EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: TOS Composer Gerald Fried
Gerald Fried likes to joke that he’s one of the last people associated with Star Trek: The Original Series who’s “still vertical.” That might be a slight exaggeration, but his point is well taken: Trek fans are slowly losing, to the passage of time, the stars, guests and behind-the-scenes players who helped make TOS such a legendary enterprise. It’s why we at StarTrek.com are determined to talk to as many of them as we can, to chronicle their contributions to the franchise and share their memories.
Fried, for example, has been on our radar for a while. He composed music for almost 200 films and television shows, along the way winning an Emmy and earning an Oscar nomination. He collaborated with Stanley Kubrick and Roger Corman, and composed scores for such television shows and miniseries as Gilligan’s Island, Mission: Impossible, Roots, Flamingo Road and Dynasty. And then there’s Star Trek. Fried composed the music for the episodes “Shore Leave,” “Catspaw,” “Friday’s Child,” “Amok Time” and “The Paradise Syndrome,” while bits of the music from those episodes was utilized by the production in 18 other episodes. His most famous Trek music? Easy, "The Ritual/Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah," heard throughout the koon-ut-kal-if-fee battle between Spock and Kirk “Amok Time.”
Now 85 years young, Fried prefers to think of himself as slowing down a little rather than retired. Last December, during an appearance in Hollywood to help promote La-La Land Records’ release of Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection, Fried wowed the crowd at a packed theater with his still-sharp memories and oboe playing skills. And, just a few days ago, StarTrek.com caught up with Fried for an informative and free-wheeling interview. Here’s what he had to say…
How shocked are you that, with so many credits to your name, there’s still so much interest in your work for Star Trek?
FRIED: I’m very shocked, but not altogether surprised. There were two shows that I did in television that had reverberations far beyond what you’d expect from the venue and the possibilities. One was Star Trek and the other was Roots. There was an atmosphere, doing both shows, that these were a little special and certainly more important than most shows. So I’m not totally surprised, but the enormity of Star Trek is a little bit startling and wonderful. I love it.
Let’s go back in time to before Star Trek. What compelled you to pursue a career in composing?
FRIED: Good… I get to tell you this story. I was an oboe major at Juilliard, and I used to hang around Greenwich Village trying to pretend I was a smart intellectual, which I was not. One of the nerds down there saved his money and made a little 18-minute short film and said, “Gerry, you go to Juilliard. You know how to compose and conduct a film score?” I said, “Suuuuure! Nothing to it.” But this guy, he actually paid for it. He got a studio and hired the best engineer in New York. So he was serious. And I had about two or three months to learn what the hell to do. I went to movies, sometimes two or three a day, because there was no class then that taught film composing. Anyway, somehow I managed to get through that first score. I conducted it. And, as a result, this nerd and I were offered jobs by RKO-Pathe, which was the news end of RKO in Hollywood. The punch-line is that that nerd was Stanley Kubrick.
Your stated philosophy about music is that its function in any movie or show is to make it a better movie or show. So, the question is, How do you go about crafting music that does that?
FRIED: You have to break it down to the component parts. Where should the music be? What should the music say? Should it go with the scene as it’s shown or should it get into some subtleties that are not visual? You have a car chase. OK, but what if the driver just found out this his mother died, and that’s what’s going through his mind during the chase? So, you make a series of those decisions and that gets you to what music should do. I still get annoyed at movies and shows that turn into music-plugging devices, that have music supervisors who try to stick in as many pop-type tunes as possible. I love movies and television and music too much for it all to be reduced into a song-plugging device. If we had to do it for an end title, at least I tried to use a song that was appropriate and in character.
How did you connect with Star Trek?
FRIED: Do you want the truth or the story?
FRIED: The story is better. I dreamed one night that Gene Roddenberry was thinking about me and that I was the person to do Star Trek. And, sure enough, the next morning Gene called and said… No, OK, that’s the bulls—t. The truth is that my agent called and said, “Gerry, 10:30 at Desilu. There’s a series called Star Trek.” I said, “OK,” and I showed up. See, the truth is not as good as the bulls—t.
