Albert Glasser: B Movie Music Composer

Centered around the decade of the 1950s there rose to prominence the motion picture phenomenon of double-features. The films acquired the nickname B movies, because, unlike the first line studio productions, the B’s were manufactured in a fraction of the time and generally were not lavish with production values. No matter the public flocked to see double features whether the program included ten cartoons on Saturday morning or a dance contest at the local drive in.

The studios loved the B’s because they were tremendously popular and required a minimal investment (the advertising campaign usually cost more than the movie itself) Audiences loved them because they were thrilling and exciting.

Although the assembly line style of production on B’s usually made for clichés, shortcuts and formulas often working on the line were creative artists of great talent They were frequently able to rush together fun adventures that were sprinkled with first-class elements Sometimes there was a scene of excellent acting a spectacular special effect a well-directed moment of suspense.

One of the most prolific Hollywood composers, he started off as a copyist in the music department at Warner Bros. in the late 1930s, learning the art of film scoring from scratch while working under such big guns as Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. He graduated to orchestrating and by the mid-’40s was composing and directing his own scores.

In 1944 Glasser started with his score to The Monster Maker, starring J. Carroll Nash. He was paid $250 for his musical manipulations. “What the hell,” he chuckles,“it was a start” During the next 25 years he composed over 125 feature films including Huk!, The Neanderthal Man, Tokyo File 212, Tormented, Treasure of Monte Cristo, Attack of the Puppet People, War of the Colossal Beast, Monster from Green Hell, Confessions of An Opium Eater, Invasion USA and The Indestructible Man great shock or terror, or a script with plot twists of high imagination.

The music composers, with hardly any budget (and even less time) turned out movie scores that dressed up the picture, adding a touch of class along with the emotional impact. The music helped draw tears and cheers from the audience but unfortunately, the scores were generally less than subliminal. During the soundtrack mixing dialogue and sound effects always took prominence over the score, and the music working away, wall-to-wall during most of the picture) was rendered virtually invisible.

This situation was compounded by the fact that soundtrack record albums were never made from the movies. The music to those wonderful motion pictures that gave us so much excitement was literally unheard and unpreserved!

During his composing years he considered the pressures low pay and adverse conditions a challenge to his abilities. Often we had to write an entire score in one week, orchestrate it, get it copied and to the scoring stage by next Monday. There we had between 20 and 30 musicians coming in for three hours to record 30 minutes of music. That meant one rehearsal and a fast take immediately If the take was too dirty with mistakes you just couldn’t tolerate – we’d go for another. But near the end of the session, when we were running out of time, we couldn’t even rehearse once.

Now this takes a good conductor, which I happen to be and It takes some of the best musicians in the world (which I had). They worked like sons-a-bitches! At times I was so proud of them I wanted to cry. We were all working together like a fantastic team!

During the 50’s Glasser was composing, arranging and conducting about twelve scores per year. In fact, he was so good at arranging his own music that he became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after arrangers. He can certainly boast of a voluminous filmography, having scored a staggering 135 movies between 1944 and 1962, not counting at least 35 features for which he received no official credit. In addition to scoring 300 television shows and 450 radio programs. He worked with the great American composer Ferde Grofe (Grand Canyon Suite) on two movies: Rockership X-M and / I Shot Jesse James and also arranged Grofe’s World’s Fair Suite. Glasser arranged and conducted for such Hollywood notables as Dimitri Tiomkin and Johnny Greene as well as bandleader Paul Whiteman and operetta composer Rudolf Friml among others. He conducted Gershwin at the Hollywood Bowl, and Variety named him one of the 10 foremost orchestrators in the US.

THE CISCO KID (Recorded July 1948) No collection of Albert Glasser music would be complete without his most famous score. Originally composed for two feature films, the popularity of the stars Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carnillo, and the first class qualities added by the music were the specific elements that led to production of two additional Cisco theatrical movies When the rights to Cisco were bought for TV one of the conditions was that the music from the four movies be used for the series. This was not only because Glasser’s exciting Spanish main title had become as linked to Cisco as his Sidekick Pancho, but also because then as now musicians union money demands were unreasonable and unbudgeable and made composing and recording original music too expensive for the infant television industry Therefore, ZIV made a deal with Glasser for his already recorded score.

