Herman Stein – Architect of the Sound of Science-Fiction

Composer Herman SteinThough his name isn’t widely recognized, Herman Stein was a very influential American composer. Though he composed hundreds of film scores, he was most influential in for his work within the genres of horror and science-fiction. Some of his most recognized scores were created for Creature from the black lagoon, The incredible shrinking man, It came from outer space, Love slaves of the Amazons, The Mole People, The Monolith MonstersRevenge of the Creature, and This Island EarthTarantula.

Herman Stein was born 19 August 1915 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began playing piano at the age of three and made his concert debut when he was six. Reportedly he was almost entirely self-taught, having spent many hours studying scores at his local public library.
He became a professional arranger when he was 15. In the 1930 and ‘40s, he arranged for bands, including those of Blanche Calloway, Bob CrosbyCount Basie, David Rubinoff, Don RedmanFred WaringGus Haenschen, and Red Norvo. He also composed for radio programs, cartoons, and commercials, as well as absolute music like 1967’s A sour suite.

During World War II he served in the army. In 1948, he moved to Los Angeles, California. There he studied with Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1949 he wrote Suite for Mario for his mentor, although it wasn’t recorded until 2008. In 1950 he married Anita Shervin, a violist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

 

In 1950 he was hired by Universal-International Studios, where the writing staff also included Hans J. Salter, William Lava, and Frank Skinner. He’s said to have ultimately worked on the scores for about 200 films, usually uncredited, and often collaborating with fellow greats like Salter, Skinner and most often, a young Henry Mancini, who was hired by Universal in 1952. For the scores on which they collaborated, Stein would handle the opening titles and dramatic scenes whilst Mancini would handle the lighter moments and “Mickey Mousing.”

Herman Stein - Kathleen Mayne, 1996

Stein also scored comedies, dramas and westerns such as
Abbott and Costello go to Mars, Has anybody seen my Gal?,
Drums across the river, Horizons West, The intruder, Willie and Joe Back at the front as well as about half of the Ma and Pa Kettle films. He left Universal in 1958 and went on to score other films and primarily TV. One of his last film score’s was for William Castle’s 1966 film, Let’sKilll Uncle.
For TV he composed for such series as Daniel Boone, Gunsmoke, The life and legend of Wyatt Earp, Lost in space, M Squad, The time tunnelVoyage to the bottom of the sea, and Wagon train. His very last film score was for Al Adamson’s 1975 comedy western, Blazing stewardesses. After composing 1979’s Mock march, he retired.

 

Stein’s wife, Anita, died in 2001. On 15 March, 2007, Stein died of congestive heart failure in his home at the age of 91.
Dick Jacobs - Theme from Horror Movies

My introduction to him (and Hans J. Salter and William Lava, for that matter) was as a child listening to a vinyl copy of Themes from horror movies (1959) performed by Dick Jacobs and his Orchestra and quirkily narrated by voice-over actor Bob McFadden (to text written by Mort Goode). At the time I hadn’t seen any of the films whose scores were included so I’d just listen to Stein’s themes, look at the posters, and let my imagination take over. Almost inevitably, once I would get around to seeing the films they usually disappointed but Stein’s themes still managed to elevate even the worst of them.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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