LOS ANGELES—Nathan Scott, composer of dozens of episodes of TV’s Dragnet and Lassie during the 1950s and ’60s, died of age-related causes Feb. 27, 2010, at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 94.
Scott, the father of Grammy-winning saxophonist Tom Scott, was a veteran composer, orchestrator and conductor whose credits also included the John Wayne film Wake of the Red Witch, the Twilight Zone classic “A Stop at Willoughby” and the theme for the 1964-65 Richard Crenna political drama Slattery’s People.
He was born May 11, 1915, in Salinas, Calif., played trombone and piano for dance bands in the 1930s and majored in music at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1939. He got a job as a parking lot attendant, and later page boy, at NBC in Hollywood. He also found work writing arrangements for Bing Crosby’s music director John Scott Trotter.
A brief stint in the music clearance office at NBC led to becoming West Coast Music Director of the NBC-owned Blue Network, composing, arranging and conducting music for its radio programs until he was inducted into the Army in late 1942. During his wartime service, he served under music director Meredith Willson, conducting, arranging and playing trombone on such Armed Forces Radio Service shows as Mail Call and Command Performance.
Scott’s film career began in 1946 when he was hired by Republic Pictures. During his six years at Republic, he composed, orchestrated and/or conducted dozens of films, mostly westerns starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rocky Lane and others. His Republic credits as composer include Wake of the Red Witch (1949) and Heart of the Rockies (1951); later, he scored Montana Belle (1952) for RKO and X-15 (1961) for United Artists.
Scott met composer Walter Schumann around 1940, and they worked together while both were at the Armed Forces Radio Service. When Schumann began composing for Jack Webb’s popular radio drama Dragnet in 1949, Scott occasionally worked for him as orchestrator. The series moved to TV in 1951, Schumann stayed with the show, and Scott joined him in 1952 as orchestrator and later composer on the weekly episodes.
He also arranged Schumann’s score for Charles Laughton’s drama-with-music John Brown’s Body (1953) and penned choral arrangements for numerous “Voices of Walter Schumann” albums for Capitol and RCA. In addition to Dragnet – which remained on the air through 1959 – he scored nearly all the episodes of Steve Canyon (1958-59) for which Schumann had also written the theme. He also arranged choral numbers for Tennessee Ernie Ford’s variety show and for gospel singer George Beverly Shea.
Scott remained busy in television throughout the 1960s and ’70s, composing original scores for westerns (including Wagon Train, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and The Virginian), fantasy (two Twilight Zones, “A Stop at Willoughby” and “Young Man’s Fancy”), dramas (including The Untouchables, The Great Adventure and Slattery’s People) and comedies (My Three Sons, Family Affair). From 1963 through 1972, he scored nearly every episode of the popular family drama Lassie, including arranging “Greensleeves” as the series theme during the mid-1960s.
He returned to orchestration for other composers in the mid-1970s, including work for his son Tom Scott (who was then becoming busy in TV and occasional films) and Stu Phillips (on Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and The Fall Guy). His later credits included orchestration on High Anxiety and The Color Purple. He retired in 1988, estimating that he had composed or orchestrated on more than 850 TV programs and more than 100 movies.
Known to his friends as “Scotty,” he was honored in 2001 by the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers.
Scott is survived by his second wife Frances McCune Scott; his son Tom, plus a daughter, brother, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. March 15 at the Congregational Church of the Chimes, 14115 Magnolia Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, Calif..
©2010 Jon Burlingame