BIG TOWN (Recorded March 1952) Glasser produced a broad spectrum of music cues for this popular television series The composing started in 1951 and went into the beginning of the next year working from scripts only prior to any filming.

The Neanderthal Man (1953)

TOP OF THE WORLD (Recorded January 1955) Built from eight cues (including the end cast walk-out music) this selection includes the main title, the beautiful love theme several moments of power grandeur.icy chords and aerial shimmers.

THE BUCKSKIN LADY (Recorded October 1956) Glasser says. “I love western music – it’s big. rich, warm and American. It pictures people ten feet tall.” There probably isn’t a roomful of moviegoers who even remember this film, but the expansive vistas of the great outdoors, along with the strong, bold personalities who lived amid that scenery are captured in this suite first a complex montage of musical variations followed by the straightforward thematic statement of the show’s main title. It seems like a natural for a Frankie Laine title song, and in fact lyrics were written but the producers nixed the plan for budget reasons. It’s easily one of Glasser’s most hummable tunes.

Huk! (1956)

THE CYCLOPS (Recorded January 1956) This is the film that launched the Gordon/Glasser collaboration – a teaming that created eight feature films. Working down the hall from each other, Gordon was attracted by sounds of Glasser’s score to “Huk, a big-budget adventure. “Did you write all that stuff? Was Gordon’s approach Glasser said yes, and Gordon continued. “I’m doing this movie called The Cyclops, and I need someone just like you” They began haggling over price, and a professional marriage was in the works. The brief sequence selected for this album is an example of Glasser’s ability to manipulate his audience with moods soothing them with quiet melodies then driving them into a crazed frenzy with pounding drums and an orchestra gone wild

Monster from Green Hell (1957)

THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (Recorded August 1957) This film could have come off as a non memorable man turns monster cliché, but director writer Burt Gordon gave the main character an aura of tragic sympathy, and Glasser took his cue from that Using a violin theme that cries from the heart. Glasser made the audience feel the sadness of the mutated man, his hopeless separation from the woman he loved, his bitter hatred of life for turning him into a nonhuman and his tortured mental deterioration. The movie includes ample moments of terror and shock, but the element that lifts it above the aver. age is the personal emotionalism, underscored throughout by the music Like The Creature From The Black Lagoon” the Colossal Man” captured such surprising audience sympathy that it led to a sequel, War Of The Colossal Beast.” Now considered a minor classic in the science-fiction horror genre, this is a perfect example of a low-budget movie with emotional power much of which is created by the music composer

Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957)

BEGINNING OF THE END (Recorded February 1957) This mini-suite is a combination of the opening and closing music from the movie. It includes a typical Glasser variety of moods – more than just the obvious dangers to come and happy resolution, it is a mosaic of all the emotional aspects of the drama

Giant from the Unknown (1958)

Teenage Caveman (1958)

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Earth vs. the Spider (1958)

When Hell Broke Loose (1958)

THE BOY AND THE PIRATES (Recorded February 1960) Nowhere is the influence of Glasser’s work with Erich Korngold more evident than in this swashbuckling orchestral rouser. The movie, although charming in a juvenile way, does not begin to live up to the adventuresome scope promised by the score. Originally recorded in two-channel stereophonic (probably because of the technical craze in movies of the late 1950s) the release prints nevertheless had standard optical mono tracks The film was advertised as being in Perceptovision – a meaningless title whose only justification was the inclusion of some wonderful special photographic effects. Glasser, who always orchestrated and conducted his movies, outdid himself here in creating (without echoes or overdubs) a large symphonic sound from an unbelievably small 22piece orchestra.

