Leonard Rosenman’s entree to film scoring came about when his friend, actor James Dean, introduced him to director Elia Kazan, who was about to cast Dean in his film of John Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN (1955) and who subsequently hired Rosenman for the music. The Brooklyn-born composer introduced a modern-music sensibility to commercial films, especially with his next work, THE COBWEB (1955), hailed as the first 12-tone score for a Hollywood film.
Other films followed, notably Dean’s next, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). He experimented with tone colors and unusual textures in FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966), adapted the music of Sioux Indians for A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) and created a bizarre Mass for BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970). A lavish, multi-thematic score for the animated version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978) and a gentle, Oscar-nominated one for CROSS CREEK (1983) are among his more appreciated later works.
He won back-to-back Oscars, for adapting classical music in BARRY LYNDON (1975) and the tunes of Woody Guthrie in BOUND FOR GLORY (1976). And he continued to write avant-garde music for the concert hall even while penning more accessible music for classic TV shows like THE DEFENDERS, COMBAT! and MARCUS WELBY, M.D.; he also won two Emmys for his television work.