CREATING THE PERFECT VIBES FOR "I SPY"
by Deborah Young-Groves
For as long as I have been going to the movies (which is most of my life) both film and television music scores have played a huge role in my psyche. Most people never hear the fleeting sequence of notes that unconsciously influence their mood. Indeed many composers insist that should be so for the proper tone of the story.
Consider the 1960's as the golden age of film and television scores. Consider Earle Hagen, jazz artist extraordinaire, who had scored The Dick Van Dyke Show and Make Room For Daddy (both produced by Sheldon Leonard). Now he was being asked to score Leonard's latest brainchild - an exciting new series that broke ground on several levels in 1965. “I SPY” - a tale of two easy-going but very capable spies with tennis as their cover - shot in locales around the world - a first for episodic television - with a black and white man co-starring - another first.
The Hagens & Leonards in Rome
Hagen could not have been more innovative or original with “I SPY.” As a long time member of the production team Hagen had traveled with Sheldon Leonard's company often. Before “I Spy” began filming Sheldon and his wife took the Hagens on a round the world scouting mission for shooting locations. Hagen recalled that they went "west from California, to Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, India, Israel, the Greek Islands, Rome, Paris, and finally, New York." Everywhere he went Hagen “sampled the indigenous music and bought records.”
The scores he wrote were taped in Los Angeles, but he frequently returned to record live and on location. The result was that EVERY ONE of the 82 “I Spy” episodes received an original score besides the obvious main themes. Two-thirds of those were invented by Earle Hagen, with the rest created by his friend, Hugo Friedhofer. The outcome was what Hagen named "semi-jazz," resulting in a perfect marriage of local themes with American Jazz. You never forgot who you were rooting for, nor where they were.
Hagen says the “I SPY” main title was the first to feature graphics, live action and animation. LISTEN to the pulsing primal heartbeat under those roaming eyes, and you know by the sardonic saxophone that death could be imminent - or a lifetime could be only hours long. From the opening graphics to the burst of violins the main theme emerges, as haunting today as it was 35 years ago.
Remember the eclectic, dissonant score for 'The Equalizer" by Stewart Copeland of the Police? That was eighteen years after this precocious work. It was all unerringly perfect.
A friend of mine recently said she recalled this series as being a lark, but in the first season at least this was not always the case. In the series opener, “So Long Patrick Henry” (with its many references to slavery and unspoken black/white tension) it could not have been more serious. However, there is an off-setting, six minute chase scene in Hong Kong, charming but suspenseful.
So Long Patrick Henry
The action begins with big band brassiness, emphasized by the ever-closer bad guys, as Kelly and Scott run lightly as boys along the harbor front over godown rooftops. They reach a dead-end, and then sprint upwards . And immediately as they strike higher, turning from the industrial area to the Chinese tenements, we pick up (like a bright afterthought) a single thread - one oriental repetitive note - all that is needed to reinforce their environment.
Carry Me Back To Old T'sing Tao
In "Carry Me Back to Old T'sing Tao" - when Kelly and Scott 'catch-up' with Papa Charlie at long last in old Taiwan, enjoying the wealth he claimed he never had - all you hear is a finger-snapping tweak of cymbals. Hagen was a master at both the 'large' sound and the minimalist idea to create the correct impression.
In “Time of the Knife” there is a lovely sad flute solo accompanied by a Japanese samisen as Kelly and his friend's widow stroll through a quiet garden. If unaccompanied by music, that scene - like so many others - would lose almost all of its pathos. Think also of the flawed trumpet playing a sour version of Auld Lang Syne during the “Cup of Kindness” betrayal scene or the lovely trumpet cadenza (reminiscent of David Amram's “Manchurian Candidate”) when Scott unravels while examining Rodin's Thinker.
The remarkable thing is the freshness of Hagen's approach, such as his use of some linear themes - Scott's saucy trumpet theme, for example - or the big band sound for some chase scenes. But mostly I liked the subtlety - his music written for the individual episode, especially “Tatia” - a haunting subdued theme that is never repeated.
And who could forget the frantic - almost joyous - chase across the University of Mexico in “Bet Me A Dollar” - Spanish brass - almost Copeland -esque (remember “El Salon Mexico”?), too loud to ignore but erratic and happy. And yet, like Copeland, Hagen only scored where he deemed appropriate. In that very same episode the child, who urgently seeks help for Kelly, runs in utter silence. We hear only his pounding feet and his sobbing gasps.
