Night Gallery’s musical profile was unique, unlike anything else on television at that time thanks to the talents of Gil Mellé, Paul Glass, Oliver Nelson, Robert Prince, and Eddie Sauter, who composed the lion’s share of the scores for the show. The variety of styles and moods reflect the sensibilities of composers hired from jazz, classical, and avant-garde arenas.
The pilot film was scored by Emmy-winning composer William Leon “Billy” Goldenberg, and it was among his first composing assignments when he arrived at Universal Studios in 1969. Other noteworthy projects included his collaborations with Steven Spielberg on his telefilms (Duel), his seven-episode contribution toward the NBC Mystery Movie detective series Columbo, and countless films and TV movies: Fear No Evil, Ritual of Evil, The Grasshopper, Red Sky at Morning, Up the Sandbox, The Last of Sheila, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Busting, Reflections of Murder, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, Helter Skelter, The Domino Principle, and many others.
Goldenberg’s approach for Night Gallery was innovative and quite imaginative, underscoring the emotions and themes in the film and binding the disparate stories into a satisfying whole. His main title music is dark, somber, and Herrmannesque, punctuated with shuddery electronica.
For “The Cemetery,” he painted a sardonic musical portrait of Jeremy, utilizing a buzzing, insistent electric keyboard figure, reflecting the character’s derisive nature and his fear.
In “Eyes,” Goldenberg (who was a devoted fan of Joan Crawford) created a sense of impending tragedy with massive orchestral chords accented with tubular bells.
For “The Escape Route,” he enlisted three elements: driving Latin rhythms and instrumentation, depicting both locale and danger; scraps of a sentimental German song à la Kurt Weill, representing Strobe’s yearning for escape; and a haunting choral Kaddish on the death of Bleum, laying bare Strobe’s crimes and lamenting the murders of the six million in the Holocaust.
Gil Mellé’s innovative theme for the first season was among the first television themes using solely electronic instruments, second behind Paul Beaver’s rather primitive synthesizer theme for 1969’s My World and Welcome to It. The theme is preceded by Billy Goldenberg’s 10-second fanfare for Four in One, NBC’s programming wheel that introduced Night Gallery’s first season along with three other series, each with its own six-episode arc.
While busy in the worlds of Broadway, jazz, ballet, and the New York stage, Robert Prince turned to writing music for television in the 1960s, receiving an Emmy Award nomination with co-composer Billy Goldenberg for an episode of The Name of the Game. For Night Gallery, Prince made his mark with his tense, hair-raising score for “The Dead Man,” a tale of a betrayed husband and a hypnotism experiment gone awry. Prince’s panicked, quasi-operatic finale for the race to the cemetery, scored for organ and orchestra, throws this gothic nightmare into vivid relief.
Prince’s fine score was reused principally in “Clean Kills and Other Trophies.”
The amount of dialogue in Night Gallery’s first season scripts usually left Prince little room to stretch his lyrical wings, resulting in music with a low-key ambience (“The Doll” being the most striking example of this method). “The House” required a different method, a story told in large part by silent, dreamlike images that allowed Prince greater freedom, making this his most beautiful score for the series. Elysian melodies, diaphanous orchestrations, and the distant tinkling of music box-styled percussion perfectly underscore Serling’s disturbing fantasy, a riddle of a drama with Poe’s often-quoted poem at its heart: “Is all that we see or seem / But a dream within a dream?”
This score was reused most prominently in “The Little Black Bag.”
Prince established a palpably weird sense of unreality for this comic ghost story (with Serling’s patented twist ending) by running his chamber group of electronic and acoustic instruments through a series of delay and echo effects.
For this tale of a British officer stalked by his niece’s hideous doll on his return from India, Robert Prince wove an aural tapestry of skin-crawling subtlety and great economy. The broken-music-box tinkling of the celesta represents Monica’s lonely, childlike devotion to her deadly plaything; a small string group moving eerily through microtonal intervals delineates the fears of Colonel Masters and Monica’s governess; and a trio of native Indian instruments—flute, sitar, and tabla—illustrate the vengeful motives of Pandit Chola, the colonel’s nemesis.