Glasser probably holds the record for composing more sci-fi music than anyone else in the 1950s; he scored practically all of Bert I. Gordon’s special effects epics and even worked for Roger Corman and William Castle. Glasser’s style was unmistakable: pounding, hard-driving rhythms and crashing crescendos which set the pace for the lurid, action-packed quickies they accompanied.

Today Glasser’s life is considerably less hectic than those frantic days of instant creativity “Composing film scores doesn’t excite me anymore, I have nothing more to prove. I’ve done everything I wanted, and I’m satisfied that I always did my best and was honest. I’m completely happy! And he should be. After all, amid the terror of giant mutants, scurvy pirates, repulsive insects and menacing outlaws. Glasser is an avid ham radio lan (KORFU), a science-fiction enthusiast, an amateur photographer and the best piano tuner in town.

How did you become interested in music?
Albert Glasser: It started when I was in high school here in Los Angeles. I fell in love with medicine because I had two broken noses in two fistfights. The guy who fixed my nose was a great plastic surgeon, so whenever I had the spare time I would run down to his office and hang around for an hour or two watching him work. I was just fascinated and decided to become a doctor. I started to take all of this pre-med stuff in high school. About halfway through, around eleventh grade, I started to hear music in my head that you couldn’t believe. I was playing the flute and my sister was a fine concert pianist. I wanted to switch courses, but they said I couldn’t do that. Well, screw them (laughs! There was a lot of yelling and screaming, but finally they said, go ahead. From there I graduated and went to a junior college and started taking harmony classes. Finally I got a scholarship at U.S.C. for a violin concerto in 1934.

How did you break into the movies?
Albert Glasser: When I finished up at U.S.C., a lot of my friends were saying, “Hey, Glasser, as long as you’re so inventive in your god damned music, why don’t you get a job at the studios? They need musicians.” This was a period when the studios were getting guys from New York and Europe, anyone who could come here and conduct, play a fiddle, blow a trumpet, any damned thing. The soundtrack had only just come in in 1929–30 and they were always looking for good people to work in the music department. But the next question is, how do you get into the movies? It’s still a good question (laughs)! I went to the movies two or three times a week just so I could write down who the musical directors were for all of the studios. For Warner Bros. at that time it was Leo Forbstein. I called up the Warner Bros. music department. “This is Mr. Forbstein’s office,” the secretary would say. “This is Mr. Glasser. I’m a composer.” “Sorry! We’ve got plenty of composers. Goodbye!”

And the same result for each of the other studios?
Albert Glasser: Exactly the same. So I figured, there’s got to be a way of finding these guys-I had to go to them directly. So I figured out a little pattern and it worked like a charm. I hiked to Warner Bros. and went to the head cop at the gate. “Hi, officer. Has Mr. Forbstein come out yet?” “Oh, no. Around five o’clock, usually. Did you see his new car?” I said, “What new car?” and he said, “He’s got a gorgeous new red Packard.” Now I walked across the street and sat on the curb and waited and waited. Finally the cars started coming out and here’s this great big red Packard. I got him! That’s him! He’s the man sitting in the back seat with the chauffeur in the front. I got the license number, that’s all I wanted.

The next morning I hitchhiked to the license bureau and got his address. By now I had been orchestrating all kinds of stuff: Bach, piano sonatas, the Toccata and Fugue like Stokowski made, my own personal stuff. I had a mountain of music. So I got dressed up one Sunday morning and brought this whole bundle along. I rang his doorbell. I was all ready to put my foot in the door in case the butler would tell me to get the hell out of there. The door opened and here’s a short fat man in a bathrobe who hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. I said, “Mr. Forbstein?” and he said, “That’s me. What do you want, kid?”

I told him who I was. He said, “I’m making breakfast. Come in.” We went into the kitchen and I’m jabbering away a mile a minute. He said, “Just a second, kid. Let me see what you got here,” and he was looking and looking at my stuff. And I’m so happy. Here’s the guy who runs the whole goddamned music department for the studio, he’s looking at my music. Later on, I found out that this was bullshit. He couldn’t even read music. He was a fiddle player from St. Louis. He was a good musician, and a good, sharp cookie, a good businessman. He became the musical director in the theater in St. Louis and then when Warner Bros. was looking for people, he talked them into giving him a job. But he couldn’t read an orchestration, not a god-damned thing!