But the two best episodes for music are “Home to Judgment” and “The Warlord,” for equally fascinating reasons. “The Warlord” borrows heavy oriental imagery for the action sequences (always punctuated by that American jazz - but it works) using snare drums and brass. How Hagen can get a trumpet to sound Asian simply by a jagged sequence of notes is still a mystery to me!
Then he changes completely, and takes a plangent delicate note for the love theme between Chuang Tzu and Katherine, caught between their separate worlds. It is somber, powerful and almost painful - one of the saddest pieces of music I have ever heard.
In one of the most critical scenes Chuang Tzu lies wounded and vanquished, awaiting the enemy to inevitably break down the door. The steady battering is incorporated into the score. Unheard of ! The impact this had on the viewer is indescribable. I can still remember being stunned by the pure simplicity of the battering ram, and then, an 'echo' of light cymbals like a double heartbeat. It evokes the terror the man about to die must feel, his trance-like state. The trumpets and the childish, lilting “London Bridge is Falling Down" eerily float in the air.
Finally, in the last act of “The Warlord,” note how that tender (Greensleeves-like) love theme has been slowed down a half-beat to further darken the mood. There is a delicate harpsichord sweep for the birds above the trio in the riverboat - the whole scene rendered more poignant by their trivial words, but the deepest feelings are left unsaid, painted in by that music.
"Home To Judgment" “Home to Judgment” uses much less music but with equal power. There is a delicate, simple quality over the title credits which flows into horror as a 1930's organ - jarring but effective - falls in when we realize the two men are injured and running for their lives. In pastoral late-summer Idaho Kelly spots the sanctuary he knew as a child. It is an old barn, and we are struck by it as he is - as much by Fouad Said's jolting , ever-closer camera stills as by the sudden shift in the notes - a sweet harp burst taking him back 27 years. He lies feverish and crippled in the hayloft, and again with a few minimal notes we fall into his childhood. In contrast his friend and savior Scotty strolls through the barn, tossing up food - perfect optimism, perfectly orchestrated. Home To Judgment
Earle Hagen was nominated for an Emmy in 1965 and 1966. He won this award in 1967 for the poignant, bittersweet “Laya” episode, which also featured a vocal ending of his theme.
AS Bill Cosby so fondly stated back in 1965, after first hearing 'THAT' music, "This man is hip.”
Now learn the inside story about the "I Spy" scores
on ethnic music in “i spy” - on schedules - on recording - on “i spy” vs. other tv series - on producer david friedkin - on “tatia” & its importance - on the warlord - on “laya” - on “home to judgment”
ON SOURCE MUSIC IN THE INVENTIVE SCORE OF "SO LONG PATRICK HENRY"
Ivan Dixon & Cicely Tyson in "So Long Patrick Henry"
The scene in “So Long Patrick Henry with the four of them in the boat had one of the best music cues in that show. I had a theme for Ivan Dixon that played straight through the montage of them in the boat, then in a night club with them dancing a samba, then into a bar with the four of them sitting around talking while a piano player played in the background. The theme went straight through and never changed tempo while the background continuously changed to the samba and then to the slow jazz piano background.
ON ETHNIC MUSIC IN “I SPY”
"The Asian music was part of the ethnic music that I studied. Most eastern cultures have their own scales. The Thai scale is very different from the Vietnamese or Japanese scales. Once you are familiar with what makes a particular country tick, it`s not so hard to write in that style. I always chose to westernize the music for our audience. Some of the far eastern music sounds like someone stepping on a bag of cats.
"The burden of music is to heighten the emotional stakes. When I see a sequence like the forces battering on the door and visions of kids playing musical chairs, I'm going to jump all over it. Wait until you read how the fight in Laya, with the wild Greek clarinet was done. In the book, of course.
