Composer Pete Rugolo dies at 95

Emmy winner worked on "Kiss Me Kate," TV themes

Pete Rugolo, an Emmy-winning, Grammy-nominated composer and arranger whose TV themes included “The Fugitive” and “Run for Your Life,” died Sunday of age-related causes in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 95.

Rugolo was one of the architects of the sound of Stan Kenton’s big band in the 1940s and 1950s and both produced and titled the legendary “Birth of the Cool” sessions for Miles Davis and Gil Evans.

He arranged for dozens of jazz artists including Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Harry Belafonte, June Christy, Nat King Cole, Patti Page and the Four Freshmen.

Rugolo was a staff composer and arranger at MGM during the early 1950s, contributing orchestrations to such films as “Skirts Ahoy,” “Latin Lovers,” “Easy to Love” and “Kiss Me Kate.” He later wrote original scores for films including “Jack the Ripper,” “The Sweet Ride” and “Chu Chu and the Philly Flash.”

For most of his career in Hollywood, Rugolo was active as a composer in TV. He penned the theme for the TV-series version of “The Thin Man” and went on to write themes and jazz-based scores for “Richard Diamond, Private Detective,” “Thriller,” “Felony Squad,” “The Outsider,” “Cool Million” and “Jigsaw John.”

His most famous TV music was probably the theme and extensive library of music for “The Fugitive,” although his weekly music for “Run for Your Life” — also in the mid-1960s — earned him three consecutive Emmy nominations. He won two Emmys: for 1970 telepic “The Challengers” and for a 1971 episode of “The Bold Ones.”

He also wrote music for episodes of “Leave It to Beaver,” “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Alias Smith and Jones,” “Family” and “Carter Country.”

Rugolo’s other TV credits included the telefilms “Sam Hill” and “Jordan Chance” and miniseries “The Last Convertible,” which earned him a final Emmy nomination. He came out of retirement in 1997 to score a final feature: “This World, Then the Fireworks.”

He was born in Sicily in 1915; his family moved to California when he was 5. He earned a degree from San Francisco State College and went on to study with Darius Milhaud at Mills College (which, in the 1930s, was an otherwise all-female institution).

It was after his Army service during WWII that he joined the Kenton band, eventually writing more than 100 compositions for the bandleader. His sole Grammy nomination was for contributing to Kenton’s 1964 album “Artistry in Voices and Brass.”

In addition to his studio work, Rugolo served as a musical director at Capitol Records in the late 1940s and at Mercury Records in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He also led his own jazz band for a short stint in the 1950s.

Rugolo won the Golden Score Award from the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers in 1993 and was honored by the L.A. Jazz Institute in 2002.

Survivors include his wife Edye, three children and three grandchildren. Funeral services will be private, with a public memorial to be announced at a later date. The family has requested contributions to the ASMAC-Pete Rugolo Scholarship for Big Band Arranging.

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