“I got started copying music for Erich Wollgang Korngold He was a wild man — Interesting man – a very sincere man, and I’ve always said he was the only true genius Hollywood has ever had. One of the first things 1 worked on was his overture for Captain Blood. It was an enormous amount of work. When I got through I was so tired and exhausted – but I had to hear it. Korngold said, “Good work, kid. Now go home and get some rest.” But I snuck into the scoring studio to watch Korngold conduct the music I had just copied, I stood there transfixed – my spine tingling was so exciting. So remarkable, I thought this man can turn you on when he wants to, and he can turn you off. He’s manipulating you exactly the way he wants. He’s playing God.

How much time did they give you to score The Monster Maker?
Albert Glasser: One week. Luckily there was very little for me to do. Mostly piano work for that. It was the story of a pianist who gets acromegaly; his hands get big and he cannot play anymore. I had to find a concert pianist to record all of the piano stuff and write a couple of cues here and there. Nine times out of ten, all I had was a week. Occasionally two weeks.

What size orchestra would you use for a typical PRC film?
Albert Glasser: About 20, 22. It was way too small.

Rocketship X-M had an innovative score for its day.
Albert Glasser: We wanted some different sounds, something unusual, once they got out into outer space. The theremin at that time was really hot, since Miklos Rozsa’s score for Spellbound (1945). So I met the guy who invented it, he was a foot doctor. He followed my orchestrations as closely as he could and it worked like a charm. Grofe was a doll to work with, a wonderful man. He was enormous, fat as a pig! An old beer-drinker from way back.

Did you visit the set of Rocketship X-M?
Albert Glasser: Oh, yes. Many times. Kurt Neumann, the director, was very nice, very gentle, very intelligent. A good, hard worker. He wrote his own scripts.

What’s your opinion of the movie?
Albert Glasser: I loved it. I’m an old science fiction fan from way back. When I was in junior high school, I wrote two science fiction stories.

You worked on a few SF films with the production team of Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg. How well did you work with them?
Albert Glasser: Aubrey Wisberg was a helluva nice guy; in fact, we got very close with him. A very fine gentleman, very direct and honest. But in the last picture I made with them, I got screwed. They wanted me to sign an agreement that I’d take 10 percent now and the balance when the movie was released. This is an old trick that I heard about many years ago. But I took a chance.

Do you remember scoring Invasion U.S.A.?
Albert Glasser: Oh, yes. That was for Albert Zugsmith. He’s a wild man! I thought I wrote a pretty good score for it; there were some good scenes in it. I tried to imitate the Russian national anthem. I turned it around, upside down, to give some flavor. That’s one picture I don’t have the tape on. In most cases, I saved everything I had. From the very beginning, I would get copies of what I was doing. Most of them now are in the University of Wyoming. Sixteen crates! I’m living in a fire zone here. We had a big fire in 1961 and it burned up half of the area; about four hundred homes went in two hours. If my music got burned up, I’d shoot myself!

Sci-fi fans probably remember you best for your long association with Bert I. Gordon. Did you and he get along all right?
Albert Glasser: Wonderful guy. We had more fun with him! He got me into ham radio for which I am very grateful. I met him right after I finished Huk (1956). That was the biggest job I ever had, the biggest orchestra, forty men! It paid off just beautifully and almost came into the last runoff for the Academy Awards. Anyway, I was laying the tracks in with a film cutter. Suddenly the door opens and Bert Gordon comes in and says, “Who wrote that stuff? It’s marvelous. I’m working next door finishing up a picture I just made and I’m looking for a composer.” He wanted to hear some more of my stuff and so he came over to the house. He said, “I want you! I’ve done two pictures so far but I’m not very happy with the music, it didn’t give me the lift that I wanted. Your kind of stuff has balls!”

