Alex North (born Isadore Soifer, December 4, 1910 – September 8, 1991) was an American composer best known for his many film scores, including A Streetcar Named Desire (one of the first jazz-based film scores), Viva Zapata!, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He was the first composer to receive an Honorary Academy Award, but never won a competitive Oscar despite fourteen nominations.
North was born Isadore Soifer in Chester, Pennsylvania, to Jewish parents Jesse and Baila (Bessie) who had left Russian Empire for the US around 1906. Jesse was from Bila Tserkva and Besie originated from Odessa (both cities are now in Ukraine). In the US, Jesse was a blacksmith, and Bessie ran a grocery store.
North managed to integrate his modernism into typical film music leitmotif structure, rich with themes. One of these became the famous song, "Unchained Melody". Nominated for fifteen Oscars but unsuccessful each time, North is one of only two film composers to receive the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, the other being Ennio Morricone. North's frequent collaborator as orchestrator was the avant-garde composer Henry Brant. He won the 1968 Golden Globe award for his music to The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968).
His best-known film scores include A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Viva Zapata!, The Rainmaker, Spartacus, The Misfits, Cleopatra, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Dragonslayer and Under the Volcano. His music for The Wonderful Country makes use of Mexican and American motifs.
His commissioned score for 2001: A Space Odyssey is notorious for having been discarded by director Stanley Kubrick. Although North later incorporated motifs from the rejected score for The Shoes of the Fisherman, Shanks and Dragonslayer, the score itself remained unheard until composer Jerry Goldsmith rerecorded it for Varèse Sarabande in 1993. In 2007, Intrada Records released the 1968 recording sessions on CD from North's personal archives.
North was also commissioned to write a jazz score for Nero Wolfe, a 1959 CBS-TV series based on Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe characters, starring William Shatner as Archie Goodwin and Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe. A pilot and two or three episodes were filmed, but the designated time slot was, in the end, given to another series. North's unheard score for Nero Wolfe and six recorded tracks on digital audio tape are in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections. He also wrote the music for various other television shows, such as the anthologies Climax! and Playhouse 90.
Though North is best known for his work in Hollywood, he spent years in New York writing music for the stage; he composed the score, for the original Broadway production of Death of a Salesman. It was in New York that he met Elia Kazan (director of Salesman), who brought him to Hollywood in the 1950s. North was one of several composers who brought the influence of contemporary concert music into film, in part marked by an increased use of dissonance and complex rhythms. But there is also a lyrical quality to much of his work which may be connected to the influence of Aaron Copland, with whom he studied.
His classical works include two symphonies and a Rhapsody for Piano, Trumpet obbligato and Orchestra. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his score for the 1976 television miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, and went on to score the sequel Rich Man, Poor Man Book II and the 1978 miniseries The Word. North is also known for his opening to the CBS television anthology series Playhouse 90 and the 1965 ABC television miniseries FDR.
He was recognized for his lifetime achievement in 2004 from the Sammy Film Music Awards.
In 2016, the Library of Congress added North's 1951 recording of his score to "A Streetcar Named Desire" to its National Recording Registry.
North died on September 8, 1991 in Los Angeles, California. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
The American Film Institute ranked North's score for A Streetcar Named Desire #19 on their list of the greatest film scores. His scores for the following films were also nominated for the list:
North was nominated for fifteen Academy Awards throughout his career, one for Best Original Song, the rest in the Best Original Score category, making him the most-nominated composer to have never won. He was however awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1986; he was the first composer to receive it.
Golden Globe Awards for Original Score:
ASCAP Award for Original Score:
Grammy Awards for Original Score:
- ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 308/9. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
- ^ Henderson, Sanya Shoilevska (2009). Alex North, Film Composer. McFarland. p. 7. ISBN 9780786443338.
- ^ The Billboard, April 20, 1959, pp. 38 + 40
- ^ Shepard, Richard F., The New York Times, April 9, 1959
- ^ Ewald, William F., Television in Review (syndicated column), April 9, 1959
- ^ Wrobel, Bill, Film Score Rundowns, "CBS Collection 072 UCLA," Blog 42, June 25, 2010. The film score researcher identifies 30 CBS digital audio tapes in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections (p. 168), with tracks 86–91 of DAT #11 being the Nero Wolfe music of Alex North (p. 174). The score, CPN5912, is in Box #105 (p. 51).