Friday, April 3, 2009

Composer Maurice Jarre and Cowboy Star Monte Hale

Film composer Maurice Jarre and B Western star Monte Hale both recently passed on.

Maurice Jarre passed on March 28 at the age of 84. He won three Academy Awards as a composer and contributed considerably to the nature of music in epic films.

Maurice-Alexis Jarre in Lyon, France on September 13, 1924. Unlike many musicians, he came to it late. He dropped out of La Sorbonne, where he had been studying engineering, to enrol in the Conservatoire de Paris to learn music. As a composer he started in the theatre, writing for the Theatre National Populaire. His first score for a film was for the French documentary short "Hotel des Invalides" in 1952. His first work in a feature film would be on Henri Decoin's Le Feu aux poudres. It would be the film Les Dimanches de Ville d'Avray (released in English as Sundays and Cybele) which would bring him to the attention of producer Sam Spiegel. Spiegel hired him to write the score for Lawrence of Arabia. With the score to Lawrence of Arabia, Jarre helped define the musical language of the Hollywood epic. Prior to Lawrence of Arabia, he had worked on The Longest Day, his first work on an English language film.

Jarre would go onto compose scores for such films as the 1963 remake of Judex, The Train, Doctor Zhivago, The Professionals, Grand Prix, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Crossed Swords. He later shifted to more subtle, often electronic scores, writing scores for such movies as Dreamscape, Witness, Fatal Attraction (an awful movie, but with a great score), and Ghost.

Maurice Jarre largely redefined the epic movie music score as it was known. As a percussionist, he increased the use of drums and percussion from what had previously been heard in epic movies. He also had an uncanny knack for perfectly capturing the mood of any film. If the the theme to Doctor Zhivago became ever present in our society for a time, it may have been because it fit the movie so well.

Legendary cowboy actor Monte Hale died 29 at the age of 89.

Monte Hale was born Samuel Buren Ely on June 8, 1919 in San Angelo, Texas. He may well have been born to be a singing cowboy. As a child he not only started playing guitar, but was a huge fan of cowboy star Ken Maynard. With money he earned from picking pecans and cotton, Hale bought his first guitar. He performed at county fairs and by 13 he was playing in clubs. During World War II he joined the Stars Over Texas Bond Drive. It was perhaps inevitable he would appear in film. He appeared in bit parts in such films as The Big Bonanza (1944) and Oregon Trail (1945).

Strangely enough, Hale's first major film role would not be in a Western, but in a sci-fi chapterplay titled The Purple Monster Strikes from 1945. He played Dr. Harvey in two chapters of the serial. He went onto appear in supporting roles in such films as Bandits of the Badlands (1945) and California Gold Rush (1946). His first starring role, as a character named Monte Hale, was in Home on the Range in 1946. Monte Hale would star as, well, Monte Hale, in nine more movies, from 1946 to 1949. While his films featured less singing than those of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, they featured considerably more action. Monte Hale continued to appear in B Westerns until the form died out in the early to mid Fifties, playing such roles as Bat Masterson in Prince of the Plains in 1949 and Pat Garrett in Outcasts of the Trail that same year.

Once the B Westerns died out, Hale returned to singing at clubs, fairs, and rodeos. He did continue to act, appearing in the movie Giant in 1956. He also made guest appearances on the TV shows Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan, Honey West, and Gunsmoke.

Monte Hale never quite had the singing career that either Gene Autry or Roy Rogers had, although he made up for this in comic books. He appeared in Monte Hale comic books from 1948 to 1956, as well as such titles as Cowboy Western Comics, Movie Comics, Real Western Hero, and Six-Gun Heroes. Comic books featuring Monte Hale would eventually be published in 27 different languages.

Monte Hale was pivotal in founding what would become the Autry National Centre of the American West. His friend Gene Autry had often expressed interest in founding a museum dedicated to the Old West. One night in the early Eighties, Monte Hale pointedly asked when he would found the museum. Monte Hale's wife, Joanne Hale would hold the post of executive director from the museum's beginnings until she retired in 1999. Monte Hale would serve on the museum's board until his recent death. He would also greet guests at the museum, donated his own white hat, guns, and gun belt, and encouraged other cowboy stars to contribute material for the museum's movie gallery.

Monte Hale was perhaps the last, great singing cowboy. And alongside Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Tex Ritter, he was arguably one of the best. His movies tended to be more action packed, which always appealed to me more as a boy than singing. And he had a bit more versatility than other cowboy stars, able to play a U. S. Marshal or a bank clerk with equal ease. He was also pivotal in seeing to it that the B Westerns of yesteryear were remembered. He not only co-founded what would become the Autry National Centre of the American West, but saw to it that its film gallery had some of the most legendary props from the genre. Monte Hale's passing is sad simply because it means the passing of an era, but because he was among the very best in his profession.

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