Obituary: Gerald Fried

Film and TV composer who helped Stanley Kubrick transition from still images into motion pictures


The prolific American composer and conductor Gerald Fried, who has died aged 95, produced some 300 film and television scores.

Nominated for five Primetime Emmy Awards, he won once in 1977 for his collaboration with Quincy Jones on the score for the miniseries Roots. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for the documentary Birds Do It, Bees Do It in 1974.

Fried collaborated with legendary film director Stanley Kubrick early in his career, scoring five of his earliest films, including Day of the Fight (1951), Fear and Desire (1953), Killer’s Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957).

He was instrumental in helping the budding film-maker Kubrick transition from still images into motion pictures.

Fried recalled hanging out with Kubrick as a teenager in the Bronx where he was a member of a softball club in which Kubrick was desperate to play.

Fried encouraged his team-mates to let him join in and they became friends. Kubrick, in turn approached Fried to score his documentary short Day of the Fight.

According to family legend, when the fledgling director asked him to score his first film, Fried said, “I’ve never written a score,” to which Kubrick replied, “I’ve never made a film.”

Fried had five months to teach himself how to score a film by going to the movies and taking notes.

But Kubrick refused to pay him. Fried recalled: “We had an agreement — we would work for nothing but, as soon as the movie got sold, he would pay us. Well, he didn’t. He gave us this rationale: ‘I did you a much better service than paying you, I got you into the movie business.’ Which is true.”

Fried also supplied the music for other Jewish directors’ movies, including Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), The Cry Baby Killer (1958) and I Mobster (1959); Larry Peerce’s One Potato Two Potato (1964) and The Bell Jar (1979), and Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George (1968), What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969), Too Late the Hero (1970) and The Grissom Gang (1971).

He composed music for such well-known TV series of the 1960s and 1970s as Mission: Impossible, Gilligan’s Island, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Shotgun Slade, Roots and Star Trek.

Gerald Fried was born in the Bronx, New York, the son of Samuel, a dentist, and Selma Adelman, a homemaker. He grew up in the Bronx surrounded by music. His maternal grandfather, Shoyl, was a trombonist who paid for the family’s passage to America as a travelling musician who busked his way across Europe.

His Aunt Sally was a pianist who provided live music for silent movies and he began taking piano lessons with her when he was eight. In high school, he took up the oboe. At 16, he picked up the tenor sax and was playing for an orchestra at local high-school dances.

Fried ignored his socialist father’s urgings to get a regular job, and acquired his first paying gig in 1942 at a local synagogue, earning $3. “That told me something. I could earn a living doing this,” Fried said.

"I wanted to play piano with Tommy Dorsey or the sax with Glenn Miller.”

He graduated from the High School of Music & Art in 1945 before studying oboe under the late Bruno Labate and Lois Wan at The Juilliard School in New York. After graduation, he played English horn with the Dallas Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony, returning to the Dallas Symphony as principal oboe. He then became principal oboe for The Little Orchestra Society in New York.

In 1956, Fried moved to Southern California, where he composed background music for feature films and iconic TV series. One of those was the music for the gladiatorial fight to the death between Captain Kirk against Mr Spock, played by Jewish actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the original 1960s Star Trek series.

Fried had four wives; Judith Pines (1951) with whom he had four children, Anna Belle Kaufman (1977), Candy Gold (1992) and Anita Hall (2008).Fried identified strongly as culturally Jewish and raised his children that way. His sons describe his nervous energy and “off the wall and disarming sense of humour”.

Fried died of pneumonia in Bridgeport, Connecticut four days after his 95th birthday.

He is survived by Hall, his children, Daniel, Deborah, Jonathan and Joshua from his marriage to Pines; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His five-year-old son with Kaufman, Zachary, died in 1987.

Gerald Fried: born February 13, 1928. Died February 17, 2023

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