YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN composer John Morris dies at 91

January 28, 2018

by Randall D. Larson

John Morris 2015 photo by Cerys Handschumacher CrComns

John Morris. 2015. Photo by Cerys Handschumacher (Creative Commons, via Wikipedia)

Best known for scoring nearly all of director Mel Brooks’ comedy films, composer John Morris died Thursday Jan. 25th at the age of 91.  Morris’s most famous score in the fantasy/science fiction/horror genres was that for Brooks’ 1974 YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, a pitch-perfect send up of classic Universal monster movies for which Morris composed a pitch-perfect score in the classic Universal vein.

Morris’ score for Brooks’ hilarious monster movie homage surpassed its film music roots.  In his obit for Morris in Variety, writer Jon Burlingame commented on Morris’ memorable violin theme which is central to the YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN score: “Under the title ‘Transylvanian Lullaby,’ [the theme] has even been performed by classical artists from violinist Gil Shaham to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

Young_Frankenstein_movie_posterThe lullaby was Brooks’ idea. “Mel said for Young Frankenstein, which is really a horror film basically, writing scary music was totally inappropriate and had nothing to do with the main character,” Morris told Film Score Monthly in a 1997 interview. “ Mel told me to write the most beautiful Eastern European lullaby that you can. That would become the heart of the monster. It would be his childhood. I understood him because Mel always goes for the emotional center of something. It’s not that Mel didn’t want scary music, it was just another kind of movie. It was an emotional movie. You just have to write honest music.” (Listen to Morris’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN theme, bottom of page.)

Morris began as Brooks’ regular composer with 1967’s THE PRODUCER; he went on to compose the music for all of Brooks’ movies except DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT and ROBIN HOOD, MEN IN TIGHTS (1995, 1993, both scored by Hummie Mann)

Haunted_honeymoonAmong Morris’ few other in the fantastic genres was SPACEBALLS, Brooks’ 1987 STAR WARS satire. Morris also scored HAUNTED HONEYMOON, a parody of haunted house movies directed by YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN star Gene Wilder in 1986, and the gothic horror drama THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS (1985, directed by Freddie Francis but produced by Mel Brooks’ production company Brooksfilms. 

An orchestral composer in the classical vein, Morris was also known for his scores to THE ELEPHANT MAN (another Brooksfilms production, directed by David Lynch), THE IN-LAWS, CLUE, JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY, the underscore for DIRTY DANCING, and the TV mini-series SCARLETT, the sequel to GONE WITH THE WIND. 

His last score was for the 2004 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP, after which he retired from film composing after that.

Morris was nominated twice for an Academy Award, for his score to THE ELEPHANT MAN (also nominated for a Grammy), and for his song, co-written by Mel Brooks, from BLAZING SADDLES. He won back-to-back ASCAP Awards for his participation in COACH, which won “Top TV Series” from 1992-96.

Read Jon Burlingame’s complete remembrance of John Morris in Variety here

Listen to John Morris’ violin theme from YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, as heard in the Main Title,  below:



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