I wrote a special theme for each of the countries. When you're writing some ten hours of music a year, material is your life`s blood. The theme I used for Hong Kong, or Japan was presented in the opening of all the shows in that country. It was modified, re-arranged and re-orchestrated to suit the picture values being shown. Once we left that country, I would write a new one for the next locale. In the three seasons of the show, I probably wrote somewhere around twenty hours of music and Hugo Friedhofer wrote another ten. Anyone who didn't develop generic material for a burden like that would be a fool.
in Hong Kong
ALL scoring was recorded in L.A. Before the show started, at Sheldon Leonard's invitation, Lou (my wife of 58 years so far), and I were invited to go on a `round the world trip with the Leonard's scouting locations for the up coming series, I Spy. On that 52 day trip we traveled first class, stayed in first class accommodations and at every airport were met by a car, driver, and interpreter, who stayed with us as long as we were in the country. On that trip, I started collecting ethnic music of the countries we visited. In addition, When the company went on the road during the series, I had the assistant director collect ethnic records for me. The actual scoring sessions were down in Hollywood. Having written two text books on "Scoring For Films, " and "Advanced Techniques For Film Scoring," it was not unusual, when I couldn't duplicate the necessary sounds I needed, for me to combine the Royal Gagaku Orchestra of Japan with my orchestra in Hollywood. Such as the sword fight with Culp and the Japanese leader in "Tigers of Heaven." The wild clarinet track in "Laya" was a combination of my orchestra in Hollywood and a reel of ethnic music that I bought from a radio station on the island of Rhodes.
Of the sites we used, I had visited, Hong Kong, Japan, Rome, Italy, Spain and went with the company to Marrakech, Lisbon, Athens and the Greek Islands. Lou and I both went to Mexico (Acapulco) every time we could when the company was shooting there. I can't tell you how many times I followed a group of Mariachis around with a jug of Tequila in one hand and a battery operated tape recorder in the other.
I westernized all the music. That was our audience. I like to feel that I still retained the authenticity of the various countries we shot. I made deals to record local musicians, for instance in Greece where I recorded a wonderful group headed by a leading Bouzouki player and composer, George Zambetes. I hired his group to appear in two shows that were shot in the Greek Islands, one of which was Lotus Eater, I think. After the recording session, I caught a plane to England, Transferred to a plane to Chicago and then to L.A.! Long trip.
I received the scripts as soon as Sheldon OK'd them for production. We generally prepared thirteen scripts before the company left home. There were many shows where I had to provide visual music before the company hit the road. I spent a lot of time in Mexico with the company and went to Greece to prepare for four shows that had visual combos. After reading the script for "Laya," I wrote the song, long before the show was shot. I sent the song to New York and Gene Lees wrote the lyric. It was my job to provide, advise and prepare anything the company might need on the road, or at home. On one show, whose name I have forgotten (LORI)?, I pre-recorded Nancy Wilson and then went up to Las Vegas to cover the shoot. Along with four other series going at the same time, I SPY kept me off the streets. Aside from pre-preparation, I had two weeks to breakdown and write and record each show I received
Boris Karloff in "Mainly on the Plains
Some of the shows of course stand out in memory: "Tatia," "Laya," "Home to Judgment," "Warlord," and one of my favorites, "Mainly On The Plains." "Mainly" had terrible problems with the dialogue recording in the garden sequences between Culp and Karloff. I covered it with music to fill the background which was full of noise. It served the purpose but unfortunately, the music wasn't heard very much.
Most people are not aware that I Spy was the first show in TV to use radio mikes. In 1964, radio mikes were primitive. They not only picked up the dialogue but all the ambient sounds within several hundred yards. The more the recordist reached for the dialogue the more street sounds, including cars and trucks going by, he brought into the dialogue track. In Hong Kong, the radio mikes would pick up rock and roll broadcast from Victoria Peak as well as radar sweep from the harbor. "Mainly" had good thematic material, some fun stuff and a sizeable score. One of my favorites.
ON “I SPY” VS. OTHER TV SERIES
I Spy was the first real challenge for me. I had been working on comedy shows for ten years with Sheldon. It never occurred to him that I might not be able to deliver that kind of product. But then, it never occurred to me either. It was a fun show for music. An adventure. Sheldon gave my full reign and we never looked back. That kind of show will never happen again in television.
I guess my favorite show for eight years was "The Andy Griffith Show." It covered the spectrum from warmth to complete zaniness. It also was easy to write. Worthwhile, when you are doing four or five different series a week. I had to run five shows a week, break them down, and decide where and when and why we were going to score them. Each show took a couple of hours to prepare before attempting to write. In addition, I had to conduct them. That was an additional three hour session several times a week. Then, I had to sit down and write them. I was busy.