Alto saxophonist and arranger Benny Carter has had a full career playing club dates, recording albums (Further Definitions), and composing for television (M Squad). His years writing for Count Basie’s orchestra gave him all the background necessary to produce this swing-inspired underscore for Serling’s touching, autumnal masterpiece. Like phantoms beckoning from a distance, Carter’s bittersweet melodies (crooned by a full saxophone complement) tell the audience all they need to know about protagonist Randy Lane’s hunger to return to his past.
For the second season, Gil Mellé composed a new arrangement of his all-electronic theme, adding acoustic instruments—producing a fuller sound and a more ominous tone. A nine-second “play-on” was added as coda to underscore the narrated introduction of the guest stars for the evening.
Best known as a saxophonist and arranger, Oliver Nelson’s compositions (his piece “Stolen Moments” is a jazz standard) show the most democratic of influences, from Duke Ellington and John Coltrane to Béla Bartók and Claude Debussy. Nowhere is the Bartók influence more pronounced than in Nelson’s eerie score for “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes,” where his misterioso main theme, a mournful threnody for the last hours of life on Earth, is strongly reminiscent of Bartók’s “night music” movements. These cues were reused in many episodes, most prominently in “The Different Ones,” “Last Rites for a Dead Druid,” “I’ll Never Leave You—Ever,” and in Serling’s introductions to “A Fear of Spiders,” “Marmalade Wine,” “The Phantom Farmhouse,” and “A Question of Fear.”
How does one write music for a brief skit that’s trying way too hard to be funny? This would be the way. With only the merest whiff of parody, Nelson’s creepily atmospheric “bedtime story” threatens to undermine the joky undercurrents of this minor vignette … and is the more effective because of it. One of the most often-reused themes on the show, this music returned in at least eight other segments, including “With Apologies to Mr. Hyde,” “A Fear of Spiders,” “The Diary,” “Big Surprise,” “Pickman’s Model,” “The Painted Mirror,” and the introductory cues to many other vignettes.
A close cousin to his music for “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” is Oliver Nelson’s main theme for “The Hand of Borgus Weems,” about a man who finds his right hand possessed by another. Heightening the alien-possession concept, Nelson made much use of electronic burps and bleeps—effects that anchor this score permanently in the early 1970s age of experimentation (e.g., Gil Mellé’s The Andromeda Strain and Jerry Goldsmith’s Logan’s Run and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud).
Again, this music was reused quite often on Night Gallery, winding up in such tracked scores as “A Fear of Spiders,” “Big Surprise,” “Pickman’s Model,” “Stop Killing Me,” “You Can’t Get Help Like That Anymore,” and the introduction to “Green Fingers.”
Jazz great (and Bach fanatic) John Lewis, of the famed Modern Jazz Quartet, brought a quirky humor to his music for Night Gallery, exemplified in this cue underscoring one of Aunt Ada’s conjuring scenes. Clarinets and flutes make sardonic commentary in a worried conversation with quivering strings, electronics, hammered dulcimer, harpsichord, and plucked double-bass, producing an appropriately weird ambience.
Reused in “Big Surprise,” “Pickman’s Model,” “Tell David …” and the introduction to “The Waiting Room.”
Lewis also gave the poignantly comic “A Death in the Family” an extra dimension with a mischievous blues atmosphere and spiritual-derived melodies in a decidedly macabre dress. Lewis’s clever nod to the gospel hymns of the tent revival meeting—summoning to mind the fervency of southern Baptist beliefs, with death as the door to everlasting life—mocks the Soames character’s bizarre view of the afterlife. The effect is oddly touching as well as amusing, reminiscent of the approach he used for a 1961 ballet piece, Original Sin.
For this episode, Gil Mellé composed the satanic AM tunes—a funeral dirge for organ, and a series of unhinged soundscapes produced on a battery of unique electronic instruments designed and built by the composer—that underscored the damnation of skeevy disc jockey J. J. Wilson.
