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Conrad Salinger (August 30, 1901, Brookline, Massachusetts – June 17, 1962, Pacific Palisades, California) was an American arranger, orchestrator and composer, who studied classical composition at the Paris Conservatoire.
Conrad Salinger was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on Friday, 30th August, 1901. His name held a special significance, combining the family name of his father Joseph Salinger with the maiden name of his mother Clara Conrad. The origins of his family roots can be traced to Germany, where all four of his grandparents were born. His paternal grandparents Benjamin and Josephine Salinger settled in New York, where they had two sons, including Conrad’s father Joseph, born in July, 1861. Conrad’s maternal grandparents, David and Hannah Conrad, married in 1862 and made their home in Salem, Massachusetts, where they raised a family of five children, with Conrad’s mother Clara born in December, 1868. When Clara and Joseph married, they settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle thanks to a successful family run merchant business, Conrad & Co, led by Clara’s brother, Sidney. The couple’s first son, Richard Benjamin Salinger, was born on 17th July, 1896, followed five years later by youngest son Conrad.
After his graduation from Harvard in 1923, to complete his musical studies, he crossed the Atlantic to France where he was enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire. Yet this shift to another culture was enticing in more ways than one: Salinger was homosexual, and, by moving to Paris, he could turn his back on the puritanical and censorious society of his upbringing. He studied art of orchestration intensely at the Paris Conservatoire under the tutelage of Andre Gedalge, Nadia Boulanger and Maurice Ravel. It is likely he also took lessons from composer Paul Dukas, who arrived at the Conservatoire as tutor of composition during Salinger’s final year in 1928.
He is credited with orchestrating nine productions on Broadway from 1931 to 1938, and over seventy-five motion pictures from 1931 to 1962. Film scholar Clive Hirschhorn considers him the finest orchestrator ever to work in the movies. Early in his career, film composer John Williams spent much time around Salinger. Although by nature he was an intensely private man, away from the studio Salinger loved to socialise. Tales of him drinking to excess are legendary, yet it is thought by many that Salinger used alcohol mainly as a release to cope with the stress of a heavy workload, and to escape the problems he faced due to his homosexuality. Labelled disparagingly in the film industry as one of ‘Freed’s Fairies,’ Salinger’s open homosexuality in an era of mass bigotry predictably made him the butt of many jokes at the studio.
During his Broadway apprenticeship Salinger first came across Johnny Green, his future MGM musical director, when they were recording motion picture overtures in the early days of sound at New York to be shown before the main features began. Salinger first came out to Hollywood in the late 1930s to work for Alfred Newman (e.g. Born to Dance and Gunga Din) and also collaborated with the famed Broadway orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett on the arrangements for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' 1938 dance picture Carefree.
Roger Edens' closest collaborator at MGM was Salinger. Always sharply dressed, erudite, fluent in French, Connie Salinger was, in the words of one historian, "the antithesis of what musicians presumably are like." Edens and Salinger met in New York. When Edens began assembling a team for Arthur Freed, Salinger was one of his first recruits. "Connie was very talented," remembered Frank Lysinger. "Roger would write a single line of melody and hand it to Connie and Connie would fill in all the harmony as well as what instruments would be playing at the time." Critic Hugh Fordin has called Salinger's orchestration of Meet Me in St. Louis masterful.
For all his style, however, Salinger was a lonely, unhappy man: physically unattractive, he was forever trying to snare a handsome boyfriend, often getting very drunk in the process. "He was so brilliant in so many ways," said one friend, "but he just couldn't see what he was doing to himself." Hotheaded, he'd frequently get angry at friends over dinner and storm off, leaving them with the bill. He'd throw lavish parties with set decorators Jack Moore and Henry Grace, where everyone would drink to excess, Salinger's ultimate undoing.
Salinger is recognized as MGM's best principal orchestrator of musicals made between 1942 and 1962. He reputedly studied mathematical musical progressions under the influential theorist Joseph Schillinger, whose other students included George Gershwin, and major Broadway/Hollywood orchestrators such as Ted Royal, Edward B. Powell, and Herbert W. Spencer. Salinger employed a somewhat smaller orchestra than usual, but nevertheless achieved a rich, elaborately constructed sound in his arrangements. The fact that the orchestra that Salinger used was smaller in size than the normal huge studio orchestra was practically unnoticeable, except that the quality of the orchestral sound on films that Salinger worked on seemed greatly improved, with much less distortion than was common in the days before true high fidelity. However, in Hugh Fordin's The World of Entertainment: The Freed Unit at MGM, a 1975 book dealing with the MGM musicals, composer-conductor Adolph Deutsch, who worked with Salinger on more than one film, criticized his orchestrations for the Jerome Kern 1946 biopic Till the Clouds Roll By as being "too elaborate" for a composer like Kern (a criticism that Salinger reportedly did not take well) and recounted that he stated that he would only work with Salinger on the 1951 film version of Show Boat (music by Kern) if he "simplified" his style of orchestration. (The two patched it up and did work on that film and subsequent others, receiving a joint Academy Award nomination for it.) Salinger orchestrated most of the musicals that MGM is famous for; among them, in addition to the 1951 Show Boat, were Girl Crazy (the 1943 version), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) (which included a memorable arrangement of The Trolley Song), Anchors Aweigh (1945), the 1947 film version of Good News, Summer Holiday (1948), the 1949 film version of On the Town, the 1950 film version of Annie Get Your Gun, Singin' in the Rain (1952), the 1953 film version of Kiss Me, Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), An American in Paris (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), Gene Kelly's pioneering 1956 all-ballet film Invitation to the Dance and the original film musical Gigi (1958). His lush scoring for the ballet sequences in Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon (1954) have come to be regarded as high points of the orchestrator's art in the Golden Age of musicals.
"A great talent in everything but knowing how to drink," observed a friend. Still, he managed to orchestrate the music on nearly every Freed unit picture, from For Me and My Gal to Gigi. After the Freed unit dissolved in the late 1950s, Salinger turned to television, composing for the series "Bachelor Father."
Salinger died suddenly in 1962, under disputed circumstances. He was found by his roommate, David White. Some state that he had a heart attack in his sleep, but it is claimed that Salinger committed suicide by taking an oversode of sleeping pills. He lost his home in the 1961 Bel Air Fire, which police believe may have contributed to his despondency. The last film that he worked on was Billy Rose's Jumbo, released in 1962. It was not a big success, either critically or commercially. The film was based on a not too successful 1935 Rodgers and Hart stage musical, although the show did produce three hits, "My Romance," "Little Girl Blue," and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." Salinger also composed original music for film and television. Among the A-list film scores he wrote was the romantic comedy Dream Wife and drama Lonelyhearts; some of the TV scores he worked on were those for the late 1950s series Wagon Train and Bachelor Father.
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