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 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 7:29 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

It is well known that a musicians' strike in 1958 resulted in significant changes to Hollywood's musical status quo. Within a short time the studios dissolved their in-house music departments, with the result that composers, orchestrators, and players soon found themselves working on a freelance basis. This marked the end of the studio era in film scoring -- deemed by some to have been a "golden age."

How this all came about had never been entirely clear to me. So I was grateful when in another thread somebody recommended an early book by Jon Burlingame that had somehow escaped my notice. This book (his first) For the Record, was published in 1997 by the Recording Musicians Association. This short volume (106 pages), evidently a commissioned work for the union, is long out of print but can be found among second-hand vendors. It sheds some light. My thanks to whoever recommended it.

Actually the events of 1958 constitute only a tiny part of Burlingame's union narrative. They deserve fuller explication. I'll summarize Burlingame's account here in the hope that somebody may be able to expand upon it.

1. Recording musicians on the West Coast (film, TV, commercial jingles, etc.) were unhappy with their union, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and its longtime boss, James Caesar Petrillo. The latter exacted big fees for a general musicians' trust fund that favored the large numbers of part-time players across the nation at the expense of the Hollywood professionals.

2. The AFM policies also discouraged television producers from scoring in Hollywood, with the result that most 1950s shows (e.g., Superman) were using canned library cues recorded in Europe.

3. In February 1958 the AFM called a strike against the motion picture studios, which meant that now the aggrieved musicians could not work at all.

4. In March a breakaway group formed the Musicians Guild of America (MGA), causing a bitter intra-union split. A closely contested election in July gave the MGA the right to negotiate with the Hollywood studios. "Caesar" Petrillo had resigned under pressure in May.

5. The MGA's first contract succeeded in guaranteeing more television work in Hollywood. Coincidentally, Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn scores (via a separate AFM contract) gave new prominence to original TV music. "Within the next two years the 'canned music' plague was virtually eliminated (p. 22).'"

6. Here's Burlingame, quoting saxophonist and MGA leader Ted Nash, on the result: "Performing for theatrical film production would be on an individual, freelance basis operating within the economic-reality window of supply and demand, functioning to find its own level. All this, unfortunately, meant that the major studio staff orchestras had to go. We made a lot of enemies on that one, but time soothed all wounds (pp. 22-25)."

And that's it from Burlingame. The rest of the book goes on to relate many more years of labor history and reorganization. But there's nothing more about the 1958 strike and the end of the studio music departments. Maybe somebody can step forward to fill in the gap.

 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 7:34 AM   
 By:   OnlyGoodMusic   (Member)

I think the end of studio orchestras pretty much coincided with the end of the whole "studio system".

Anyway, the unions did what they almost always do: Shoot themselves in the foot!

Because of the unions there are also next to no classical recordings being made in the US any more. Thanks to the unions American orchestras priced themselves out of the market. Good job - then and now!

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 2:22 PM   
 By:   roy phillippe   (Member)

It is well known that a musicians' strike in 1958 resulted in significant changes to Hollywood's musical status quo. Within a short time the studios dissolved their in-house music departments, with the result that composers, orchestrators, and players soon found themselves working on a freelance basis. This marked the end of the studio era in film scoring -- deemed by some to have been a "golden age."

How this all came about had never been entirely clear to me. So I was grateful when in another thread somebody recommended an early book by Jon Burlingame that had somehow escaped my notice. This book (his first) For the Record, was published in 1997 by the Recording Musicians Association. This short volume (106 pages), evidently a commissioned work for the union, is long out of print but can be found among second-hand vendors. It sheds some light. My thanks to whoever recommended it.

Actually the events of 1958 constitute only a tiny part of Burlingame's union narrative. They deserve fuller explication. I'll summarize Burlingame's account here in the hope that somebody may be able to expand upon it.

