|EARLE HAGEN (AP/FILE)|
Earle H. Hagen, the Emmy Award-winning television composer who wrote the theme music for "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "I Spy," and other classic television programs, has died. He was 88.
Mr. Hagen - who composed the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne" and was a former big-band trombonist for Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Ray Noble - died Monday night at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., said his wife, Laura. He had been ill for several months.
After spending seven years at 20th Century Fox as an arranger and orchestrator, Mr. Hagen moved into television in 1953 after the studio cut back on its music department.
Over the next 33 years he composed music for some 3,000 television series episodes, pilots, and television movies, as well as composing the themes for "That Girl," "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," "The Mod Squad," and "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer."
A Chicago native, Mr. Hagen also wrote a jazz arrangement of the traditional Irish tune "Londonderry Air," which served as the theme for Danny Thomas's "Make Room for Daddy" situation comedy. The Thomas show, which debuted in 1953, launched Mr. Hagen's longtime professional relationship with director-producer Sheldon Leonard.
"There is no question in my mind that Earle Hagen is one of the most important composers in the history of television, if not the most important," said Jon Burlingame, author of the 1996 book "TV's Biggest Hits," a chronicle of television scoring.
When Mr. Hagen started his television career, Burlingame said, "there was very little original music being composed for television. He was one of the very few people who took the leap and saw the potential of music for television."
The happy-go-lucky theme for "The Andy Griffith Show" might be Mr. Hagen's most recognizable and most beloved tune.
In his autobiography, "Memoirs of a Famous Composer - Nobody Ever Heard Of," Mr. Hagen wrote that while sitting at home "wracking my brain for an idea for a theme for the Griffith show, it finally occurred to me that it should be something simple, something you could whistle. With that in mind, it took me about an hour to write the Andy Griffith theme."
That night, he and several musicians recorded a demo of the theme for the opening of the show, with Mr. Hagen doing the whistling and his 11-year-old son, Deane, doing the finger-snapping. The next morning, Mr. Hagen took a copy of the demo to executive producer Leonard's home.
As Mr. Hagen recalled: "He listened and said, 'Great! I'll do [the show's opening] at Franklin Canyon Lake with Andy and Ronny [Howard] walking along the bank with a couple of fishing poles over their shoulders."
For his work on "I Spy," the hourlong 1965-68 espionage series starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, Mr. Hagen received three Emmy Award nominations for outstanding achievement in musical composition, and he won the award in 1968.
During his television heyday, Mr. Hagen wrote music for as many as five weekly shows simultaneously, putting in "16-hour workdays, seven days a week, for 40 weeks a year," he told the online magazine Film Score Monthly.
"In the 12 weeks off between seasons, if anyone mentioned music to me, I would kill," he said.