Earle Hagen


The Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) mourns the loss our dear friend, colleague, mentor, instructor, SCL Ambassador Earle H. Hagen, Emmy-winning composer of some of the most memorable musical themes in television history, died of natural causes Monday at his home in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 88.

Hagen wrote the popular themes for THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW, I SPY, THAT GIRL, THE MOD SQUAD, MICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE HAMMER, and many more. He composed original music for more than 3,000 individual television shows during his TV career, which spanned more than three decades.

He was also active in the film business, mostly as an arranger and orchestrator for 20th Century-Fox. He received a 1960 Oscar nomination (shared with Lionel Newman) as musical director for the Marilyn Monroe film LET’S MAKE LOVE.

Hagen composed the jazz standard HARLEM NOCTURNE. Written in 1939 for big-band leader Ray Noble, the mellow tune went on to be recorded by Charlie Barnet, Les Brown, Glenn Miller, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Ray Anthony, Ted Heath and many other bands. It eventually became the theme for the MIKE HAMMER series in 1984.

He was an author and educator, penning one of the first how-to books for aspiring film composers and later leading the film-scoring workshop for the performing rights organization Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) for a decade in the 1980s and ’90s.

Hagen was born July 9, 1919, in Chicago but moved to Los Angeles as a youngster and began playing the trombone while in junior high school. A proficient player by the time he was 14, he began writing modest arrangements for his school bands and, graduating early from Hollywood High School, went on the road playing with big bands at the age of 16.

Hagen played trombone with the Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey bands in 1937 and 1938, joining the Ray Noble band in 1939. For Noble, he not only played trombone but also became one of the band’s top arrangers.

He became a staff musician for CBS in 1941, performing on various radio shows, then enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942. It was during his wartime stint as part of the Radio Production Unit in Santa Ana, Calif., that he gave up playing and became a full-time arranger, writing for the unit’s 65-piece orchestra. He also, during his off-duty hours, began more intensive study of music with classical composer Ernst Toch. Also during the war years, he began to write arrangements for movie musicals, including COVER GIRL for Rita Hayworth at Columbia; and afterwards, for popular singers including Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin, Dick Haymes, Frances Langford and others. Several record labels – including Mercury, MGM, Decca and RCA Victor – sought out Hagen’s services.

Alfred Newman, the music director at 20th Century-Fox, liked the orchestral arrangements Hagen had written for Majestic Records and, in late 1946, signed him as a contract arranger and orchestrator for Fox. There Hagen spent several years working on dozens of films – mostly musicals – including WITH A SONG IN MY HEART, CALL ME MADAM, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS.

Hagen left Fox in 1952 and formed a partnership with fellow arranger Herbert Spencer. Together, they launched the Spencer-Hagen Orchestra, which recorded albums for RCA and Liberty; and more significantly, they began writing music for television series.

Beginning in 1953, they scored MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY (later retitled THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW) and WHERE’S RAYMOND (later THE RAY BOLGER SHOW). The format of both comedies required the composers to write and arrange music before shooting; for Hagen to conduct the band on-stage during production; and to create the underscore later, during post-production.

Several weeks into production on the Thomas show, Hagen met director Sheldon Leonard. The two became fast friends and, when Leonard began producing his own TV shows, Hagen was his primary composer. They worked together for nearly two decades; co-owned the music publishing firm that controlled the music of several of their shows; and took a round-the-world trip together scouting locations for Leonard’s adventure series I SPY.

The Spencer-Hagen partnership broke up in 1960. Subsequently Hagen wrote the themes and much of the underscore for many Thomas- and Leonard-produced series, including the Griffith and Van Dyke shows; spinoffs including GOMER PYLE, USMC and MAYBERRY RFD; and other shows including I SPY, THAT GIRL, ACCIDENTAL FAMILY, MY FRIEND TONY, and others.

For THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, Hagen not only wrote the folksy tune but can be heard whistling it on the soundtrack. It, along with the big-band DICK VAN DYKE SHOW theme, the elegant THAT GIRL and the driving theme for THE MOD SQUAD, remain iconic musical moments for the small screen.

Hagen became television’s leading composer of the 1960s and 1970s. His other series included THE BILL DANA SHOW, RANGO, THE GUNS OF WILL SONNETT and MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN. He contributed music to, but did not write the themes for, such other shows as THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS, EIGHT IS ENOUGH and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

For I SPY, which was shot on location around the world with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, Hagen produced his most colorful scores, often flavored with the ethnic music of the Far East, Mexico or the Caribbean. Hagen received Emmy nominations for all three seasons of the show and won for the LAYA episode in 1968.

His final work for television was on the Stacy Keach MIKE HAMMER movies MURDER ME, MURDER YOU and MORE THAN MURDER, which led to the weekly series; and on the Griffith show reunion movie RETURN TO MAYBERRY in 1986.

Hagen wrote three books. SCORING FOR FILMS, which for many years was the only available textbook on how to handle the technical aspects of writing music for movies, was published in 1971. It was an outgrowth of a private study group he held in his home for composers interested in learning the techniques of film scoring (an avid golfer, he charged for his services by asking students to bring three dozen golf balls).

