Remembering Jack Cookerly: Master of Electronic Atmospherics

We’ve recently learned that film composer/keyboardist/inventor/electronic music pioneer Jack Cookerly passed away last September 13th.

Jack Cookerly NAMM Aural History2Cookerly created unique electronic sounds and developed many of his own instruments. He contributed those electronic effects to many science fiction films of the 1950s and 1960s, including THE BLACK SCORPION (1957, scored by Paul Sawtell), KRONOS (1957, scored by Sawtell & Bert Shefter), IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958, scored by Sawtell & Shefter), INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959, composed by Paul Dunlap), and INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES (1962, scored by William Loose [as “Elliot Fisher”]). Cookerly and Loose also received composer credit for scoring the Walter Brennan/Richard Crenna/Kathleen Nolan TV series THE REAL McCOYS (1957-63), episodes of THE HATHAWAYS (1961-62) and a few others. As a prominent keyboardist, Cookerly played organ on the soundtracks of syfy films like THE SPACE CHILDREN (1958), THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960), and ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964), and also provided electronic sounds for television’s original THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959) and STAR TREK (1966).

Jack Cookerly was also an accordionist who was among the first to connect the instrument to the technology behind the electronic keyboard. He was chief engineer at Lowrey Organs for many years and designed a number of unique and important advancements for the electronic organ. His expertise on the organ found its way into films as well; he played organ on the soundtracks of s.f. films like THE SPACE CHILDREN (1958), THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960), and ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964), and also provided electronic sounds for television’s original THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959) and STAR TREK (1966). Follow this link to an oral history excerpt of Jack’s work with the popular Lowrey MX1 organ.

Invisible Invaders 03“Jack was an incredibly talented and important musician in the field of electronic music, even though he kept in the background much of the time,” wrote soundtrack album producer and author David Schecter, who Monstrous Movie Music label featured some of Jack’s brilliance in several of their releases. “He was responsible for some of the inventions that led to the modern synthesizer.”


With David Schecter’s permission, what follows is David’s biography of Jack Cookerly, written for one of the MMM album booklets, and recently posted as an obituary on the online Classic Horror Film Board at tapatalk

Jack Cookerly: The sound of ‘50s sci-fi
By David Schecter

An important figure in electronic music both in and outside the field of film music, Jack Cookerly was already orchestrating for Walter Lantz Studios when he became a 1949 music graduate from Occidental College in Los Angeles.  After arranging for CBS radio and playing keyboards with various jazz groups, he become a Hollywood studio musician, performing on keyboards in hundreds of films and television episodes, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Black Scorpion, Dr. Kildare, The Flintstones, Hawaii Five-0, Naked City, Star Trek, Thriller, The Twilight Zone, and The Wild Wild West.  A superb example of the kind of sounds Cookerly was capable of creating for science fiction films is 1959’s The Atomic Submarine.  In the mid-1950s he began orchestrating and then composing for many studios, and his music can be heard in movies and TV series such as The Benny Hill Show, Combat!, Death Valley Days, Father Knows Best, The Fugitive, The Gumby Show, Hollywood and the Stars, I Spy, In Search of…, Invasion of the Star Creatures, Lassie, Maverick, Mister Ed, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, My Three Sons, National Geographic Specials, Omega Syndrome, The Rifleman, Sesame Street, Shoot Out at Big Sag, This Is Elvis, and The Untouchables.  


In 1954, Cookerly developed the first music synthesizer to be used in motion pictures and television, and he designed many synthesized sound effects heard in the original Star Trek series.  He helped devise a number of important inventions pertaining to electronic music, including an electronic circuit that added full harmony to a single organ note and the first electronic guitar.  He helped develop the first computer-controlled electronic organ, and in 1979 his inventions became a part of every electronic keyboard that featured interactive player control.  

Jack had been living in the Pacific Northwest with his sweet and talented wife Arnette.

Jack Cookerly via DSchecter

A few years ago [L – R]: Jack Cookerly, Kathleen Mayne, Arnette Cookerly, David Schecter

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