ON PRODUCER DAVID FRIEDKIN
Dave Friedkin and I worked together a lot. He was, along with Mort Fine, the post production producer in charge of finishing what Sheldon had shot on location. David was a graduate of Julliard, as a violin major, and we had a great rapport. Originally, he was an actor and while he only appeared in one show, he directed many, including “Tatia. “
Mort Fine was on the road with the company in Marrakech and Casablanca; one of the trips I made. He
acted in one of the Greek shows; I believe, "Lets Kill Karlovassi." Mort had a brief part in it and was found dead, hanging on the inside of a door on a boat. Mort Fine was a delightful character. He and I had a great time on that particular trip.
ON “TATIA” & ITS IMPORTANCE
Laura Devon as "Tatia"
"The eleventh episode, “Tatia,” was made in Japan. In that story, Scotty, fearing Kelly will be killed by a beautiful woman he is dating, tries to prevent his friend from going out with her. The two men have a knockdown, drag-out fight; and Culp finally wins the short, but violent battle. Yet, realizing that Scotty has acted out of genuine concern, Kelly accepts his friend's advice. He sets a trap for the woman. In time, she is killed by the enemy forces for whom she spies. While the show was an outstanding episode, the real importance of it was the relationship developed between Culp and Cosby. It was to presage the rest of the “buddy cop” television shows to follow: “The Mod Squad,” “The Rookies,” and “Starsky and Hutch.” On the big screen, films like “Lethal Weapon,” and “Tango & Cash,” were cut from the same cloth.
Starting with that eleventh episode, the chemistry Sheldon hoped for between Culp and Cosby blossomed."
ON THE WARLORD
Robert Culp as "The Warlord"
"As Marion Hargrove said, when he was through-he was through. I don't remember talking with Culp about "Warlord," but it`s been a long time and the memory grows dim. I didn't do my thing until the picture was edited and cut to a final version. About three weeks after that episode was completed. By the time sound effects and music (low men on the totem pole) got the picture, the company was working on their third show. I remember on viewing the show for the first time, I thought the blows on the door were effective and could be incorporated into the music. I also knew that if they weren't in a steady beat I could get the editor, Art Said, to cut them into a useable rhythmic pattern. This wasn't even considered until the picture was in final cut.
"What I remember most about "Warlord" was that it was a back breaker of a score to do and came at a time when we were stacked-up in production and just about run out of time. I didn't sluff it. But then. I never sluffed anything. I Spy, along with my other shows, gave me 16 hour workdays, seven days a week for forty weeks a year. In the twelve weeks off between seasons, if anyone mentioned music to me I would kill."
Michael Rennie & Janet MacLachlan in "Laya"
"My favorite score was an I SPY score, "Laya." I think it was because it involved a strong love story. I had a good theme for it which I turned into a song for the tag called, "Voice In The Wind." That along with a mix of underscoring and some technical tricks added up what I consider a really good job. Aside from the fact that I believe it was a sensitive score, I believe it did what it was supposed to do; it heightened the emotional stakes. You can read about it as well as a lot about I SPY in my new book."
ON “HOME TO JUDGMENT”
Will Geer & Robert Culp in "Home to Judgment"
"I had nothing in mind when I first ran "Home To Judgment." It was so stylized that I felt the normal I Spy approach would not work. When I looked at a new show to score, I would try to find a key scene that would help me determine the combination I would use. In Home To Judgment there were two. The first was the opening sequence which with the split for the main title ran over six minutes. The second was the scene where the killer with the blinding light comes to get them. I knew there was no way dramatically that my regular combo, a big dance band, plus percussion, would work for this picture. After thinking what I could use to heighten the dramatic stakes and carry me through the long chase, I called my contractor, Wally Popp, and told him I wanted to hire the following orchestra: two pianos, two harps, 4 basses, 4 French horns and 6 percussion. There was a long silence and Wally said, "Sure you Do." I had a hard time convincing him that that combo was what I really wanted. With a six minute plus opening with no dialogue and a tremendously tense killing sequence, the combination made exactly the sounds I heard in my head before I wrote them. Outside of reading advanced scripts for pre-recording issues, I never worked from scripts. The impression you get the first time you run a piece of film is often the most reliable. At least for me."