Earle Hagen, the Emmy Award-winning television composer who wrote the theme music for "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Dick Van Dyke Show,"...
Earle Hagen, the Emmy Award-winning television composer who wrote the theme music for “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “I Spy” and other classic TV programs, has died. He was 88.
Mr. Hagen, who also composed the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne” and was a former big-band trombonist for Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Ray Noble, died Monday night at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., said his wife, Laura.
After seven years at 20th Century Fox as an arranger and orchestrator, Mr. Hagen moved into television in 1953. During the next 33 years, he composed music for some 3,000 TV-series episodes, pilots and TV movies and composed the themes for “That Girl,” “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” “The Mod Squad” and “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.”
He also wrote a jazz arrangement of the traditional Irish tune “Londonderry Air,” which served as the theme for Danny Thomas’ “Make Room for Daddy” situation comedy. The Thomas show, which debuted in 1953, launched Mr. Hagen’s longtime professional relationship with director-producer Sheldon Leonard.
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The happy-go-lucky theme for “The Andy Griffith Show” might be Mr. Hagen’s most recognizable tune. It’s certainly the most beloved.
In his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Famous Composer — Nobody Ever Heard Of,” Mr. Hagen wrote that while sitting at home “wracking my brain for an idea for a theme for the Griffith show, it finally occurred to me that it should be something simple, something you could whistle. With that in mind, it took me about an hour to write the Andy Griffith theme.”
That night, he and several musicians recorded a demo for the opening of the show, with Mr. Hagen doing the whistling and his 11-year-old son Deane doing the finger-snapping.
During his TV heyday, Mr. Hagen wrote music for up to five weekly shows simultaneously, putting in “16-hour workdays, seven days a week, for 40 weeks a year,” he told the online magazine Film Score Monthly in 2001.
“In the 12 weeks off between seasons, if anyone mentioned music to me, I would kill,” he said.
For “I Spy,” the hourlong 1965-68 espionage series starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby, Mr. Hagen received three Emmy Award nominations for outstanding achievement in musical composition, and he won in 1968.
“He was immensely talented and the dearest, sweetest, kindest man that you can possibly imagine,” Culp said Tuesday.
“He said ‘I Spy’ was always his favorite show,” Culp said. “Unlike all the others, ‘I Spy’ had a new, clean score for every episode.
“That was unheard of; it was too expensive, but Sheldon put it in the budget.”
Mr. Hagen, who was born July 9, 1919, in Chicago, was playing trombone and writing arrangements for the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1939 when he wrote “Harlem Nocturne.” The sultry tune was frequently recorded, including by the Charlie Barnet, Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton bands. It also was used as the theme for “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer,” starring Stacy Keach as the fedora-wearing, retro private eye.
During World War II, Mr. Hagen served in the Army Air Forces. After the war, he joined 20th Century Fox as an arranger and orchestrator and worked on movies such as “Monkey Business,” “Call Me Madam” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
Mr. Hagen’s wife of 59 years, former big-band singer Elouise “Lou” Sidwell, died in 2002.
He married Laura in 2005. He is also survived by five children and four grandchildren.