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Herschel Burke Gilbert: The Theme Weaver

A key to the enormous success of "The Rifleman" surely can go to the man behind the music, Herschel Burke Gilbert. The ominous sounds of impending danger or the soft melodies of the most touching moments can be greatly attributed to Gilbert. He was born in 1918 and later graduated from the Julliard School of Music in New York City. His instrument was the viola, but his other talents as an arranger got him work with the Harry James Dance Band in the 1940s. His early assignments were to orchestrate small sections of pictures including "It's A Wonderful Life" in 1947. He received two Oscar nominations for work in the pictures "The Thief"(1952), and "The Moon Is Blue"(1953). He began composing for television in 1951, working freelance assignments and some of these early pieces ended up in use as main title themes for "Death Valley Days", "Sky King", "Kit Carson", and "Four Star Playhouse". Four Star was a television production company formed by four film actors, Charles Boyer, David Niven, Dick Powell, and Ida Lupino. In 1958, he was asked by past film producing associates to score a new western television series, "The Rifleman", handeled by Four Star Television. To side-step U.S. Musician Union rules, a library of ninety minutes of music cues were recorded in Munich, Germany for use in various situations of the program. The musical result attracted both the attention of the public and the industry. Dick Powell offered Gilbert the position of Music Director for Four Star Television, which he held for five years. During that period he supervised the productions of many quality series and composed themes for several series himself. As Music Director for Four Star, he hired several other composers who developed memorable music themes but yet were always under his guidance. Usually Gilbert conducted the European or pick-up orchestras used to record these pieces. Some of Gilbert's work on other programs include "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater", "Johnny Ringo", "Law Of The Plainsman"(music supervisor), "Wanted: Dead Or Alive"(music supervisor), "The Westerner"(music supervisor), "The Detectives", "Trackdown", "Yancy Derringer", "Burke's Law"(theme), "The Big Valley", and "Gilligan's Island". When one recalls the television western heroes of the era, we can look back on a legacy of wonderful themes and musical memories because of fine talents like Herschel Burke Gilbert. Today, Gilbert is vice-president of the Film Society.

Click on highlighted show titles to hear theme song (be patient)


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