When I was about 12, my dad built a television set from a Heath kit. He taught me how to solder the circuitry so I could help. When the tv was finished, he cut and framed a hole in the paneled wall separating the basement rec room from the workroom that held his tools and electronic gadgets. Then he took the new television into his workroom and positioned it in the custom-sized opening he’d prepared, so that the screen was flush with the paneling and faced the rec room. The rest of the tv remained behind the wall, in his workroom. The effect, from our comfy couch on the other side, was a little like a flat-screen tv—in the mid-1960s. We even had a remote control, “the clicker” as my dad still calls it.
My family of five often sat together in front of that television. Theme songs from 1950s and 60s shows still play in my mind. There were a lot of memorable ones during those years, especially on crime dramas. Perry Mason, for example, had the jazzy “Park Avenue Beat!” by Fred Steiner, a veteran television composer:
I spent a couple of years playing keyboard in a band that performed in retirement settings. One of the pieces in our repertoire was the theme from the old private-eye series Peter Gunn. When we launched into that instrumental by Henry Mancini (1959), our audiences always got excited, energized by the driving beat.
TV’s Untouchables starred Robert Stack and featured a melancholy theme by Nelson Riddle. The show was based on a memoir by Eliot Ness about his experiences as a government Prohibition agent.
Lalo Schifrin wrote the instantly recognizable theme for Mission: Impossible, and later the one for Mannix, another 1960s hit. The Mission: Impossible theme is in 5/4 time, quite unusual. Here is how Schifrin explained his choice: “Things are in 2/4 or 4/4 because people dance with two legs. I did it for people from outer space who have five legs.
For comic relief from the serious 1950s and 60s tv programs about detectives and spies, we had Get Smart, starring Don Adams as secret agent 86. People of a certain age, like me, remember many of the catch phrases from that show: “Missed it by that much” and “Would you believe … ” and “Sorry about that, Chief.” Irving Szathmary scored the entire series, including the theme song. He was a seasoned arranger by that time, having worked for bandleaders Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Paul Whiteman during the 1930s.
And in a crime category all its own, there was Dragnet, a show that made dry dialogue an art form. The theme music, by Walter Schumann, appeared on a hit recording for the Ray Anthony Orchestra in 1953. In the same year, comedian Stan Freberg made a million-selling parody titled “St. George and the Dragonet,” complete with Schumann’s famous theme music. Enjoy.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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