Two For Tuesday: Elmer Bernstein

Elmer Bernstein was known mostly for his film scores (including The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, Animal House, and Thoroughly Modern Millie, for which he won an Academy Award), but he wrote music for TV shows, including The Big Valley, The Rookies, and Ellery Queen.

He wrote the theme song for the TV series Johnny Staccato, which starred John Cassavetes, about a musician who’s also a private detective. The following clip presents both the intro and outro music, as well as a scene where Johnny plays with some of jazz’s better players, including Red Norvo on vibes, Pete Candoli on trumpet, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass, Sheeley Manne on drums, and when Johnny gets a call, he’s spelled at the piano by John Williams.

He also wrote the theme song for Riverboat, which starred Darren McGavin and Burt Reynolds.

Elmer influenced a number of great film and TV composers, among them John Barry (the James Bond theme), Lalo Schifrin (Mission:Impossible, Mannix), John Williams (Lost In Space, Land Of The Giants), Danny Elfman, and Randy Newman (“It’s A Jungle Out There” from Monk).

Elmer Bernstein, your Two for Tuesday, October 15, 2019.

10 thoughts on “Two For Tuesday: Elmer Bernstein

  1. I never heard of Johnny Staccato but familiar with the movie Riverboat. Thanks for the info on Elmer Bernstein – another great talent.


    1. WATC TOO showed “Riverboat” every night during the summer a couple of years ago, and Mary and I got into it. It was only on a couple of years when it first ran, so we saw all the episodes.

      Johnny Staccato was a new one on me, too, and it looked like a good show. It only ran the one season, so I doubt most of the vintage TV stations will run it. Amazon has all the episodes on DVD for $20; maybe I’ll do that…

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  2. Those band folks sure liked the name “Red” back in the day, didn’t they? I was completely unfamiliar with all of this music, so thanks for the introduction! As an aside, I’ve never seen Riverboat, but do remember Darren McGavin doing the open narration in Kolchak: The Night Stalker. And that’s about it – I don’t know if he just narrated, or if he starred in it as well. I really just remember his voice.



    1. Darren McGavin was the star of Kolchak, so he had pretty much everything to do with it, the voiceovers as well as plenty of screen time. I’ve never actually watched more than the first few minutes oif it…

      “Red” and “Blue” were both popular nicknames for jazz musicians. They came up with some interesting ones, and there’s a story behind all of them…


  3. I’ve never seen either one of these before but I heard of Johnny Staccato. I love the theme to it.


  4. I love Elmer Berstein and I had no clue about these 2 TV Shows nor the music. I would love to see these shows and it just goes to show (ha!) ya how few old shows are played as reruns. the last one reminds me a bit of the Westerns he composed like The Magnificent 7


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