That study group ultimately became the more formal BMI film-scoring workshop, an eight-week course that Hagen ran beginning in 1986. Hagen wrote a second how-to book, ADVANCED TECHNIQUES FOR FILM SCORING, in 1990, and an autobiography, MEMOIRS OF A FAMOUS COMPOSER (NOBODY EVER HEARD OF) in 2002.

Hagen won BMI’s Richard Kirk Award, a lifetime achievement honor, in 1987; its President’s Award, for teaching the workshop for a decade, in 1996; and its Classic Contribution Award, for his iconic themes and lifetime of mentorship, in 2006.

In October 2007, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presented him with a special award at an event in North Hollywood for his pioneering work and enduring contributions to television music. And on April 20 of this year, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (the New York-based other TV Academy) inducted him into its Gold Circle for 50 years of service to the television industry.

Hagen’s wife of 59 years, the former Elouise Sidwell, died in 2002. Survivors include his second wife, the former Laura Roberts; two sons, Deane Hagen and James Hagen, both of Palm Desert, Calif.; three stepchildren and four grandchildren.

Funeral plans are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, www.mhopus.org.


The SCL Remembers EARLE H. HAGEN


To say that Earle Hagen’s contributions to our industry were legend would be an understatement. Earle Hagen, more than any other figure in the realm of music for television, set the standard that all of us who have worked in the medium have striven to achieve. Although his facile handling of every genre of music reaffirmed that the professional film composer should be able to work effectively in a myriad of styles, few have demonstrated the ability to execute scores in as competent and impressive fashion.

Although, we mourn the passing of this great friend of our organization, I am proud that we celebrated him as our first SCL Ambassador. The following are a few of my introductory remarks from that occasion (December 2003):

“The name Earle Hagen has been synonymous with successful television shows since he first began composing for them. His list of credits are a virtual Best Of the shows of his generation. Some of these include THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW with its fabulous whistled theme, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW with Dick’s trip over the couch accented with a Hagen hit, MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY, GOMER PYLE, THE MOD SQUAD and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, to mention only a few.

One of Earle’s wonderful qualities is his range and diversity, perhaps best exemplified in the incredible scores to I SPY, which tested his versatility, incorporating everything from Japanese tonalism to Middle Eastern exotic. His longevity in the business speaks not only to his creativity, but also to his ultimate professionalism. His book SCORING FOR FILMS and its companion ADVANCED TECHNIQUE FOR FILM SCORING have long been considered the industry standard in their field. His latest book, with the self-effacing title, MEMOIRS OF A FAMOUS COMPOSER…NOBODY EVER HEARD OF, was recently released.

Perhaps one of his most famous compositions is HARLEM NOCTURNE written for Jack Dumont of Ray Noble’s band. In the 80’s it became the theme song for the Mike Hammer series, and it was played recently as Bill Clinton came out to be interviewed by Jay Leno.

In the early years of his career Earle had the opportunity to arrange for Frank Sinatra and, with one or two exceptions, did every arrangement that Marilyn Monroe sang or danced to during her years at Fox.

Earle has received numerous awards, including the BMI President Award, the Richard Kirk Award as well as the Irwin Kostal Award from ASMAC.”

Dan Foliart
President, Society of Composers & Lyricists


Earle Hagen was an iconic composer of music for television, and also my teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. As most composers know, he literally wrote the book on film scoring. He taught hundreds of students in his home and in BMI workshops and his book was used in colleges and universities by thousands more. I was fortunate enough to take Earle’s course at a time when the only way to study the synchronization of music to film, and the psychology involved in doing so, was to attend Earle’s living room workshop – if you were willing to provide the golf balls he required as tuition. Everything I learned from Earle I was able to put into practice and still do so on a daily basis. His mentor in the business was Alfred Newman, and I was always fully aware of this influence when working with Earle. What an education I received – and what opportunities. My first orchestration for television, my first cue (a feature performance with full cue sheet credit), my first booth gig and first spotting session were all courtesy of Earle.

Earle won virtually every award possible in our business. His music has been on the air continuously for decades. While his most performed tune is HARLEM NOCTURNE, perhaps his most familiar music to non-musicians is the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW theme, featuring Earle himself as the whistler. Yet he was endlessly self-effacing about his tremendous success. It was family, friends and his favorite musicians that he valued most of all, and especially the time spent with them. My condolences go out to his wife Laura and sons Deane and Jim. I will miss Earle more than I can say.

Bruce Babcock
SCL Member


Earle was, despite his small physical stature, a giant in terms of his achievements in film and television. He also could not have been more delightful as a person, as is his wife, Laura. I worked very hard over the last few years to produce an event at the TV Academy honoring television main title music in general, and Earle Hagen in particular. The evening last fall concluded with an award given to Earle by Alan Perris, Chief Operating Officer of the Academy, celebrating Earle’s pioneering work and enduring contributions to television music during a career that lasted over fifty years. (When he began there was no Emmy for Main Title Music, and he certainly would have won several.) We got to spend some time together, and he really did enjoy the show. I have felt a sense of urgency over the last few years, that it was important to honor the first explorers in the world of TV music, and to hear their great stories before they were no longer with us. I wish that I had been wrong.

