While it is now standard practice for TV shows to be scored entirely by one person (and that one person increasingly seems to be Bear McCreary), for years it was expected that shows would employ a variety of composers to provide the music. The primary benefit of this situation was that if an episode was a comedy or a romance or suspense, the producers could hire a specific composer who specialized in a specific style of music. On Star Trek, however, the production staff more often than not called one man for every occasion: Fred Steiner.
Born on February 24, 1923 in New York, Steiner was a bit of a prodigy, and by his early 20s had followed in his father’s footsteps and was playing in orchestras for radio shows, eventually orchestrating and then becoming the music director for This Is Your FBI before TV became a thing, at which point Steiner moved to Hollywood and began scoring for the medium and for feature films. By the time Star Trek came calling, Steiner was one of the top names in the business, or at least the most recognized, as he was responsible for contributing to two iconic TV shows:
For Perry Mason, Steiner only contributed the theme song, which is almost as famous as the series itself, but for The Bullwinkle Show, Steiner was tasked with re-imagining the series’ music after the show moved from ABC to NBC (shedding the show’s original name, Rocky and His Friends, in the process), when it was discovered that Frank Comstock, who had been the composer for the show up to that point, actually owned the music lock, stock, and barrel. So, with the exception Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son (for reasons that escape me), Steiner replaced every bit of music in the series. And while Peabody’s Improbable History fared poorly (to the point that Comstock’s music was returned for syndication), the rest of the music Steiner composed gained at least equal footing with that of Comstock’s. And with the rather wide range of themes, all played straight (one of the few things to be played as such on the series), it’s no shocker that Steiner excelled with a wide range of episode plots on Star Trek.
However, part of this was not merely Fred Steiner’s considerable talents, but one dictated by circumstance: after a few episodes, Alexander Courage was unavailable to the Star Trek staff, as he was working as an orchestrator for two films released in 1967-A Guide for the Married Man and Doctor Dolittle. The former is little-remembered (and rather ironically has both Majel Barrett and Jeffrey Hunter in its cast) while the latter was an utter disaster on every front, with major reshoots and plot restructuring complicating the scoring of the picture (which was a musical). Steiner became so essential in this period that he re-recorded the opening title music when it was decided that Courage’s version dominated by the electric violin wasn’t going to cut it.
Next time, we’ll round out our discussions of Star Trek‘s crew.