1. Recording musicians on the West Coast (film, TV, commercial jingles, etc.) were unhappy with their union, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and its longtime boss, James Caesar Petrillo. The latter exacted big fees for a general musicians' trust fund that favored the large numbers of part-time players across the nation at the expense of the Hollywood professionals.

2. The AFM policies also discouraged television producers from scoring in Hollywood, with the result that most 1950s shows (e.g., Superman) were using canned library cues recorded in Europe.




3. In February 1958 the AFM called a strike against the motion picture studios, which meant that now the aggrieved musicians could not work at all.

4. In March a breakaway group formed the Musicians Guild of America (MGA), causing a bitter intra-union split. A closely contested election in July gave the MGA the right to negotiate with the Hollywood studios. "Caesar" Petrillo had resigned under pressure in May.

5. The MGA's first contract succeeded in guaranteeing more television work in Hollywood. Coincidentally, Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn scores (via a separate AFM contract) gave new prominence to original TV music. "Within the next two years the 'canned music' plague was virtually eliminated (p. 22).'"

6. Here's Burlingame, quoting saxophonist and MGA leader Ted Nash, on the result: "Performing for theatrical film production would be on an individual, freelance basis operating within the economic-reality window of supply and demand, functioning to find its own level. All this, unfortunately, meant that the major studio staff orchestras had to go. We made a lot of enemies on that one, but time soothed all wounds (pp. 22-25)."

And that's it from Burlingame. The rest of the book goes on to relate many more years of labor history and reorganization. But there's nothing more about the 1958 strike and the end of the studio music departments. Maybe somebody can step forward to fill in the gap.


The LA strike in 1980 did the most damage to all aspects of the recording business and it never recovered. Goodbye orchestras, hello synthesizers.

 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 3:23 PM   
 By:   ToneRow   (Member)

Hi, Rozsaphile.

While I'm very interested in topics such as these, I have no contribution to make unfortunately.

Perhaps David "MMM" Schecter might have some of the additional information you seek?

On a tangent, you might be interested in additional books, such as this one on Ingolf Dahl ...



... which I haven't read but perused through while in a library.

The author has written a lot of 'behind-the-scenes' recollections and anecdotes regarding studio musicians and their extra-studio activties and lives.

Not to derail this thread, but I think another thread could easily be created to discuss the behaviors and mentalities of studio musicians.
From what little I read about them, they appear to be folks who viewed their work at the studios as their day jobs and went to jazz joints/clubs or dance bands during the night to perform the music that they really loved as music-makers.
These musicians did not seem to have any high opinion about performing music for films and I get the impression that many of them did not even patronize the cinema.

I've also wondered why a message board devoted to film music, such as FSM, possesses such a paucity of members who are/were musicians performing for films, TV, etc.

Of course, many of them are deceased or rather elderly, but one would think musicians like Israel Baker or Maurice Murphy or Tommy Morgan or Uan Rasey or Emil Richards would have shared their perspectives and industry experiences to soundtrack fans on this Board and elsewhere.

Sadly, I suspect most of them simply did not regard their time & work making music for movies as anything to be deemed 'important'...

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 3:51 PM   
 By:   jonathan_little   (Member)

Because of the unions there are also next to no classical recordings being made in the US any more. Thanks to the unions American orchestras priced themselves out of the market. Good job - then and now!

What major orchestras anywhere are doing a lot of recording? I see a trickle of recordings from the Berlin Philharmonic and the RSNO, but beyond that it's mostly other subsidized European ensembles like radio orchestras. The music industry is just dying in general, it goes far beyond "OMG US UNIONS!!!"

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 4:14 PM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

Trumpeter Uan Rasey, at least, gave a good interview to Leonard Maltin. It was in Maltin's print newsletter, Movie Crazy, and is now accessible for a fee here: http://blogs.indiewire.com/leonardmaltin/a_sound_that_will_last_forever You can read the opening for free.

