American composer Alex North hardly needed films to enhance his reputation.
A graduate of Juilliard and the pupil of such musical heavyweights as Ernst Toch and Aaron Copland, North was responsible for the incidental music in several major Broadway productions of the 1940s, notably Death of a Salesman. He also composed for the ballet, for symphony orchestra, and even for Benny Goodman. North's earliest film work consisted of the scores for documentary films, an activity he engaged in from 1937 through the early 1950s. His first feature-film score was for 20th Century-Fox's The 13th Letter; he followed this with a steady parade of scores for such memorable pictures as Viva Zapata (1952), The Rose Tattoo (1955), The Bad Seed (1956), Spartacus (1960), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1967), Under the Volcano (1984) and Prizzi's Honor (1985). His most popular composition, "Unchained Melody" (for the 1955 prison picture Unchanged), received a whole new lease on life in 1990 thanks to the runaway hit film Ghost. Yet despite so impressive a resume, Alex North never received an Oscar in any of his 15 nominations. Finally, in 1986, the Academy threw him that guilt-absolving bone, the "Lifetime Achievement Award." Perhaps Alex North's most ambitious film score was the one nobody heard -- he was engaged by Stanley Kubrick to write the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, only to have Kubrick rudely pull the rug from under him by substituting such classical pieces as "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and "The Blue Danube Waltz." With teeth clenched, Alex North wrote a terse article describing his frustration for Jerome Agel's 1969 compendium The Making of Kubrick's 2001. ~ Hal Erickson