Memories of Giant from the Unknown?
Albert Glasser: You mean The Giant from Devil’s Crag? They changed the name, the crooks! That was a little cheapie that I never paid much attention to. We had to record it in a lousy, half-assed recording studio because they were broke.

How would you rate some of your colleagues who worked in B movies? Like Ronald Stein and Gerald Fried?
Albert Glasser: I knew Ronald Stein quite well, we used to work together on the science fiction stuff. Nice guy. I didn’t care for his music too much, but he was adequate, a good musician. Gerald Fried was one of the top oboe players in New York. He came out here in the mid-’50s because he wanted to compose. He did good work. Never great, but good.

Raoul Kraushaar?
Albert Glasser: Kraushaar was a nice person, but his work was never worthwhile. He was good for a cheap Republic Western.

Leith Stevens?
Albert Glasser: Leith Stevens was a good man, very good. When work started to slow down in the late ’60s-early ’70s because the B movies were out, I couldn’t get a god-damned thing to do. So I went out to talk to Stevens. He said, “Bring along some of your stuff. I like your work.” So I brought along the record of Huk. I put the record on and he started to listen to it and all of a sudden he said, “Jesus Christ!” I knew I was dead because he didn’t want any competition. If I had done anything with him, I might supersede him, so I had cut my own throat. He said, “I’ll be in touch,” but he never was.

Did you have much contact with Bernard Herrmann?
Albert Glasser: I met him once or twice. He scored Jane Eyre (1944), which I happened to catch on TV. What struck me was the music. There was a fine composer; I was just thrilled! So I stopped what I was doing and watched the whole goddamned movie just to listen to the score and it was marvelous. When I got through, I got him on the telephone. I said, “I want to congratulate you. I just saw Jane Eyre and your score was so goddamn beautiful, so fantastic, I still have goose pimples!” There was a long pause. He finally said, “So what do you want?” I said, “I’m congratulating you for the marvelous job you did. All of your stuff is great but this is the best score you ever wrote. I’m proud of

What was the first film you scored for Bert Gordon?
Albert Glasser: The Cyclops. He paid me $4,000 for the whole thing, including the orchestra. I had fun with it – it was a cute little picture, well done. From then on, I was his boy. The next one was The Amazing Colossal Man and then War of the Colossal Beast. I was fascinated. I used to watch on the set as much as I could while he was doing the effects. He used to work a lot out of his garage, where he had his equipment. The funny one, of course, was Attack of the Puppet People. On the set, they made chairs ten feet high so when the actors would sit on them, they would look little. It was cute, a lot of fun. In fact, we wrote a song for that for which they’re still paying me– (singing] “You’re a dolly, you’re a dolly.” I can’t believe it.

So you got to know Gordon well.
Albert Glasser: Oh, yes, we had a lot of fun. He even gave me the ham radio test to get my license. I still hear from him but not too often. He keeps to himself a lot. His father used to manufacture a certain part for the old Studebaker, the door handles or something, and so they lived very well. When he was growing up, Bert had a fascination with movies. When he was ten or eleven years old, he made a movie by himself. He would take pictures one at a time, and when he played it back real quick, it started to move the basic element of movie technique. He made a movie, it wasn’t very long, of about two or three hundred pictures. He showed it at his birthday party and the kids loved it. His parents almost had an orgasm. Look at what our son did! He’s a genius!

When he got out of college, he wanted to get into making movies. He borrowed some equipment and figured out a gimmick on how to make commercials – television was just getting started. Eventually he started making a lot of money in this little city outside of Detroit. Then he got married and came out here. In the meantime, his family started raising money for him to make a movie. He had all of these gimmicks and tricks of moving animals, of animals getting big. He developed a system and it wasn’t bad. You’ve got to hand it to him, he did it all by himself. He sold these pictures, made a profit, paid back his family. It was a good investment for the family, but eventually they started to lose money– the science fiction thing was disappearing. I worked on four or five of his pictures.

