Monday, October 12, 2009

Miklos Rozsa, ‘Dragnet’ & a ‘dumb-de-dumb-dumb’ mistake

By Steve Crum

THIS was the city. Los Angeles, California. Home of movies, TV, and the people who make them. Sometimes they break laws, by mistake or on purpose. That’s part of my job: report them. 

My name’s not Friday. I’m not a cop. These are just the facts, ma’am...

In 1954, composer Walter Schumann (1913-58) won the first Emmy ever awarded to a composer for original television music. It was for his memorable theme to the popular cop series, Dragnet, which was created and produced by Jack Webb (pictured at left), and starred Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. Dragnet had begun on radio in 1949 (running until 1957), and segued into TV (1951-58) in its first of several versions.

The “dum-de-dum-dum” theme was so familiar and popular that satirist Stan Freberg sold millions of records in 1951 using the theme in his comedy take-off, St. George and the Dragonet. Ray Anthony’s jazz version of the Dragnet theme was another best seller in 1953. The four “dum” notes even made the cover of Time Magazine in March, 1954, along with Jack Webb’s photo.

The Dragnet music would be Schumann’s musical legacy, even though he scored the cult classic thriller, Night of the Hunter, and fronted his own choral group, The Voices of Walter Schumann, on several albums.

All was rosy-cozy, except for Rozsa, Miklos Rozsa.

Miklos Rozsa (1907-95) wrote numerous film scores throughout the golden years of Hollywood and beyond. The Hungarian-born, award winning composer wrote stunning music for Ben-Hur, Spellbound, A Double Life, and Madame Bovary, among dozens more from 1936-82. No one was more stunned, however, than Walter Schumann when he was served papers by Rozsa’s lawyers for allegedly stealing the Dragnet “dum-de-dum-dum” notes from Miklos Rozsa.

Schumann was accused of plagiarism and copyright infringement, the claim being the Dragnet four-note motif was lifted from Rozsa’s score of The Killers (1946). Both Schumann and his orchestrator, Nathan Scott, plead that the similarity was totally unintentional. In other words, the four famous notes were accidentally, subconsciously borrowed. Schumann’s lawyers counter-claimed that Rozsa had lifted his notes from both Dvorak and Brahms.

That counter-claim went nowhere. However, the two composers agreed to settle the “dum-de-dum-dum” issue out of court for $100 thousand (to Rozsa), plus a 50-50 split between Schumann and Rozsa of future Dragnet theme royalties.

It was the closest Miklos Rozsa came to scoring a TV show or series.

This has (not) been a Mark VII Production. Fade out.

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