For this unusual love story, Nelson mixes standard acoustic instruments with electronics. A love theme of pastoral gentleness clashes with episodes of violence and moody fantasy in a musical score of wild extremes, reflecting the emotions of the main characters and the bizarre developments in the narrative. Nelson’s music is as strange as the story it tells—thoroughly original, highly effective, and reused many times on Night Gallery, most prominently in “Pickman’s Model,” “There Aren’t Any More MacBanes,” “You Can’t Get Help Like That Anymore,” and in Serling’s introductions to “The Devil Is Not Mocked,” “The Funeral,” and “The Miracle at Camafeo.”
Currently living in Switzerland, Paul Glass makes his career teaching and composing serious concert works: his fifth symphony premiered in 2000 (millennially themed, it is a musical journey through history, from the Big Bang through the 21st century, utilizing a Mahler-sized orchestra, a separate chamber orchestra, a large chorus, a children’s choir, and a large percussion battery). After a two-decade hiatus away from Hollywood and film music, he returned in 2000 to score a new film, Hustle, for German television.
For “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” Glass created a haunting melody for flute and strings with a theme-and-variations structure to detail the mental landscape of a boy, his fascination with snow, and his spiral into madness. This touching score was reused primarily in “Pickman’s Model.”
In TV Guide’s logline description of “A Question of Fear,” the writer accurately made special note of the episode’s “unearthly music,” although the score delivers many moments of an equally strange beauty. This tale of a mercenary soldier accepting a bet to stay overnight in a haunted house found Glass in particularly unsettling voice. His use of eerie, dissonant string figurations and percussive outbursts on piano and brass go a long way toward exposing the raw nerves just beneath the surface of this tale.
So popular was this music with Jack Laird that it was used constantly throughout the second season, and this high-profile score may be thought of as representing “the sound of Night Gallery.” It was used again in “Camera Obscura,” “Pickman’s Model,” “Tell David …,” “The Funeral,” “Lindemann’s Catch,” “The Dear Departed,” “Last Rites for a Dead Druid,” “Deliveries in the Rear,” “I’ll Never Leave You—Ever,” “There Aren’t Any More MacBanes,” and in Serling’s introductions to “Brenda,” “Cool Air,” and “Dead Weight.”
Famed for cofounding the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra and for his imaginative work composing and arranging for saxophonist Stan Getz, Eddie Sauter was another worthy contributor to Night Gallery. For “Brenda,” Sauter composed a gentle theme to represent the main character’s sense of childlike wonder—which then mutates into a taunting playground singsong to underscore her impish misbehavior.
Reused in “The Different Ones” and “You Can’t Get Help Like That Anymore.”
For Rod Serling’s introduction, Gil Mellé uses his Night Gallery theme prominently—for the first and only time on the series. For the remainder of this score, he mixes acoustic and electronic instruments to help tell the tale of an unfaithful husband’s plot to murder his wife with the aid of a restless ghost.
Gil Mellé’s hearty Americana takes a left turn into dark, moody introspection for this tale of a morally bankrupt Old West pitchman who makes one empty promise too many when he boasts of his power to resurrect a grieving farmer’s dying daughter.
His theme was reused in the opening of “The Ghost of Sorworth Place.”
Using harmonica and harpsichord to give a sense of time and place, Eddie Sauter also tries his hand at Americana with his thoughtful score for “The Dark Boy,” the touching tale of a meeting between a frontier schoolteacher and her ghostly new pupil.
Parts of this score were tracked into several other episodes, including “Pickman’s Model,” “Lindemann’s Catch,” “A Feast of Blood,” and “There Aren’t Any More MacBanes.”
At a loss to find suitable music in the stock library to underscore “Cool Air,” Jack Laird conceived of the idea to use solo guitar, hiring crack session musician Robert Bain to compose the score. The resulting piece, full of Spanish accents, gently underscores the love story of a young woman and a Castilian doctor whose strange illness confines him to a refrigerated room.
Glass pulls off another deeply felt and emotional score along the lines of “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” Scored for solo cello, percussion, and string orchestra, Glass plays Hebraic-Eastern modes off of Christian-Western modes to reflect the humanity of Serling’s warm fable about an elderly Jew on death’s door who receives a mysterious visitor on Christmas Eve. Is he the Messiah foretold by Hebrew prophecy … or the Angel of Death?