Ray Colcord
Past President of the SCL, Past Music Governor of the TV Academy


Earle Hagen, his heart and his music will always be one of our most precious assets in the composing community. He gave willingly of himself to mentor, educate and inspire. His legacy is global and his music will forever be a part of the fabric of television and movie history. He created a path for composers that has enabled many of our television and film composers to create successful, long-lasting careers for themselves. Our hearts go out to his family. His passing is a loss to us all.

Del Bryant, President and CEO, BMI


I never got to caddy for Earle.

I offered many times but he’d always say, “No, Michael, come out and PLAY, you don’t have to caddy.”

There’s just no way that I could play with a guy who, in his eighties, had a 22 handicap. My handicap is…well, I don’t even know what my handicap is…ah, yes, I do! My handicap is that I’m a terrible golfer.

I always brought him golf balls if I knew he was going to be someplace where I was going. I even gave him a golf ball ice cube tray once, so he could “make his own.” Golf balls was the only offering he ever asked from any of us, aside from wanting us to do our best.

I should have come out and played just one round with him, just one, if only to spend a few hours with a man who was comfortable in the world, his world; the studio, the office where we had our classes, the golf course. He loved it all, and it was contagious.

This week I realized I missed my chance, and now I’ll always regret it.

I was lucky to be one of the students in his first BMI Workshop, the class that set the very high standard for what was to follow. I was having some success with Disney and Warner Bros., and Doreen Ringer recommended me to Earle. I’ll always be grateful to BMI and Earle for that opportunity.

We were in fact an exceptionally talented class, and I was scared. Scared because I felt that I was there under false pretenses; the illusion that I might know what I was doing, and soon everybody in the world-especially Earle-would find me out.

Earle was a tough-talking guy who reminded me of my late ex-father-in-law, who was another of my favorite people. He was tough, but fair, and at the core, kind and generous with his time, his advice and his honesty.

“I figure that you already know how to write music, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. I’m not here to teach you your art. I’m here to show you the tools and how to use them-the mathematics, the science of scoring-how to make your scores better, in your own way of expressing yourself.” He gave me, he gave us all, the confidence, the freedom and, with that, the responsibility to be and do our very best.

Our final assignment was to write an orchestral cue, and we all got the same scene from an episode of “Mike Hammer.” It was there we could use the tools he taught us to use and see how each of us approached the scene. No two cues were even remotely similar. We each saw the scene in a different way, but every cue worked in its own way. And all the cues were really good (even mine, to my great surprise).

Earle autographed a copy of his “Scoring for Film” for me. He wrote:

“Has it occurred to you that you know more that you think you do? Keep at it–Earle.”

That was all the encouragement I needed to continue. I now no longer felt like I was fooling everyone. I actually knew something. It was a high point in my life.

Of course, the business has changed, the demands on the composer have changed, the methods for achieving good results have changed, but the fundamentals are still part of my process. Film and television composers can look back on who has come before and marvel at the work of the greats of the past-Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Alfred Newman, Van Cleave, and others.

Earle obviously belongs among them. He was a great melodist, as people around the world would attest to if they knew what he’d written and who he was. As a successful songwriter, I recognize Earle as a great songwriter among his other great accomplishments in scoring television and film.

I place him higher in my esteem personally because he gave me a chance, and always treated me with the utmost dignity and respect. He was a great teacher.

A couple of years ago, Earle was honored at the BMI Film and Television Awards dinner with a life time achievement award (I believe it’s even named for him and he was the first to receive it).

A lot of the first year class was seated with Earle in the center of the Beverly Wilshire Ballroom. I wasn’t. BMI somehow misplaced my RSVP and put me and my partner Joy out in the lower forty, far from the center of the action. Doreen saw me and apologized for the mistake, but there was nothing I could do. Ah, well.

They showed a marvelous film of clips from Earle’s career, with great interviews and great stories.

Dave Koz, from our class, called Earle up to the stage and handed Earle the award trophy. Before he said anything else, Earle said,” I hear that Michael Silversher is here tonight. Where are you, Michael, and why aren’t you sitting with us?”

I jumped up and down and got his attention (Joy said they put me on the big screen too!!), and after words I went down to see all my old colleagues. I said “hi” to them and to my mentor, my teacher and my friend, Earle Hagen.

My theory is that in Heaven, our golf game improves. If, as I hope, I make it there, I won’t offer to caddy for Earle. I’ll play a round with him. I’m pretty sure he’ll still beat me, but I’ll give him a better game.

In the mean time, I’m practicing at my local 3-par course, and the next round I play will be for Earle.

I share in your loss. I will miss him greatly.

Michael Silversher,
Songwriter, Composer and Student of Earle Hagen