Max Steiner Biography

Maximilian Raoul Steiner, 10 May 1888, Vienna, Austria, d. 28 December 1971, Hollywood, California, USA. A composer and conductor for some 300 films, from the late 20s through to the 60s, Steiner was often called the leader in his field. He studied at the Imperial Academy of Music in Vienna, and was awarded the Gold Medal. In his teens he wrote and conducted his own operetta before travelling to London in 1904, and conducting in music halls in England and on the Continent. He moved to the USA in 1914 and conducted on Broadway, for concert tours, and spent some time as chief orchestrator for the Harms music publishing house. Steiner joined RKO in Hollywood in 1929, a couple of years after the movies began to talk, and worked, uncredited on Rio Rita, a ‘lavish musical Western’, starring Bebe Daniels and John Boles. From then, until 1934, his name appears on the titles of over 80 productions, mostly as the composer of the background music. They included Check And Double Check (film debut of Amos ‘n’ Andy), Cimarron, Beau Ideal, A Bill Of Divorcement, The Half Naked Truth, The Lost Squadron, Little Women and Morning Glory, both starring the young Katharine Hepburn, and King Kong ‘the greatest monster movie of all’. In 1934, Steiner was nominated for an Academy Award for his score to The Lost Patrol, and, in the following year, won the Oscar for his work on John Ford’s The Informer. His other scores in 30s included Of Human Bondage, Alice Adams (Hepburn again), The Charge Of The Light Brigade, (1936, Steiner’s first, in a long series of films for Warner Brothers), A Star Is Born (1937), The Garden Of Allah, The Life Of Emile Zola, Tovarich, Jezebel, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, Crime School, The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, Four Daughters, The Sisters, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Dawn Patrol, The Oklahoma Kid, Dark Victory, We Are Not Alone, and Gone With The Wind. Steiner’s memorable score for the latter film included the haunting ‘Tara’s Theme’, which became a hit for Leroy Holmes and his Orchestra, and as ‘My Own True Love’ with a lyric by Mack David, for Johnny Desmond as well.

During the 30s, Steiner also served as musical director on several classic RKO Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers musicals, such as The Gay Divorcee, Follow The Fleet, Roberta, and Top Hat. In the 40s, especially during the years of World War II, Steiner scored some of the most fondly remembered films in the history of the cinema, such as Now Voyager (1942, Steiner’s second Academy Award), which included the persuasive theme, ‘It Can’t Be Wrong’ (lyric Kim Gannon, a smash hit for Dick Haymes), Casablanca, The Corn Is Green, Johnny Belinda, and The Letter. Other significant 40s films for which Steiner provided the music were All This And Heaven Too, Sergeant York, They Died With Their Boots On, In This Our Life, Desperate Journey, Mission To Moscow, Watch On The Rhine, Passage To Marseilles (including ‘Someday I’ll Meet You Again’), The Adventures Of Mark Twain, Since You Went Away (1944, starring Claudette Colbert and Joseph Cotton - Steiner’s third Academy Award), Arsenic And Old Lace, The Conspirators, Mildred Pearce, Saratoga Trunk (including ‘As Long As I Live’), The Big Sleep, My Wild Irish Rose, Life With Father, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, Key Largo, The Adventures Of Don Juan, and White Heat (1949). In 1950, Steiner received another of his 22 Academy Award nominations for his work on The Flame And The Arrow, starring Burt Lancaster, and, in the same year, he scored Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, with the vivacious UK musical comedy star Gertrude Lawrence. His other 50s film music included Operation Pacific, On Moonlight Bay, The Miracle Of Our Lady Fatima, The Jazz Singer, By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, The Caine Mutiny, Battle Cry (including ‘Honey-Babe’), Marjorie Morningstar, The F.B.I. Story, and A Summer Place (1959, the theme was a US hit for Percy Faith And His Orchestra, and, with a lyric by Mack Discant, for the Lettermen in 1965). Even though he was over 70, Steiner continued to work into the 60s on such movies as The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs, Spencer’s Mountain, Youngblood Hawk, and Two On A Guillotine, although demand for his kind of romantic, powerful, yet tender, background music had declined. His contributions to television included the theme music for the popular Perry Mason series which starred Raymond Burr.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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