Composer Elmer Bernstein, 82, who died of undisclosed causes Aug. 18 at his home in Ojai, Calif., wrote music for more than 200 movies. He was responsible for the gritty trumpet-and-drums jazz score to "The Man With the Golden Arm" (1955), one of the first to use pop music orchestrations -- a development he grew to loathe as the music became chiefly a commercial ploy.
The family said Mr. Bernstein had had a long illness but would not release the cause of death.
Mr. Bernstein wrote the instantly recognizable theme to "The Magnificent Seven" (1960) -- a folksy-symphonic piece later used in Marlboro cigarette advertisements and excerpted as recently as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- and the sensitive piano and flute accompaniment to "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962).
He received 14 Academy Award nominations and won once, for his original score for "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), generally regarded as one of his less distinguished works.
During a five-decade career, Mr. Bernstein was a preeminent figure in film composition. He created a jaunty march for "The Great Escape" (1963). He scored many of John Wayne's last films, including "True Grit" (1969) and "The Shootist" (1976).
Starting in the late 1970s, he seemed to be the official composer for "Saturday Night Live" refugees who starred in such loopy hits as "Animal House," "Trading Places," "Ghostbusters" and "The Three Amigos!"
He originally had been recruited to "Animal House" by one of his son's friends, director John Landis. Landis asked the composer to score the bawdy college comedy "as if it was a serious narrative."
Mr. Bernstein worked on his share of dubious projects, including Bill Cosby's "Leonard Part 6" (1987). By the late 1980s, after so many comedy features, he was no longer associated with dramatic scoring. He lobbied for a new chance, winning work on such acclaimed projects as "My Left Foot" (1989), "The Grifters" (1990), "The Age of Innocence" (1993) and "Far From Heaven" (2002). The last, which yielded his final Oscar nomination, was a tribute to the string-laden 1950s film scores against which he initially rebelled.
Over the years, he found less to like about modern composition. He grumbled about quality work being submerged for the sake of churning out pop songs to promote a film.
"In the area of pop music, everybody thinks they know what to do, and they may be right," he told The Washington Post in 1979. "I probably don't know any more about pop music than the kid on the street. This can be very disturbing, because the only secure thing an artist has to fall back on is his judgment. And the one great freedom you have to cherish as an artist is the freedom to make your own mistakes -- not other people's mistakes."
Elmer Bernstein, no relation to conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, was born in New York on April 4, 1922. His parents were Ukrainian immigrants who encouraged their son's interest in the arts.
By age 13, his advanced piano skills led him to composer Aaron Copland, who advised the young man to study composition with Israel Citkowitz and other leading figures.
After attending New York University, he served in the Armed Forces Radio Service during World War II and did arranging for Glenn Miller's Army Air Forces big band.
In 1949, his score for a U.N. radio show commemorating the founding of the state of Israel wowed an executive at Columbia Pictures, who invited Mr. Bernstein to Hollywood.
He began by scoring the football drama "Saturday's Hero" (1951) and other middling fare. The end of the studio system and the anti-communist purge of the industry seemed to work against Mr. Bernstein, who had written music reviews for the Communist Daily Worker but was not a party member. By 1953, he was resorting to writing music for "Cat-Women of the Moon" (1953).
His career might have floundered if not for an introduction to Cecil B. DeMille, the arch-conservative director then preparing "The Ten Commandments" (1956), the biblical epic starring Charlton Heston as Moses. Satisfied with Mr. Bernstein's political stripes, DeMille hired him initially to provide music for dance sequences but later chose him to replace ailing composer Victor Young.
Mr. Bernstein's resulting music, both bombastic and reverential, led him to large-scale westerns and action films that defined much of his work in the 1960s.
While working with DeMille, he was hired by Otto Preminger for "The Man With the Golden Arm," about a jazz drummer addicted to heroin. Mr. Bernstein, to create one of the first all-jazz film scores, hired a band that included trumpeter Shorty Rogers and drummer Shelly Manne. The commercial release of the music also was successful, bringing the composer to the forefront of his trade.
"Until now jazz has been used as a specialty or a culmination of a plot point," Hollywood Reporter critic Jack Moffitt wrote at the time. "It remained for Bernstein to prove that it can be used as a sustained and continuous story-telling element in underscoring the mood elements of an entire picture."
His score for "To Kill a Mockingbird" was vastly different, using the theme sparingly as opposed to the lush orchestrations that had dominated the screen since the 1930s.
Mr. Bernstein wanted to complement the film's child's-eye view of adult dilemmas. "That led me to the basic sound of the score: the piano being played one note at a time, something kids do all the time," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Music-box-type sounds, bells, harps, single-note flutes were all things that suggested a child's world."
He was twice nominated for a Tony Award and won the 1964 Emmy Award for his original music for "The Making of the President: 1960," which aired on ABC.
He owned a recording company that released film scores from his heroes, including Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann.
Pot-bellied, with a mop of shaggy gray hair, Mr. Bernstein worked much of his career in a filthy West Los Angeles apartment.
"Music is a romantic art, yes," the composer said. "It's an art of shades and sounds, and it's an emotional art. It deals with feelings rather than intellect. But the making of it is an intellectual exercise. And therefore it can be done in any surroundings."
His marriage to Pearl Glusman Bernstein ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Eve Adamson Bernstein; two sons from his first marriage; and two daughters from his second marriage.
for the 1967 film "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Over his more than 50-year career, he
received 14 Academy Award nominations.