Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finding a Composer for Star Trek's First Pilot

Still from 'Requiem for Methuselah' (1969)
The process of hiring a composer to score 'The Menagerie' was an arduous one. According to Herb Solow, "We approached agents and managers, only to discover their top film and pilot composers were working elsewhere or not interested."  After so many rejections, Solow says, "Wilbur [Hatch] came to us with a suggestion, volunteering the name of an arranger working at Twentieth Century Fox." The name of that arranger was Alexander Courage, and rest is history.

Almost fifty years later, however, it's fascinating to read the names of some of the other composers who were considered for Star Trek's first pilot, which we have thanks to notes taken during a music meeting held on December 8. 1964. As music historian Neil Lerner points out, the list is a fascinating mix of "well-established names (such as Franz Waxman, David Raksin, Hugo Friedhofer, and Elmer Bernstein) and up-and-comers who have since become quite famous, like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams."

This behind-the-scenes document has been printed before, in Lerner's informative essay, "Hearing the Boldly Goings: Tracking the Title Themes of the Star Trek Television Franchise, 1966-2005," although the version found there has been edited from the original.  What follows is a complete transcription of the original document, found in the Gene Roddenberry Star Trek television series papers held by UCLA. The misspellings are the work of whoever originally typed up the notes, possibly D.C. Fontana, who was Roddenberry's secretary at the time. My notes are in brackets.


1 - Jerry Goldsmith - Not Available [Eventually hired by Roddenberry to score Star Trek--The Motion Picture in 1979]

2 - Elmer Bernstein - Interested - likes pilot - wants to read script. Wilbur sending script to Bernstein.

3 - Harry Sukman - MGM - Available [Sukman scored an episode of The Lieutenant and the unsold pilot 333 Montgomery Street, both for Roddenberry. He was also slated to score two episodes of Star Trek during the 1967-68 season, but dropped out for reasons unknown. After the series, he would go on to score two more pilots for Roddenberry (both unsold): Genesis II (1973) and Planet Earth (1974)]

4 - Les Baxter - Available - Wilbur Hatch reluctant to recommend.

5 - Dominic Tronteri - Available [Scored multiple episodes of The Outer Limits, which involved associate producer Byron Haskin and assistant director Robert H. Justman]

6 - Franz Waxman - Available

7 - Sy Coleman - Suggested by Oscar Katz - Wilbur checking him out.

8 - Alexander Courage - Young composer - up and coming.

9 - Hugh Friedholder - Did some of the original music on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

10 - David Raxton - Wrote Laura. Works closely with the producer.

11 - Johnny Green - Would love to do a series. Did music for Empire.

12 - Leith Stevens - Doing Novack. Did the last few shows for Empire. Score a feature with a Science Fiction theme. [Scored Roddenberry's unsold pilot, A.P.O. 923, as well as the Haskin-directed The War of the Worlds (1953)]

13 - Johnny Williams - Did Checkmate - Presently doing music for "Baby Makes Three" pilot for Bing Crosby Prods.

14 - Jack Elliott - Suggested by Oscar Katz - Feels that he has great potential. Wilbur checking him out.

15 - Wilbur Hatch checking out the composer of "The Man from Iphania" [The identity of this composer remains a mystery to me]

16 - Will Markowitz - Wilbur checking him out. [Richard Markowitz was later hired to score episodes of Mission: Impossible and Mannix for Desilu]

17 - Lalo Shiffrin - Recommended by Wilbur Hatch and Herb Solow - Wilbur checking him out. [Later hired to score Desilu's two other successful pilots from this era -- Mission: Impossible and Mannix]

18 - Nathan Van Cleave - Wilbur checking him out. [Van Cleave had previously worked with Byron Haskin on two features, Conquest of Space (1955) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)]

Image courtesy of Trek Core.


The Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (1964-1969)

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

Music in Science Fiction Television: Tuned to the Future (edited by K.J. Donnelly and Philip Hayward, 2013)


  1. Nice to see a new post here! The theme music of Alexander Courage is so much a part of the Star Trek experience that it's hard to imagine how things might have been if one of those other guys had been hired. I'm sad that they wrote new music for each movie, but I guess they had to, since part of recouping the cost of movie production is the sale of the soundtrack. Still, Courage's theme will always be "Star Trek" to me.

    1. I really like most of the film scores, so it's hard for me to feel to upset that they didn't reuse many themes from the original series in them...but I admit to smiling from ear to ear at the end of STAR TREK (2009) when Courage's theme came on for the first time since Star Trek--The Motion Picture. Speaking of soundtracks, if anyone here is a fan of the music of the original series, the La La Land set is a must-buy.

  2. I think number 5 in the list was actually probably Dominic Frontiere. Known for other SF scores for The Outer Limits and The Invaders in the 60s.

    1. Oh, definitely. I left the misspellings of the original document intact, but I linked to the correct IMDB pages.

  3. Thanks for posting this. Sorry to arrive half a decade late. I'm very interested in this information. I compose as well and have been a fan of all musical contributions for TOS. The music which always plays an enormous role in the series tends to never get documented or talked about as opposed to actors talking about episodes or prop and set designers talking about their work for instance. Point of fact the only thing I've read was an article about how Courage's greatest contribution, the Star Trek Fanfare managed to appear in episodes of 12 O'Clock High over a year before Star Trek was aired. There is some speculation online that the fanfare was composed by Dominic Frontiere, but the article I read stated that it was in fact Courage who composed it. The story was that during the week that Courage was recording The Cage score he was using Frontiere's 12OH down time in the same studio. Whether it was Frontiere arriving as Courage was wrapping his time or lingering after his session to hear what Courage had written, either way he was in the studio as Courage worked on the Star Trek Fanfare. Frontiere was very impressed with the theme but felt bad that no one would ever hear it as the space opera Courage was writing for would never ever see the light of day. Rather than wasting such a great piece of music Frontiere simply went ahead and used it, presumably without asking permission. I genuinely wish that I had held onto or bookmarked the article. If I ever find it again I'll post a link to it.

    1. I've read that the Trek-like theme on 12 O'Clock High was present on the show from the beginning. Since the show debuted on September 18, 1964, four months before Courage scored the Star Trek pilot (the scoring session being done on January 21, 1965), Frontiere couldn't have plagiarized this theme.