Jerry Goldsmith completely scared me when I was a child.
My brother, David, and I had been collecting his soundtracks at thrift stores, flea markets and used record sales.
We didn’t even know what half those old movies were. We just knew his name from the front covers. We also noticed that any soundtrack with the name Goldsmith on it was substantial better than the ones without.
When I was 13, Goldsmith was speaking at a UCLA extension class and our parents schlepped us to it from Bakersfield. Armed with Alpha Beta shopping bags crammed with his soundtracks to be autographed, I cautiously approached my intimating hero.
After reluctantly signing a dozen or so he barked at me, “That’s enough”.
My albums were in alphabetical order and he had only gotten halfway through the letter C.
For years after that I cherished my As and Bs and half those Cs he had signed. And as time passed there were more and more new Goldsmith titles in our collection.
“THE GREATEST FILM COMPOSER OF ALL TIME” was a challenge my brother and I loved to play. Taking turns we would play a favorite track and then debate its merits.
It didn’t take long to realize the finalists were always Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Spirited arguments were made to defend either for the ultimate title. And whenever a magnificent new score like JAWS or UNDER FIRE was released, that was submitted as evidence to sway our jury of two.
Eventually, I grew up and moved to L.A. to seek my fame and fortune ending up operating the Xerox machine at the low budget company, Cannon Films.
One night I was talking to the director of one of their films and noticed he was using dreadful music in his temp track. I asked why and he pointed towards a nearly empty record shelf and said, “Those are my choices.”
I jumped in offering to bring in some gems from my own collection. The next day I marched in armed with a stack of great soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.
The director said he didn’t have the time to listen to them, so I volunteered to work, unpaid, after hours temping his film with my records. He asked if I knew how to use a flatbed editing machine. I nodded yes despite having no idea what he was talking about.
I figured it out while wrecking the work print of the film. Somehow, I found my way. I gained a reputation for doing free temps and soon all the directors at Cannon were using me and my impressive record collection.
One night I decided to treat myself to a nice Italian dinner near the offices. Once seated I noticed a huge mop of white hair perched atop the head of the man in the next booth.
It was Scary Goldsmith.
I worked up the courage and approached him telling him about how I had been listening to his music all day and tempting it into some new Cannon film.
He was not impressed.
For the next few years, I would occasionally see Goldsmith at an event and would reluctantly say hello knowing he wouldn’t remember me.
My brother even managed to sneak into his sessions of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOTION PICTURE and enjoyed watching Jerry conduct… until Jerry noticed him and had him kicked out.
By now Jerry Goldsmith was being more and more built up in my mind as a grumpy ogre determined to hate me.
When I started running the label, Varese Sarabande I would release a number of his soundtracks and he started to slightly warm up to me. But he still complained about us doing them. “Who needs all of this? Might as well be collecting bottle caps.”
Then one fateful day I received a call from the post-production supervisor on a new Goldsmith film, LIONHEART, asking if I would like to see the film in hopes of Varese releasing the album.
The screening was just her and me. I hated the film. But I did like her. A lot. As the film wrapped up I asked her to dinner. We then basically moved in together the next day.
I agreed to do the soundtrack, in two volumes! All designed to impress my new girlfriend.
Jerry liked the interest I had shown in this score and started to actually be a little nice to me.
During my time at Varese I was still representing one composer, Danny Elfman. Which lead to me being offered to come to the large talent agency ICM.
I told Goldsmith’s assistant about my upcoming move. She asked me why I thought Elfman was having a better career than Jerry. Being young and cocky, I replied, “Because I’m his agent.”
A week into my job at ICM I met with Scary Goldsmith about becoming a client.
I had spent most of my young life both worshipping and fearing him.
He asked me what I would do with his career.
I had been practicing this answer for decades. My brother and I had endlessly played the game that sports fan do of armchair coach proclaiming, “Here Is What That Guy is Doing Wrong and What He Really Should Be Doing Instead.”
For over an hour I espoused every thought, opinion and crackpot theory I had every had of what Jerry Goldsmith needed to do to get back on top.
He listened and then smiled his mischievous smile “Well, I got myself into this mess by myself, I might as well put my faith in someone to get me out.”
I was 28 years old.
The very first thing I did was to give him a list of every film in production and asked him to pick the one he most wanted to do.
He chose THE RUSSIA HOUSE based on the best-selling novel.
So I tracked down the director in Australia who told me he was already planning on going with Michael Kamen. I pushed for Goldsmith. He said that while he admired him, he didn’t think he wrote strong love themes. A few days later that director received a cassette playlist I had made of some of my favorite Goldsmith love themes.
Fred Schepsi, the director called to admit he liked what he heard, but since the score was to feature alto sax (something done by Sean Connery’s character in the film) he was still thinking of Kamen since he had just done an album with David Sanborn.
I countered with “What about Goldsmith with Branford Marsalis?” He was intrigued.
Reaching out to Marsalis was easy. “Want to work with Jerry Goldsmith?” I asked. He replied, “The guy who wrote POLTERGEIST? I’m in.”
Convincing Jerry was a little harder since he hadn’t even heard of him.
Eventually, the director called me and admitted that since this was going to be his first film with a Hollywood composer he felt Goldsmith was just going to be too intimidating to work with.
I told Goldsmith to call Schepsi to tell him just how much he wanted to do the film and how easy the process of collaborating with him would be.
Scary Goldsmith returned.
“You want me to beg for a job?” he barked.
“No, but to this director, you are a god on Mt. Olympus, which is great on the one hand, but frankly, directors prefer to work with fellow mortals.”
He was not convinced.
So, despite worshipping Goldsmith and wanting nothing more than to prove myself as his agent, I thought back to the purity of how my brother and I used to talk about his career as armchair coaches and felt so strongly about the things he should do.
“Jerry,” I said softly but sincerely. “Maybe we shouldn’t work together. You asked me to coach you, but you really don’t want to follow my suggestions.”
After an interminable pause, he asked, “What’s his number?”
THE RUSSIA HOUSE was our first triumph together.
Over the next 13 years, we formed a number of new relationships for Goldsmith and he started working again on successful films like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, MULAN, TOTAL RECALL, THE MUMMY and BASIC INSTINCT, AIR FORCE ONE, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY and RUDY.
Through it all, I was still intimidated by him, so I was very nervous when I called him with a piece of news I knew would displease him.
“I know you like to talk every day and have me check in with you constantly with updates on everything,” I said cautiously.
“But, I have decided to take my son on a trip this summer to research the World’s Best Roller Coaster and I won’t be available to you too much when I am gone.”
There was a deafening silence on the other end.
“A roller coaster trip with you son?” he questioned. And then, “How I wish I had done something like that with my boys when they were younger.”
And with that, Scary Goldsmith was no more.
For the next few years, he was just Jerry. Just another guy who was a dad.
Over the next four summer my son and I went on our annual Roller Coaster Trips around the World. And Jerry wanted to hear all about them.
Our conversations had drifted further from work and more about life.
One of the last lunches I had with Jerry was at his country club. He was raving about how good their hot dogs were and insisted I try one. He was right. It tasted great.
And at the end of the day, the Greatest Film Composer of All Time and his biggest (and most intimidated) fan ended up being two old friends sitting around talking about the joys of a good frankfurter.