On Sunday, April 28th, I was fortunate enough to attend the memorial for composer Leonard Rosenman (who passed away in March). It’s no secret that Rosenman was one of the composers of the Star Trek movies but this event proved to be even more Star Trek-centric than I’d anticipated.
The memorial, organized Rosenman’s wife Judie at the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, was also an enormously entertaining and gratifying salute to a man who was a pivotal figure in music history and who seemed to know more famous people, both show biz figures and others, than about anyone I can think of.
First a few things you may or may not know about Rosenman: he was roommates with James Dean and was teaching Dean piano when Dean suggested director Elia Kazan, who was about to film Dean’s first major film East of Eden, attend a performance of one of Rosenman’s concert pieces. Kazan then asked Rosenman if he would like to score the film. Rosenman at first refused—he was at that time at the forefront of the American concert music scene. But another acquaintance of his suggested he take the job—Aaron Copland. Rosenman went on to score East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause, Dean’s most important films, before continuing his film composing career and dividing his time between film and the concert hall. He also played in a quartet for a time with Albert Einstein. Einstein was apparently always interested in getting musical quartets together and asked Rosenman to play piano in one. According to Rosenman Einstein was a terrible violinist but completely unaware of his own failings—and in fact the great physicist took great pains to point out every flaw and misstep he saw in the performances of others, including Rosenman. Rosenman also knew poet laureate Dylan Thomas and once talked to him about how he’d been turned down for a knighthood. Rosenman asked him if he’d done anything that might have gotten the royalty upset with him and he said "Well, I did accidentally put out a cigarette on the Queen’s arm."
Rosenman’s Star Trek IV score was very much in evidence throughout the event, playing both before the service and during a lot of a video salute to Rosenman and his music—if anything it was a bit odd hearing Alexander Courage’s TOS fanfare playing within some of the segments. And there were a number of celebrities in evidence with both direct and tangential connections to Star Trek: Wrath of Khan director and Star Trek IV screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, Martin Landau (once under consideration to play Spock), Robocop 2 director Irvin Kershner (okay, that’s Star Wars, not Star Trek) and others. Rosenman’s son Jonathan spoke about his father taking him to the set of the original Star Trek during the filming of “Whom Gods Destroy” and introducing the then 13-year-old to William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. But to the teenager’s great disappointment he was NOT introduced to the person he really wanted to meet—Orion Slave Girl and TV’s Batgirl, Yvonne Craig, who was also on the set that day.
The only celebrity name I recognized in the program of speakers was Arte Johnson from the Sixties comedy show Laugh-In, but at about the middle of the proceedings a gentleman with thick white hair, a beard and glasses stood up to speak and said his name was Robert Brown—after a few seconds of him speaking I realized this was the actor Robert Brown, the star of the TV show Here Come the Brides and also the man who played Lazarus in TOS episode “The Alternative Factor.” Brown was also a close friend of Rosenman’s and was quite touching and funny, describing how he once spent a day with the composer while Rosenman—under a doctor’s supervision—took LSD, and also how he had had to drag the composer away from a conversation with Paul Newman at a party because Rosenman’s pregnant wife was going into labor.
I talked to Brown afterwards and he said he was in a pilot called Colossus with Shatner before Star Trek, something about American immigrants—I’ve never heard of it. He did mention how he did “Alternative Factor” with basically no preparation because they’d fired John Barrymore, Jr. and he never liked the way it turned out.
Rosenman was apt to say some crazy and sort of unintentionally funny things; I thought the best story came from his wife who was describing a dinner party where people started talking about Prozac, which was just starting to be widely used and was in the news. “I use Prozac,” Rosenman said. Everyone turned to him and asked if it was working for him. “No, not really,” the composer said. “I mean I feel good, but that’s about it.”
“The Enterprise” from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home