Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Alexander Courage's 'Marvelous Malarkey'

Alexander Courage in the 1960s
When it comes to books written by people who actually worked on the original Star Trek television series, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story is probably the most authoritative example. Having said that, it isn't a definitive volume, and there are some inaccuracies that are worth pointing out. In this post, I want to address some of the book's errors concerning the program's music.

Robert H. Justman, who worked tirelessly on the series as assistant director ('The Menagerie'), associate producer ('Where No Man Has Gone Before' and the first two seasons), and finally co-producer (the first two-thirds of the third season, after which he left the program), was an integral contributor to the music of the series. After the two pilots, he took over the role of hiring composers to work on the series, and was a consistent presence during spotting sessions, often tasked with handling those key meetings with the composers himself. Alexander 'Sandy' Courage had been hired to score both pilot episodes, and Justman recalled the composer's subsequent work on the series:
Owing to his involvement at Fox arranging the music for the film Doctor Dolittle, Sandy could do only two of the first season’s episodes [‘The Man Trap’ and ‘The Naked Time’]. Nevertheless, owing to the ‘royalty’ issue, it’s no wonder Sandy Courage lost all enthusiasm for the series and liking for Gene Roddenberry. Despite my efforts to convince him to score second-season episodes, Sandy never returned to Star Trek
--Bob Justman, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.185
Thanks to the detailed liner notes by Jeff Bond accompanying last year's Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection released by La-La Land Records, we now know this version of events isn't correct. Although it is true that Alexander Courage didn't return to score any individual episodes during the second season of Star Trek, he did record thirty minutes of library music for it -- some newly composed -- on June 16, 1967. And, during the program's final season, Courage returned to score two more episodes: 'The Enterprise Incident' (recorded August 5, 1968) and 'Plato's Stepchildren' (recorded October 25, 1968). Bob Justman had left the series by the time the score for 'Plato's Stepchildren' was recorded, but he was definitely around during the recording sessions for 'The Enterprise Incident.' Nearly thirty years after the fact, his memory must have been a bit foggy.

In regards to the royalty issue, it was the cause of some friction between Courage and Roddenberry, but the book overstates the effect it had on their working relationship. Inside Star Trek: The Real Story does reprint a tense October 3, 1967 letter from Roddenberry to Courage reminding the composer of their contractual arrangement, which allowed the executive producer to receive fifty percent of all royalties to the Star Trek theme music as long as he wrote a lyric (whether it was used or not didn't matter). However, unless that letter was sent months after the issue first arose, it is unlikely that it had any impact on Courage's absence during the program's second season. By October 3, 1967, more than half of the season had been filmed and all of the year's complete original scores had been recorded (four partial scores were recorded later). More than likely, Courage was unavailable for the same reason he couldn't score the entirety of the first season: he was still busy with his arranging duties on Doctor Dolittle and other commitments at Fox.

In an interview recorded four years after the Solow/Justman book was published, Courage downplayed any rift between him and Roddenberry over the theme music royalties:
There wasn't any rift, really, with Gene. What happened with Gene was a I got a phone call once…it was Gene’s lawyer, [Leonard] Maizlish. He said, ‘I’m calling you to tell you that since you signed a piece of paper back there saying that if Gene ever wrote a lyric to your theme that he would split your royalties on the theme.’
Gene and I weren't enemies in any sort of way. It was just one of those things…I think it was Maizlish, probably, who put him up to doing it that way, and it’s a shame, because actually if he’d written a decent lyric we could have both made more money.
--Alexander Courage, Archive of American Television Interview (February 8, 2000) 
Future Star Trek vocalist Loulie Jean Norman in 1941
There's one other error related to Alexander Courage's music in the Solow/Justman book worth pointing out, this one from Herbert F. Solow, who was Star Trek's Executive in Charge of Production from the first pilot until the penultimate episode of the second season. Solow writes:
Business Affairs had prepared a rerun cost schedule indicating who must be paid additional money every time an episode was repeated. It was pointed out that while no musicians would receive rerun fees under the agreement with the American Federation of Musicians, the soprano singer, Loulie Jean Norman, having been hired under a Screen Actors Guild agreement, had to be treated as an actress. She would receive rerun fees. 
The money was small, but the issue was huge. If money could be saved for the rest of Star Trek's life by replacing a human sound with an electronic sound, why shouldn't a reasonable management make the change? It was a good argument. 
I called [Robert Justman] and told him not to hire the soprano again for the new [second] season. He wasn't happy, but the change was made. Since Sandy Courage never watched the series after the first season, he was totally unaware of the change until we informed him twenty-seven years later.
--Herb Solow, Inside Star Trek: The Real Story (1996), p.351-352
Solow's memory of this decision (which he reiterates and laments in his May 26, 2008 interview with the Academy of American Television) is at least partially incorrect. Five different versions of Star Trek's familiar theme music were recorded during the original run of the series.  Three of them featured soprano vocals from Loulie Jean Norman; two of them did not.

1. The first version of the theme was recorded for 'The Menagerie' on January 21, 1965,  conducted by its composer, Alexander Courage. This version reflects Courage's original conception of the theme, which mixed Norman's soprano voice roughly equally with a muted trumpet, flute, vibraphone, and an organ. (For the second pilot, Courage wrote an alternate main title theme for the series, but this went unused in favor of the original theme when "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was broadcast as part of the first season).

