×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Studio honors career-making composer

Universal's Wilson Avenue named for music mentor

Stanley Wilson Avenue connects Main Street with James Stewart Avenue on the Universal lot, not far from the now-demolished Stage 10 where its namesake conducted literally thousands of hours of music by young composers who would go on to become the biggest names in Hollywood film music.

As music director for Revue Prods. (later Universal Television) from 1954 to 1970, Wilson either launched or helped to propel the careers of more than a dozen top film and TV composers including John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Quincy Jones, Lalo Schifrin and Dave Grusin.

“He was greatly important to me, and to so many others,” says Williams, who went from in-demand studio pianist to fledgling TV composer when Wilson hired him in 1958. “He nurtured and encouraged younger people, most of whom have gone on to distinguished careers.”

Revue/Universal was a TV factory in those days, and Wilson, who had composed for Republic Westerns and serials in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was in charge of supplying music for all of them. Wilson served as music supervisor on hundreds of episodes, from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Virginian,” to “Name of the Game” and “It Takes a Thief.” Williams spent seven years under Wilson’s tutelage, learning the craft by scoring sitcoms (“Bachelor Father”), detective shows (“Checkmate”), dramas (“Alcoa Premiere”) and Westerns (“Wagon Train”).

Says Schifrin, who composed the theme to “Mission: Impossible”: “Stanley taught me all the synchronization techniques, and how to make my writing easier to conduct. He was one of the most influential guys in Hollywood.”

Wilson hired Schifrin right after he arrived in Hollywood, in 1963. “I didn’t realize at the time that my career in movies and television was going to be so big, and it was thanks to him.” Wilson took an active interest in his proteges’ non-film work, even driving Schifrin to rehearsals for his jazz concerts.

Wilson was that rarity in Hollywood: a warmly supportive boss. He was also a man with a strong moral compass: He enabled Benny Carter, the famed alto sax player and jazz arranger, to become the first black composer to achieve screen credit in TV, for the music for the Lee Marvin copshow “M Squad.”

A few years later, when Quincy Jones came out from New York in 1965, Wilson championed him by giving him “Ironside.” “That’s where I paid my dues,” says Jones.

Besides Goldsmith, who had done TV at CBS but whose work at Revue (notably the Boris Karloff horror show “Thriller”) led to a career in films, other award-winning Wilson finds include Morton Stevens, who went on to write the “Hawaii Five-0” theme; Patrick Williams (“Lou Grant”); David Shire (“The Conversation”); and Billy Goldenberg (“Duel,” “Kojak”).

“Stanley made a total difference in my career,” says Grusin, who composed the themes for “Name of the Game” and “It Takes a Thief” for Wilson, and who was with the composer in Aspen when Wilson suddenly had a coronary and died in 1970, at 52.

Thanks to Wilson, veteran composers like Bernard Herr-mann (“Psycho”), Franz Waxman (“Sunset Boulevard”) and Bronislau Kaper (“Lili”) found work at the studio in their sunset years when feature-film work was drying up. Elmer Bernstein did “Riverboat” for Wilson; jazzman Pete Rugolo did “Run for Your Life” there.

Williams — who, with longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg, convinced Universal president Ron Meyer to name the street after his mentor — says Wilson was “a dreamer, an artist, a kind of visionary” who hoped the Universal music department would someday be considered in the same vein as Fox and MGM as one of the greats. Its music director certainly is.

More Film

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” based on the memoir of the late Lee Israel, topped the screenplays [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

  • ABA_062_DAU_0060_v0409.87501 – Rosa Salazar stars as

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' Wins Dismal President's Day Weekend

    Fox’s sci-fi adventure “Alita: Battle Angel” dominated in North America, but its opening weekend win isn’t leaving the box office with much to celebrate. Tracking services estimate that this will be one of the lowest grossing President’s Day weekends in years. Ticket sales are on pace to be the smallest bounty for the holiday frame [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content