Incorporating the English folk song “Greensleeves” as a reference point in his score for this fan favorite, Oliver Nelson mixed electronic and acoustic instruments to heighten the suspense and the chills in this tale of a ruthless industrialist who comes to a terrifying end when he tries to scare an old widow off her homestead.
The tale of a haunted jukebox and postponed revenge for a fatal betrayal inspired a surprise hit for Night Gallery. Having overhauled another writer’s script, story consultant Gerald Sanford was assigned by the producer to write the lyrics for the song on the jukebox. Sanford tossed off a few stanzas that were then set to music by Gallery’s music supervisor, Hal Mooney. A version was recorded with vocals sung by pop singer Jerry Wallace (“Primrose Lane”), but the director assigned to the script, David Rawlins, wanted the song rearranged as a honky-tonk weeper. Sessions were set up to rerecord the instrumental tracks. The resulting song, “If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry,” became an overnight hit, receiving heavy phone-in requests at radio stations and charting at number one on the Billboard country-and-western sales rankings for three weeks in a row. The song remained on the charts for more than three months.
This was one of the few music scores not specifically written for Night Gallery. Lifted from Dark Intruder (a busted TV series pilot given a theatrical release in 1965), Lalo Schifrin’s music was rerecorded and then cut-and-pasted into four Gallery episodes, the first being “The Ghost of Sorworth Place.” Schifrin, who started his career as pianist for Dizzy Gillespie and later composed for such projects as Dirty Harry, Cool Hand Luke, The Amityville Horror, and Mission: Impossible, delivered a score of brooding power and bold orchestral colors that translated perfectly to Night Gallery.
The music was also reused prominently in “Last Rites for a Dead Druid” and “I’ll Never Leave You—Ever.”
Oliver Nelson eschews electronics altogether in this tale of a disgusting old Welsh funerary custom: ensuring a dead man’s arrival in heaven by feasting in the presence of his corpse. Seesawing lower strings and muted brass create a sense of mounting nausea for the segment’s repulsive central episode as Richard Thomas tucks into the heaped victuals. Hints of the medieval plainchant “Dies irae” and the “O Fortuna” prelude to 20th-century composer Carl Orff’s now-ubiquitous cantata Carmina Burana can be pinpointed as Nelson’s apt influences here, building to a frenzy of horror and despair.
Eddie Sauter’s score for “The Caterpillar,” a tale set in tropical Borneo, is perhaps his masterpiece. Using Javanese modes that mimic the gong-laden gamelan orchestras of Indonesia, Sauter created an exotic and powerful atmosphere to underscore the story of a dissolute Britisher, a hungry earwig, and a gag-inducing assassination attempt that backfires.
For “Little Girl Lost,” Sauter used a solo recorder to represent, with a simple, tender carnival waltz, the presence of a little girl who can only be seen by her grieving father after a tragic hit-and-run accident.
For the third season, producer Jack Laird opted to replace Gil Melle’s theme with Eddie Sauter’s frenetic, stabbing opener to herald what was intended to be a more action-oriented series of horror tales. Although that change in approach seems to have been shelved for the most part, the new theme certainly promised something different.
For this Lovecraftian tale of an Arabic scholar hired by a sorcerer to translate into English a forbidden passage of the Necronomicon, Eddie Sauter provided a witty, tongue-in-cheek score with an appropriately Arabic flavor, culminating in a black mass with a chanted crescendo of dark, sinister power.
Sauter’s music—scored for the curious combo of accordion, electric guitar, strings, and percussion, with hints of Astor Piazzolla’s approach for his “nuevo tango” quintet—offers a bizarre commentary on the strange fate of gangster August Kolodney.
A Gypsy violin makes amusing reference to the Balkan homeland of literature’s most famous vampire in Sauter’s clever score, with the Hungarian cimbalom adding a touch of paprika. The composer’s wink at the audience lifted this blackout to a different level, making “Smile, Please” one of the better vignettes to appear on Night Gallery.
The influence of Stravinsky hovers over Sauter’s somber, strange, but affecting score for Rod Serling’s tragic tale of a prison lifer who longs to fly free.