2. The second version of the theme was recorded on August 19, 1966, during the scoring sessions for 'The Man Trap,' and was arranged and conducted by Alexander Courage. This version replaced the soprano vocals with an electric violin. It was used during the first batch of episodes to be aired on NBC, although I haven't been able to determine precisely how many.  Although I had hoped they would present an answer to this question, apparently the LaserDiscs feature the original mono soundtracks for everything except the main title music (despite being advertised as such, the otherwise superlative Blu-Ray sets do not actually have the show's original broadcast audio).

3. The third version of the theme was recorded on September 20, 1966, during the scoring sessions for 'The Corbomite Maneuver,' 'Balance of Terror,' and 'What Are Little Girls Made Of?' and was arranged and conducted by Fred Steiner, who would become the program's most prolific composer. It was used during the rest of season one and featured a cello.

4. The fourth version of the theme was recorded on June 16, 1967 and was arranged and conducted by Alexander Courage. This version was extended to accommodate DeForest Kelley's title card and, at Gene Roddenberry's behest, was rearranged as a soprano solo performed by Loulie Jean Norman. This performance was used during the second season.

5. The fifth and ultimately final version of the theme was recorded on June 25, 1968.  This was the same arrangement that Alexander Courage had done for the second season, but union rules required a new recording, which Wilbur Hatch conducted. Loulie Jean Norman again was the soprano vocalist.

Based on this information, we can correct a few items in Solow's version.  The soprano was dropped when the production began on the first season, not the second.  If this came as a surprise to Alexander Courage in 1996, it was because he had forgotten after thirty years had passed, not because he had never been told (he arranged and conducted the electric violin version) or didn't watch the series after the first season (he scored two third season episodes and wrote library cues for the second season).  If Loulie Jean Norman's vocal was dropped after 'The Menagerie' to avoid paying rerun fees, the issue must have been resolved, because the singer was re-hired to perform the theme and other cues for seasons two and three.

Thanks to Trek BBS user and author Christopher L. Bennett for helping me get the various versions of the main title straight.

Historian's note: The title of this post comes from an interview in which Courage was asked about science fiction and he said, "I have to confess to the world that I am not a science fiction fan. Never have been. I think it's just marvelous malarkey, so you write some marvelous malarkey music that goes with it."

Update (7/10/2013): Blog reader Scott has informed me in a comment below that, unfortunately, the LaserDiscs don't have the original main title audio from the first season, either.  I've updated the content of this post to reflect this information.  Thanks for answering my question, Scott!

Update (1/17/2015): Blog reader and Star Trek music expert Neil B. recently pointed out the correct recording session in which the third version of the main title was recorded. This post previously indicated the third version was recorded on August 29, 1966, with the score to 'Charlie X,' but that information was incorrect. Thanks for the correction, Neil!


Inside Star Trek : The Real Story (Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, 1996)

The Music of Star Trek: Profiles in Style (Jeff Bond, 1999)

Alexander Courage Interview, Archive of American Television (February 8, 2000)

Herbert F. Solow Interview, Archive of American Television (May 26, 2008)

Star Trek: The Original Series Soundtrack Collection (Liner Notes by Jeff Bond, 2012)


  1. Awesome blog! Thanks for doing this. I've been following the thread on the Trek BBS, but having it here is great.

    I have the Laserdiscs and unfortunately, they were made from the same prints as the 1980s syndicated episodes. So only Where No Man Has Gone Before includes the electric violin theme.

    The DVDs restored that version, but apparently on too many episodes. I've asked a number of people and the lowest number was "the first five aired episodes." I have no way to confirm this, though. Sorry!

    1. Thanks, Scott. I know the La-La Land guys were using the LaserDiscs as reference, but it didn't occur to me that the theme could have been tweaked but the rest of the soundtracks been left intact. Drat!

      It's possible that the main title information is buried in the UCLA files somewhere. The La-La Land guys may also know (although I would suspect not, since Jeff Bond's liner notes weren't specific on this point); I'll PM Neil S. Bulk and see if he knows.

    2. Neil says the only way to answer this question is to invent a time machine. Well, there you have it.

  2. I noticed the error when I first read "Inside Star Trek" regarding Loulie Jean Norman's vocal being dropped, and it's great to have it corrected. One thing I'm curious about though is why the first season had the two different versions. Was it because the production team didn't like the electronic violin version much and decided to replace it with the cello version?

  3. Hi Stevie,

    I wish I knew more about the change to the theme during season one, but I'm afraid I haven't been able to turn up any documentation about it. I have found some other interesting music-related stuff in the archives, however. It's too early to give that piece (pieces?) a release date, but stay tuned.

  4. I wish I knew about which theme versions were used on these episodes originally (prior to 1984). Perhaps, we'd need to track down some old 16mm prints of this series.

  5. I'd love to track down some ancient prints and find out for sure.

    I've done some additional research on this since, and although I can tell you what first season episodes definitely DID NOT use the revised theme, based on when it was recorded, and when dubbing was completed on each episode, there's no documentation indicating (definitively) what episodes DID use the revised theme in season one. There's also no documentation indicating why the theme was changed, although we can speculate on that point.

  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EddLPCpIsyo

    According to John80220, his reply to me (in the above link) regarding the debate about the 1st episode to use the new Fred Steiner arrangement, he says:
    "Originally, Epsiodes 1-2 had the electric violin music opening and closing, but Shatner's reading of the line in the opening was slightly different. Episode 3, the second pilot, wasn't altered when the shows were remastered, but "Mudd's Women " and "The Naked Time" lost their original end music. But the electric violin opening and Shatner's reading you hear on Ep. 1-2 and 4-9 come from one of those two episodes, when the shows were re-remastered for DVD. "The Enemy Within" was the first episode in the original NBC run to air with the more familiar Season 1 opening and closing title music."