, No. 3, I was in the middle of a rundown on various composers' contributions to the Irwin Allen television shows Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants, when I came across an entry in the Internet movie Database listing one "Michael Hennagin" as a pseudonym for Jerry Goldsmith, specifically in entries for two television series, an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, called "The Human Computer," and a 1959 TV series called Black Saddle. Several sources identified Hennagin as Mr. Goldsmith's brother-in-law, and the implication was that Goldsmith had used the pseudonym in order to ghostwrite some music for the two television shows during particularly busy times in his career.

Due to the extreme unreliability of the IMDB and my own well-exercised tendency to be completely wrong on occasion, our little sidebar, "The Michael Hennagin Story," turned out to be a work of fiction. However, it took over a year for the facts to catch up with us, in the form of Mr. Hennagin's former wife of 21 years, Marijo Hennagin-Mazur, who was more than happy to set the record straight.

It turns out that Mr. Hennagin did indeed write the score for the first season Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "The Human Computer" episode, meaning that Jerry Goldsmith's first work on the series was, as is usually noted, on the first episode of season two, "Jonah and the Whale." Hennagin, in fact, went on to become a well-known concert composer, after cutting his teeth composing, copying, orchestrating and occasionally ghostwriting in Hollywood.

Michael Hennagin was born in Oregon in 1936, but his family relocated to Los Angeles when he was eight years old. When he was 13, Hennagin's sister, Sharon, married Jerry Goldsmith. According to Marijo Hennagin-Mazur, Goldsmith quickly recognized Michael's gift for music, and gave him a number of opportunities to learn the crafts of music copying and orchestration, as well as the chance to sit in on the composer's recording sessions. During his later student years, Hennagin supported himself by frequently copying and orchestrating for Goldsmith and, according to Hennagin-Mazur, by ghostwriting portions of some film scores for Goldsmith and the famed choral conductor Roger Wagner. Hennagin also composed three cues for Otto Preminger's In Harm's Way. According to Hennagin-Mazur, one of these, written for harmonica solo, caused the normally intimidating and hard-to-please Preminger to rush out of the booth and embrace Jerry Goldsmith -- unaware that the composer, who was conducting, had not written the cue in question.

Michael Hennagin was always vocal about crediting Goldsmith for giving him important opportunities to gain experience in the Hollywood music industry, and for setting a stellar example of high musical standards for Hennagin to follow.

Hennagin left Hollywood in 1961, to attend the Aspen Summer Music Festival as a student of French composer Darius Milhaud, and afterwards, to pursue a degree at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he was the only composer in the previous four years to be granted admission on full scholarship. After graduating from the Curtis Institute in 1963, Hennagin became a student of Aaron Copland (at the famed composer's invitation) at the Berkshire Summer Music Festival at Tanglewood. He returned to Los Angeles in the fall of 1963, and between September of that year and June of 1965 composed music for several television series, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Having had difficulty making ends meet, Hennagin and his family left Hollywood in June of 1965, when he received a Ford Foundation grant as composer-in-residence for the Detroit Public Schools. Ironically, just after his departure from Hollywood, he received offers (relayed by Jerry Goldsmith) to score the entire first season of the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the film Lilies of the Field, but Hennagin felt compelled to turn these offers down.

The following year, Hennagin embarked on a long and successful career as a university professor and composer of concert music. His oeuvre comprises works for instrumental and vocal solo, chamber ensembles, symphonic band and orchestra, and, by the time of his death in 1993, Hennagin was recognized as one of this country's leading composers of choral music. He received numerous commissions, as well as many awards, including (among others) the Music Teachers National Association's National Composer of the Year Award in 1975, a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1976 for a major work for the U.S. Bicentennial (So the World Went Small, for Men's Chorus and instruments), a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, the University of Oklahoma Regents Award for Superior Creative Activity in 1988, and the ASCAP Standard Award for Performances of serious music for 24 consecutive years. Hennagin made frequent appearances as guest artist and composer, as lecturer and conductor at concerts and workshops across the country, and organized and directed many concerts and music festivals. He retired in the fall of 1991 from the University of Oklahoma as Professor Emeritus of Music, in order to devote full time to composing.

Michael Hennagin died suddenly on June 11, 1993, at the age of 56. He had only just completed a major work, Proud Music, for chorus and orchestra, based on the poetry of Walt Whitman and commissioned by the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, which performed the work in his memory several days after his death. Hennagin was further honored by the University of Oklahoma, with a three-day retrospective music festival, Michael Hennagin: A Celebration, in November of 1993.

We welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on this composer for our readers, and regret any misconceptions created by the original sidebar on Jerry Goldsmith and Michael Hennagin.

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com


Past Film Score Daily Articles

Film Score Monthly Home Page
© 1997-2014 Lukas Kendall. All rights reserved.