You worked with Roger Corman, also.
Albert Glasser: He walked into the cutting room where I was doing this science fiction stuff. He said, “Hey, I need you. I did a little picture recently and it’s so bad that nobody wants it. Even the music was terrible. Can you give me a good score on this?” We went down to the projection room and put it on and ran it for about an hour [groans) –Viking Women and the Sea Serpent! That was a weird one, very bad! I said I’d try. He said, “Give it all you have!” When it got wild, I gave it wild music. When they were on the boat in the middle of a storm, I gave it storm music. That’s easy, any asshole can write that kind of music. When we got through, he said, “You saved my picture! You saved my life! I just sold it and it’s all set. The music did it!”

That I heard many times, that my music was better than the picture. Years back, in the ’40s and even into the ’50s, the reviewers in town would never even mention the composer. Once in a while they would mention a top guy like Steiner or Korngold. But us little guys in the Bs, never. All of a sudden you would see, “Al Glasser did an outstanding job.” They would never say that about anyone else. I cut them all out for my scrapbook.

Was there much rivalry between the top Hollywood composers?
Albert Glasser: I’ll tell you a story. When I was working with Tiomkin at the War Department, the telephone rang. It was Miklos Rozsa. He said, “I just got my draft notice from the Army. I want Dimi to call Washington to have me transferred to your place. I’ll do anything — I’ll orchestrate, I’ll conduct, I’ll clean the toilets! As long as I can stay here in town.” Later, when Tiomkin walked in, I said, “Dimi, you got a phone call from Rozsa. He wants you to call Washington ’cause he has to go for a draft call, and he wants you to transfer him over here. We can use him.” We were scoring Frank Capra’s war shorts at the time. Tiomkin blew up: “Hell, no! The dirty bastard. Let him suffer like all of the other boys are suffering!” As it turned out, when Rozsa went for the draft, he was kicked out anyway. He had a bad foot or something and he was too old.

What was Tiomkin’s problem?
Albert Glasser: Tiomkin was making big money for his scores, but the problem was that he was charging too much. His price was going up and up. He had scored a big musical show, an extravaganza over at MGM, and he wanted the violin section to sound so rich and so warm that he rented about 25 Stradivarius violins, at about $5,000 to $6,000 apiece. It was an enormous bill and MGM was paying for it. The next picture he made for Capra the orchestra bill was so steep, the studio said, “Get this guy out of here and keep him out of here!” By 1940, all of the studios said, “Hands off Tiomkin. He’s too expensive, he’s a crazy Russian!” Tiomkin couldn’t get another feature for about a year. Here comes Rozsa, moving up fast, getting all of the biggest and best pictures. Tiomkin hated him! He said, “The son of a bitch is taking all of my pictures away from me!”

How about contemporary composers like Jerry Goldsmith?
Albert Glasser: Excellent! I wrote him a fan letter years ago. Whenever I hear good work, I drop off a note or phone. Including Johnny Williams. I even wrote a letter to John Barry. Marvelous writer, one of the top group.

The Cobra Strikes (1948)
Last of the Wild Horses (1948)
Treasure of Monte Cristo (1949)
Geisha Girl (1952)
Invasion U.S.A. (1952)
The Neanderthal Man (1953)
Paris Model (1953)
Dragon’s Gold (1954)
Top of the World (1955)
Huk! (1956)
The Boss (1956)
Flight to Hong Kong (1956)
The Big Caper (1957)
Monster from Green Hell (1957)
Beginning of the End (1957)
Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957)
The Cyclops (1957)
Valerie (1957)
The Hired Gun (1957)
The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
Giant from the Unknown (1958)
Teenage Cave Man (1958)
Earth vs. the Spider (1958)
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
High School Confidential (1958)
When Hell Broke Loose (1958)
Night of the Quarter Moon (1959)
The Boy and the Pirates (1960)
Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)
The Cremators (1972)


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