Birthplace: New York City
Location of death: Ojai, CA
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Scored The Magnificent Seven
Military service: US Army Air Corps (WWII)
Raised in New York City by parents supportive to his many creative interests, Elmer Bernstein worked as both a professional actor and dancer, as well as displaying a talent for painting, before he had even reached his teens. At the age of twelve he switched his focus to music and received a scholarship from Henriette Michelson, an instructor from the Julliard School; this eventually led to an audition for composer Aaron Copland, who, recognizing the young boy's potential, assigned one of his top students, Israel Citkowitz, to continue his training. After graduating from Julliard, Bernstein pursued plans for a career as a concert pianist, but his subsequent drafting into the Army changed his plans. During his service years he scored numerous broadcasts for Armed Forces Radio and worked as an arranger for the United States Army Air Force Band under the direction of Glenn Miller; by the time of his discharge he was committed to a career as a composer.
Bernstein's first major scoring assignment arrived in 1949, when he was commissioned to write the music for a United Nations broadcast on the founding of the state of Israel. The broadcast attracted the interest of Columbia Pictures, who provided him with his first film scoring opportunity in the form of the 1950 college football flick Saturday's Hero. Faced with a lean period for the Hollywood studio system (brought about by the arrival of television), and further hindered by his leftist leanings in the midst of McCarthy-era fanaticism, the composer spent the next several years taking work wherever he could. Scores for campy, B-movie fare such as Cat Women of the Moon (1953) and Robot Monster (also 1953) filled in the time until better opportunities were available -- although his work for these films was hardly lacking in effort and inventiveness. A breakthrough finally arrived when Cecil B. DeMille hired him to compose the music for the biblical epic The Ten Commandments in 1955, although Bernstein attracted significant attention (and an Oscar nomination) prior to the film's completion through his groundbreaking all-jazz score for Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm.
Bernstein's maintained an extremely prolific output throughout the following decade, scoring such notable films as To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), and The Great Escape (1963), as well as creating themes for television (The Beachcomber, The Big Valley, National Geographic specials) and releasing a couple of easy listening jazz albums. His work for the popular Western The Magnificent Seven in 1960 created a genre standard that has been followed ever since. In a considerably different musical vein, 1967's musical comedy Thoroughly Modern Millie later provided the composer with his only Oscar, although numerous nominations were earned throughout his career.
The late 70s opened up another aspect to Bernstein's output when director John Landis hired him to provide the music for Animal House (1978). An extensive list of scores for popular "screwball" comedies followed, including such pinnacles in filmmaking as Meatballs (1979), Airplane! (1980), Caddyshack (1980), and Ghost Busters (1984). A collaborative relationship with director Martin Scorsese -- The Grifters (1990), Cape Fear (1991), Bringing Out The Dead (1999) -- later provided a less solemn avenue for his skills. Bernstein remained active in composition for film and numerous other projects into the early years of the 00s. He died in his sleep at the age of 82 in 2004.
Father: Edward Bernstein
Mother: Selma Feinstein
Wife: (wife #1, two sons)
Son: Peter Bernstein (composer, b. 10-Apr-1951)
Son: Gregory Bernstein (author, b. 5-Jul-1955)
Wife: Eve Adamson (wife #2, one daughter)
Daughter: Emilie A. Bernstein (musician)
High School: Walden School, New York City, NY (1939)
University: Juilliard School of Music
University: New York University
Young Musicians Foundation
Golden Globe 1963 for To Kill a Mockingbird
Golden Globe 1967 for Hawaii
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1968 for Thoroughly Modern Millie
Hollywood Walk of Fame 7083 Hollywood Blvd.
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