Rasey spoke of various Hollywood maestros and seemed more interested in their conducting than in the music itself. He tells interesting stories about Previn (talented), Newman (nervous in live performance), Herrmann (the usual!), and Green (pompous, incompetent). he seems to think Rozsa was a band leader who "hadn't spent much time on the road"! It's obvious that Rasey viewed everything from the vantage point of a big band musician.

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 18, 2013 - 7:11 PM   
 By:   jonathan_little   (Member)

He finally did Taxi Driver, remember that picture? And he [wouldn’t] conduct.

Huh, the guy who was going to end up dying that night wouldn't conduct. What a surprise there!

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 20, 2013 - 10:12 AM   
 By:   Rozsaphile   (Member)

Still hoping that somebody can tell us more about the 1958 strike and its immediate effect. In the meantime it might be interesting to examine how the leading composers of the day fared in the subsequent years.

Max Steiner (aged 70) was nearing the end of his long career. He continued to work on major films, almost entirely for Warner Bros., until 1965.

Dimitri Tiomkin (64), not associated with any particular studio, went on busily composing for another decade before ending his career producing a Tchaikovsky biopic for the Soviet Union.

Alfred Newman (58) scarcely looked back at Fox, where he left a younger brother in charge of an eviscerated music department. He scored major films (including the two most ambitious efforts of his entire career) for Paramount, Metro, United Artists, Warners, and Universal. There was even a final Oscar, his ninth, for a musical adaptation.

Franz Waxman (52) scored relatively few additional films before his tragically early death in 1967. Almost alone of this group, he accepted television work, partly in order to subsidize his Los Angeles International Music Festival.

Miklós Rózsa (51) was approaching the zenith of his career. Nobody could have foreseen that he would do only two more pictures on his M-G-M contract, only one of them an in-house production. What happened next, following his major efforts on EL CID and SODOM, was a half-decade of total cinema silence and only sporadic movie work thereafter. Of course this falling-off cannot be blamed on the strike. Rózsa mainly wanted to concentrate on his personal music, and by this time he could afford to do so.

Bernard Herrmann (47), ever the outsider, was likewise nearing a career peak that carried over until the rupture with Hitchcock. Soon after that, he was virtually unemployable in Hollywood. His own personality, rather than the strike, had driven him out.[/li]

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 20, 2013 - 3:49 PM   
 By:   OnyaBirri   (Member)



Not to derail this thread, but I think another thread could easily be created to discuss the behaviors and mentalities of studio musicians.
From what little I read about them, they appear to be folks who viewed their work at the studios as their day jobs and went to jazz joints/clubs or dance bands during the night to perform the music that they really loved as music-makers.
These musicians did not seem to have any high opinion about performing music for films and I get the impression that many of them did not even patronize the cinema.



The nature of session work is that it's a day at the office. For every 100 sessions you do, 99 of them are forgettable. The memorable ones are often the really awful ones rather than the good ones. This is why many session musicians burn out.

Also, keep in mind that these musicians don't have the opportunity to rehearse the music in advance. Even if they get their parts in advance, they don't hear their parts in context until the recording. They are therefore not able to internalize the music. They're focusing on their parts, which can be boring, interesting, or challenging.

Having said this, musicians will have favorite types of sessions and try to get on the leader's A list. Many of the musicians who worked with Henry Mancini, for example, really wanted to play on those sessions. And then there is the rare story of, for another example, Nelson Riddle's chart for Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin," which inspired the musicians to burst into applause at the end and give Riddle a standing ovation.

But, sure, most musicians would rather be doing their own thing, just as the composers have the opportunity to do their own thing.

 
 
 Posted:   Dec 20, 2013 - 4:26 PM   
 By:   Dylan S   (Member)

A friend of Hummie Mann's told me that the Las Vegas musicians strike in 1989 also had a large effect on the music industry at large. At least, that's when the casinos stopped using large orchestras and turned to recorded music. It was the nail in the coffin for those looking for full time employment as an orchestra player.

 
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