Alex North


Among the most respected voices in modern film music, Alex North came to Hollywood from a background that included ballet commissions from Martha Graham and Agnes deMille, Broadway scores, and musical studies in both New York and Moscow. Director Elia Kazan summoned him West for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), and the music caused a stir as the first major score to rely heavily on jazz influences.

His scores for historical epics – SPARTACUS (1960), CLEOPATRA (1963) and THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY (1965) – demonstrate remarkable depth and complexity by comparison with other films from that era. He scored five films for John Huston, including THE MISFITS (1961) and a clever use of Italian opera in PRIZZI’S HONOR (1985). Stanley Kubrick famously rejected his music for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) but the recently unearthed original score can now be heard on its own.

Fifteen of North’s films were nominated for music Oscars, including the Mexican colors of VIVA ZAPATA! (1952), the Italian folk themes of THE ROSE TATTOO (1955), his famous song “Unchained Melody” (also 1955, later memorably used in GHOST), the quasi-baroque approach to WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) and the compelling dissonance of DRAGONSLAYER (1981). In 1986, he became the first composer to receive an honorary Oscar for his body of work (“in recognition of his brilliant artistry”).

–Jon Burlingame