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Gerald Fried, Emmy Winner for ‘Roots’ and Composer for ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ Dies at 95

Composer Gerald Fried, who won an Emmy for the landmark miniseries “Roots” and whose 1960s scores, from “Star Trek” to “Gilligan’s Island,” left an indelible impression on a generation of TV watchers, died of pneumonia Friday at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, Ct. He was 95.

His wide-ranging career included scoring five early Stanley Kubrick films, including “Paths of Glory” and “The Killing”; receiving the only Oscar nomination ever given for a documentary score, 1975’s “Birds Do It, Bees Do It”; and earning five other Emmy nominations for music in specials, TV movies and miniseries.

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The prolific Fried scored approximately 40 films, some three dozen TV-movies and miniseries, and episodes of another 40 TV series during a career that spanned more than six decades.

Among his most famous TV series music was from the original “Star Trek.” He scored five episodes of the series, most famously the Spock-in-heat episode “Amok Time,” which featured his Vulcan-battle music that was often used on the series and later parodied on shows like “The Simpsons” and movies including “The Cable Guy.”

Fried also scored nearly two dozen episodes of the popular spy series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” musically establishing the locales for the globetrotting secret agents; and about a dozen episodes of the castaway sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” which, because of endless reruns, earned him more in royalties than anything else he ever scored.

He spoke about the pressures of TV scoring in a 2003 interview for the Television Academy: “In TV, you see it once, go home, and next Friday you’re conducting the music. It was terrifying and exhilarating. The schedules were so tight, I had to go on my first ideas. There was an orchestra waiting and you had to have the music ready. With that kind of pressure, you learn real fast what works and what doesn’t.”

Fried scored episodes of many classic TV series including “Ben Casey,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Lost in Space,” “Gunsmoke,” “Wagon Train,” “Mannix,” “Police Woman” and “Dynasty.” Rarely did he get to write or co-write the themes, although he did in the case of the 1950s jazz western “Shotgun Slade,” the ’60s caveman sitcom “It’s About Time” and the steamy ’80s nighttime soap “Flamingo Road.”

In November 1976, “Roots” producers David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies began to worry that their original choice for composer, Quincy Jones, was missing deadlines and might not finish the music in time for its January 1977 airdate. They turned to Fried, who had scored their TV movie “I Will Fight No More Forever”; the composer received a phone call telling him to “keep your pencils sharp and your mouth shut.”

Fried was quietly hired, and while Jones’ music was used during the first two hours, set in Africa, the remaining 10 hours of the miniseries – TV’s first serious look at the horrors of slavery in America – were scored by Fried. Emmys were later presented to both composers.

Fried’s “Roots” theme embodied the hopes of African-born slaves for freedom, but much of his score was based on his extensive knowledge of 19th-century American folk music, with lots of banjo, guitar, fiddle and harmonica throughout. Controversy later erupted when Fried publicly objected to Jones’ album of “music from and inspired by” the series, which he felt was a deliberate attempt to supplant an actual “original soundtrack” which would have featured Fried’s much longer, more developed score.

No album of the Fried score was ever released. But he did go on to score the 14-hour sequel, “Roots: The Next Generations,” which was nominated for a 1979 music Emmy. He received four other Emmy nominations, for the 1967 documentary “Gauguin in Tahiti,” the 1980 TV-movie “Moviola: The Silent Lovers,” an acclaimed choral score (based on Lakota Sioux chants and poems) for the five-hour 1984 “The Mystic Warrior” and the six-hour “Napoleon and Josephine: A Love Story” in 1987.

Fried was introduced to movies by his childhood friend Stanley Kubrick; Fried scored the budding director’s first short, the 1951 “Day of the Fight,” and went on to score Kubrick’s first four features: “Fear and Desire,” “Killer’s Kiss,” and “The Killing,” ending with the antiwar classic “Paths of Glory” in 1957. He also scored four films for director Robert Aldrich, including “The Killing of Sister George” (1968) and “Too Late the Hero” (1970).

His other films included Jack Nicholson’s debut film “The Cry Baby Killer” (1958), the Roger Corman-directed “Machine Gun Kelly” (1958), the interracial marriage story “One Potato, Two Potato” (1964) and the Sylvia Plath adaptation “The Bell Jar” (1979). He scored about 20 documentaries, including several “National Geographic” specials, culminating in his 1975 Oscar nomination for Wolper’s “Birds Do It, Bees Do It,” the only doc ever nominated for Best Original Score.

Fried was born in the Bronx, Feb. 13, 1928, and attended New York’s High School of Music and Art. He studied oboe at the Juilliard School of Music and, from 1948 to 1956, was first oboist with the Dallas Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony and New York’s Little Orchestra. He moved to Los Angeles in 1957 and played for one season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

From 1958 on, however, he became busy as a TV and film composer, although he never completely left the oboe behind. Decades after his “Star Trek” music became famous, he wrote a mini-concerto for the instrument based on eight of his “Trek” themes, and after retiring to Santa Fe, N.M. in 2000, he performed in the city’s community orchestra and big band. He moved with his family to Connecticut six years ago.

His last film credit was the 2020 sci-fi spoof “Unbelievable!!!!!” which featured cameos by many “Star Trek” stars including Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and Michael Dorn.

Fried was a strong supporter of the fight against AIDS. His 5-year-old son Zack died of AIDS in 1987; born prematurely with severe medical issues, he was given several blood transfusions, one or more of which turned out to be tainted with HIV. Zack’s mother, Fried’s second wife Anna Belle Kaufman, joined the board of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation and Fried scored the foundation’s film “A Gift of Time” as part of its fundraising efforts.

Survivors include his fourth wife, Anita; four children from his first wife, Judith Pine (Daniel, Jon, Deborah and Joshua); six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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