You scored five episodes of Star Trek. What memories/anecdotes can you share with us about them?
FRIED: “Shore Leave” was the first one I did and I kind of marveled that it was supposed to be science-fiction and outer space and all of that, but that the story was also so pertinent and insightful to us humans on Earth. Theodore Sturgeon wrote that and I love him for his introspection. I was able to do different kinds of music, because of the fantasy, and that was kind of fun. It was a chance to show off some versatility. “Catspaw” was entertaining. Cat, to me, means clarinet and not just because of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The sound of the clarinet is like the sound of a cat’s footpaw; you can’t hear it, but you feel it. So I wrote for, I think, six clarinets for that episode. Just having fun with all those clarinets dominated my thinking doing that episode.
“Friday’s Child” had a Native American kind of a feeling to it. By that time, I was thoroughly enjoying my work on Star Trek and I loved getting calls to come in and do another episode. Nothing specific comes to mind about that one, though. “The Paradise Syndrome,” that I kept as folk and as all-purpose native as possible. And the one that most people seem to talk about is “Amok Time.” Once again, I was impressed with them telling a mortal, earthly story. It was about rivalry and fighting for a girl, and that was just plain old fun, putting music to that.
Can we assume that scoring these episodes, you had the episode in front of you and recorded the score with an orchestra?
FRIED: Yes, it was basically that. You had one spotting session in those days, and there were no videos or DVDs to take home. You’d see the show or movie once and then work from printed timing sheets. So you really had to concentrate in those spotting sessions and memorize your feelings about each scene. Then you got your timing notes and made your decisions based on the process we talked about earlier. How does this music best help the scene? Would it be better with no music right here? You get the general tone and the dramatic thrusts and the main lines, and you work it all out musically. I remember that for Spock I used a bass guitar. Why did I choose a bass guitar? Because the bass guitar is such a funky instrument. It does twice as much as a regular guitar. Spock, there was an intent and an emotion in the poor guy, so the music was me imagining Spock as a bass guitar trying desperately to be romantic, but because of the nature of him and the bass guitar the romantic theme came out funky. And I loved that.
How much interaction did you have with Roddenberry and Coon and Justman, etc.?
FRIED: For my first episode, they all showed up. I met Roddenberry for the one and only time. Bob Justman was there, and he was at all the other spotting sessions. I like to say, with a wink of course, that my music was so magnificent by then that Gene Roddenberry didn’t have to worry about me anymore, so he just let Bob Justman handle the mechanics of it. David Gerrold, who was at that Trekkie event with me in December, said, “Gerry, the truth of the matter is that Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon knew nothing about music, and I think they were just glad to get it off their desks.” So, David took my 15 minutes of fame and knocked it down to 14.
Your Trek music, usually the “Amok Time” fight theme, often turns up in other shows and movies, like The Cable Guy. Is it true that you recently got a royalty check because it was used in The Simpsons?
FRIED: That is true. It shows up in my ASCAP statement. It was in The Cable Guy. It was in The Simpsons. It was in Caddyshack. It shows up in things I’ve never heard of sometimes. It shows up in unusual countries, like Bulgaria. That’s great.
What are you up to these days?
FRIED: I’m still a functioning oboe player. I just did a score for a short film, a 20-minute short. I did that here in Santa Fe. Also, something I wrote back in the 1960s, a baroque jazz oratorio that was done at the L.A. Music Festival, has been sitting on my shelf since 1966. Last February, I threw it in the mail because the New York Music Festival had a competition. Much to my surprise, this was one of the winners. So I’ll be doing that in New York City on July 26 and 27 at the Signature Theater on 42nd Street. I just played an English horn concerto with the symphony here about a month or two ago. So I am far from retired. I’m afraid to even think about retirement. I’d shrivel up and blow away.