Composer Earle H. Hagen, who the theme songs for such shows as The Andy Griffith Show (for which he also provided the whistling), The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Spy, passed on Monday, May 26, at the age of 88.
Earle H. Hagen was born in Chicago on July 9, 1919. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was around six years of age. He took up the baritone horn in junior high school and the trombone in high school. After he graduated from Hollywood High School at age 15, he toured with various big bands, among them the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Isham Jones, and Ben Pollack.
It was in 1939, at the age of 20, when he was playing trombone for the Ray Noble Orchestra, that he composed the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne." During World War II Hagen served in the Army Air Corps. He both composed arrangements and played trombone for the radio production unit's 65-piece orchestra, based out of Santa Ana, California. Following the war Hagen signed with Twentieth Century Fox as an orchestrator and arranger for motion pictures. The first film upon which he worked was Kiss of Death in 1947. He went onto arrange music for such films as Thieves Highway, My Blue Heaven, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Carousel, Compulsion, and Let's Make Love. In the late Forties, Hagen also worked an arranger for singers on various recording labels, such as Dick Haymes, Tony Martin, and Frank Sinatra.
Earle H. Hagen first worked in television in 1953 as composer on various episodes of Make Room for Daddy. He also wrote music for Hey, Jeannie, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. It was in 1960 that he composed what may be his best known tune, "The Fishin' Hole," the theme song for The Andy Griffith Show. He also provided the whistling for the theme. Hagen also wrote the theme songs for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bill Dana Show, That Girl, I Spy (for which he won an Emmy), and The Mod Squad.
Hagen retired from television in 1986. He taught the BMI workshop for film and television composers for many years. He wrote two books on film composition, Scoring for Films in 1981 and Advanced Techniques for Films in 1990. His autobiography, Memoirs of a Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of, was published in 2000.
It can be said without a doubt that Earle H. Hagen was one of the greatest composers for television of all time, if not the single greatest television composer. He wrote some of the medium's most famous theme songs. If he had written "The Fishin' Hole (the theme to The Andy Griffith Show) and The Dick Van Dyke Show theme alone, his memory as a composer would be guaranteed. What more, Hagen was very versatile as a composer. He could write a folksy theme like "The Fishin' Hole," but also write a big band sounding tune such as The Dick Van Dyke Show theme. Hagen had the remarkable ability to capture the feel of any show he composed for, whether it was a sitcom like The Bill Dana Show or a police drama like The Mod Squad. Even if his name may not be well known among the public at large, his compositions will be remembered for decades to come.