Earle H. Hagen, who co-wrote the jazz classic “Harlem Nocturne” and composed memorable themes for “The Andy Griffith Show,” “I Spy,” “The Mod Squad” and other TV shows, has died. He was 88.
Hagen, who is heard whistling the folksy tune for “The Andy Griffith Show,” died Monday night at his home in Rancho Mirage, his wife, Laura, said Tuesday. He had been in ill health for several months.
During his long musical career, Hagen performed with the top bands of the swing era, composed for movies and television and wrote one of the first textbooks on movie composing.
He and Lionel Newman were nominated for an Academy Award for best music scoring for the 1960 Marilyn Monroe movie “Let’s Make Love.”
For television, he composed original music for more than 3,000 episodes, pilots and TV movies, including theme songs for “That Girl,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
“He loved it,” his wife said. “The music just flowed from him, and he would take off one hat and put on another and go on to the next show.”
“It was hard work, with long hours and endless deadlines, but being able to write something one day and hear it a few days later appealed to me,” he said. “Besides, I was addicted to the ultimate narcosis in music, which is the rush you get when you give a downbeat and wonderful players breathe life into the notes you have put on paper.”
'A Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of'
Born July 9, 1919, in Chicago, Hagen moved to Los Angeles as a youngster. He began playing the trombone while in junior high school.
“The school actually furnished him with a tuba and his mother made him take it back,” his wife said.
He became so proficient that he graduated early from Hollywood High School and at 16 was touring with big bands. He played trombone with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey and arranged for and played with Ray Noble’s orchestra.
He and Newman wrote “Harlem Nocturne” for Noble in 1939. It has been covered many times since and served as the theme music for “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” television series in 1984.
In 1941, Hagen became a staff musician for CBS but the next year he enlisted in the military.
After the war, he worked as a composer and orchestrator for 20th Century-Fox studios on dozens of movies, including another Monroe classic, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
In the 1950s, he and Herbert Spencer formed an orchestra partnership that also wrote music for television, including scoring the Danny Thomas hit “Make Room for Daddy.”
Later, he worked as musical director for producer Sheldon Leonard, sometimes working on as many of five shows a week.
One of his more notable TV scoring efforts was for the 1960s adventure series “I Spy,” starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp.
Because the show used exotic locations worldwide, Hagen often included ethnic touches in the incidental music, among them hiring Greek musicians to play for some episodes that took place in Greece. On other locations, he collected ethnic music to mix with Western music back in Hollywood.
After retiring from TV work in 1986, Hagen taught a workshop in film and television scoring.
He also wrote three books on scoring, including 1971’s “Scoring for Films,” one of the earliest textbooks on the subject. His 2002 autobiography was titled “Memoirs of a Famous Composer — Nobody Ever Heard Of.”
Besides his wife, Hagen is survived by his sons, Deane and James, both of Palm Desert; stepchildren Rebecca Roberts, of Irvine, Richard Roberts of Los Angeles and Rachael Roberts of Irvine; and four grandchildren. His first wife, Elouise Hagen, died in 2002 following 59 years of marriage.