Alex North

Alex North

born on 4/12/1910 in Chester, PA, United States

died on 8/9/1991 in Los Angeles, CA, United States

Alex North

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Alex North (born Isadore Soifer, December 4, 1910 – September 8, 1991) was an American composer best known for his many film scores, including A Streetcar Named Desire (one of the first jazz-based film scores), Viva Zapata!, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. He was the first composer to receive an Honorary Academy Award but never won a competitive Oscar despite fourteen nominations.

Early life

North was born Isadore Soifer in Chester, Pennsylvania to Russian Jewish parents.[1]


North managed to integrate his modernism into typical film music leitmotif structure, rich with themes. One of these became the famous song, "Unchained Melody". Nominated for fifteen Oscars but unsuccessful each time, North is one of only two film composers to receive the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, the other being Ennio Morricone. North's frequent collaborator as orchestrator was the avant-garde composer Henry Brant. He won the 1968 Golden Globe award for his music to The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968).

His best-known film scores include A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Viva Zapata!, The Rainmaker, Spartacus, The Misfits, Cleopatra, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Dragonslayer and Under the Volcano. His music for The Wonderful Country makes use of Mexican and American motifs.

His commissioned score for 2001: A Space Odyssey is notorious for having been discarded by director Stanley Kubrick. Although North later incorporated motifs from the rejected score for The Shoes of the Fisherman, Shanks and Dragonslayer, the score itself remained unheard until composer Jerry Goldsmith rerecorded it for Varèse Sarabande in 1993. In 2007, Intrada Records released the 1968 recording sessions on CD from North's personal archives.

North was also commissioned to write a jazz score for Nero Wolfe, a 1959 CBS-TV series based on Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe characters, starring William Shatner as Archie Goodwin and Kurt Kasznar as Nero Wolfe.[2] A pilot and two or three episodes were filmed, but the designated time slot was, in the end, given to another series.[3][4] North's unheard score for Nero Wolfe and six recorded tracks on digital audio tape are in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections.[5] He also wrote the music for various other television shows, such as the anthologies Climax! and Playhouse 90.

Though North is best known for his work in Hollywood, he spent years in New York writing music for the stage; he composed the score, by turns plaintive and jarring, for the original Broadway production of Death of a Salesman. It was in New York that he met Elia Kazan (director of Salesman), who brought him to Hollywood in the '50s. North was one of several composers who brought the influence of contemporary concert music into film, in part marked by an increased use of dissonance and complex rhythms. But there is also a lyrical quality to much of his work which may be connected to the influence of Aaron Copland, with whom he studied.

His classical works include two symphonies and a Rhapsody for Piano, Trumpet obbligato and Orchestra. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his score for the 1976 television miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, and went on to score the sequel Rich Man, Poor Man Book II and the 1978 miniseries The Word. North is also known for his opening to the CBS television anthology series Playhouse 90 and the 1965 ABC television miniseries FDR.

In 2016, the Library of Congress added North's 1951 recording of his score to "A Streetcar Named Desire" to its National Recording Registry.


The American Film Institute ranked North's score for A Streetcar Named Desire #19 on their list of the greatest film scores. His scores for the following films were also nominated for the list:

  • Cleopatra (1963)
  • The Misfits (1961)
  • Spartacus (1960)
  • Viva Zapata! (1952)
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

North was nominated for fifteen Academy Awards throughout his career, one for Best Original Song, the rest in the Best Original Score category, making him the most-nominated composer to have never won. He was however awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1986; he was the first composer to receive it.

  • Winner - Honorary Oscar for memorable achievement in a host of distinguished motion pictures (1986)
  • Nominated - Under the Volcano (1984)
  • Nominated - Dragonslayer (1981)
  • Nominated - Bite the Bullet (1975)
  • Nominated - Shanks (1974)
  • Nominated - The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
  • Nominated - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  • Nominated - The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
  • Nominated - Cleopatra (1963)
  • Nominated - Spartacus (1960)
  • Nominated - The Rainmaker (1956)
  • Nominated - Best Original Song (with Hy Zaret) Unchained Melody (1955)
  • Nominated - The Rose Tattoo (1955)
  • Nominated - Viva Zapata! (1952)
  • Nominated - Death of a Salesman (1951)
  • Nominated - A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Golden Globe Awards for Original Score:

  • Winner - The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
  • Nominated - Spartacus (1960)

ASCAP Award for Original Score:

  • Winner - Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
  • Winner - Lifetime Achievement (1986)

Grammy Awards for Original Score:

  • Nominated - Rich Man, Poor Man (1976)
  • Nominated - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  • Nominated - Cleopatra (1963)

Selected filmography

  • A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
  • Death of a Salesman (1951)
  • Viva Zapata! (1952)
  • Les Misérables (1952)
  • Désirée (1954)
  • Unchained (1955)
  • The Rose Tattoo (1955)
  • I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955)
  • The Bad Seed (1956)
  • The Rainmaker (1956)
  • The King and Four Queens (1956)
  • The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
  • Stage Struck (1958)
  • Hot Spell (1958)
  • The Sound and the Fury (1959)
  • The Wonderful Country (1959)
  • Spartacus (1960)
  • The Misfits (1961)
  • Sanctuary (1961)
  • The Children's Hour (1961)
  • All Fall Down (1962)
  • Cleopatra (1963)
  • Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
  • The Outrage (1964)
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  • The Devil's Brigade (1968)
  • The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
  • Hard Contract (1969)
  • A Dream of Kings (1969)
  • Willard (1971)
  • Pocket Money (1972)
  • Shanks (1974)
  • Bite the Bullet (1975)
  • Journey into Fear (1975)
  • Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978)
  • Wise Blood (1979)
  • Carny (1980)
  • Dragonslayer (1981)
  • Under the Volcano (1984)
  • Prizzi's Honor (1985)
  • The Dead (1987)
  • Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
  • The Penitent (1988)


  1. ^ [1], Alex North Biography
  2. ^ The Billboard, April 20, 1959, pp. 38 + 40
  3. ^ Shepard, Richard F., The New York Times, April 9, 1959
  4. ^ Ewald, William F., Television in Review (syndicated column), April 9, 1959
  5. ^ Wrobel, Bill, Film Score Rundowns, "CBS Collection 072 UCLA," Blog 42, June 25, 2010. The film score researcher identifies 30 CBS digital audio tapes in the UCLA Music Library Special Collections (p. 168), with tracks 86–91 of DAT #11 being the Nero Wolfe music of Alex North (p. 174). The score, CPN5912, is in Box #105 (p. 51).

External links

  • Alex North at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Alex North on IMDb
  • Alex North website maintained by his family.
  • Alex North at Find a Grave
  • Unchained Melody Publishing LLC is the publishing administrator for "Unchained Melody".
  • Alex North papers, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
This page was last modified 31.01.2019 06:30:42

This article uses material from the article Alex North from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.