In the movie theater, Else told the New Yorker magazine years later, “you sat in the dark, you were safe.”
In Germany, she had delighted in slipping into her mother’s high heels and sneaking off to the cinema. Of the secrets that Else kept from her parents, whom she recalled as aloof and unloving, it was far from the most consequential.
Unbeknown to them, she was pregnant when she left Germany in 1936 for a Jewish boarding school in Switzerland. She hid her condition with a corset until one night, all alone, she lay down in the Swiss snow and went to sleep, hoping to freeze to death. She was suffering from severe frostbite when she was discovered. Several months later, she delivered a baby she never saw. It was a stillbirth, the clinic staff told her when she emerged from the ether.
In the United States, Else made her way to Los Angeles, where through the intercession of a family acquaintance she became a nanny to Warner LeRoy, the son of movie director Mervyn LeRoy and grandson of Harry Warner of the Warner Bros. film studio. She parlayed her connections into a series of Hollywood jobs before finding her calling as a music editor — an often unrecognized figure in the movie industry whose role she described as “midwife to a composer.”
Ms. Blangsted, who died May 1 at 99, worked on “Absence of Malice” (1981), “Tootsie” (1982), “The Goonies” (1985) and the Oscar-winning score for “The Milagro Beanfield War” (1988), all composed by Dave Grusin; “Meatballs” (1979) and “The Great Santini” (1979), scored by Elmer Bernstein; “Six Weeks” (1982), scored by and starring Dudley Moore; “Best Friends” (1982), with music by Michel Legrand; “A Soldier’s Story” (1984), scored by Herbie Hancock; “The Color Purple” (1985), with music by Quincy Jones; and the sci-fi comedy “Batteries Not Included” (1987), composed by James Horner.
She was one of the most sought after music editors in the industry — with the “mind of an artist and the soul of a saint,” actor and director Robert Redford once said — when her life took a cinematic turn.
In 1984, a relative noticed an advertisement in Aufbau, a publication that catered to German-speaking Jews, that listed a Lily Kopitopoulos, born in Switzerland in 1937, who was searching for her birth mother, the former Else Siegel of Würzburg, Germany.
“I had no heart palpitation,” Ms. Blangsted said in “Looking for Else” (2007), a documentary co-directed by Lily’s son Sandy Kopitopoulos and Daniel Maurer that chronicles the family’s story. “I had no fear. It was the truth. I had a baby. She lives!”
In short order, the two women met at Lily’s home in Switzerland, where they explored their uncanny resemblances and filled each other in on the lifetimes they had missed.
“What was once shameful and secretive is glorious, what was once regarded as a sin is a victory,” Ms. Blangsted later reflected. “There is nothing else for me to wish for. I have it all.”
Else Siegel was born in Würzburg on May 22, 1920. Her mother came from a wealthy banking family, and Else’s father was an unsuccessful horse trader whose purpose in life, she said, “was to make his in-laws feel superior because he was such a financial failure.” Else’s mother regularly hit and demeaned her. In her youth, she found escape in books, particularly novels with romantic notions of suicide.
She was 15½ when she met Eric Seelig, the dashing 24-year-old manager of a store in Würzburg. A romance blossomed between them, but “Else’s knowledge of love was derived solely from books and movies,” Susan Sheehan, the author of the New Yorker profile, wrote in the 1988 article chronicling her story. “She knew nothing about contraception and thought that babies emerged from women’s belly buttons.”
Ms. Blangsted assumed she had killed her unborn baby by constricting herself with the corset or during her night in the snow. She left Switzerland and returned to Germany having no idea that the child had been adopted. Her parents, deeply ashamed of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy and looking for a way out of Nazi Europe, arranged passage for her to Los Angeles via New York.
As conditions worsened for Jews in Germany, Harry Warner helped arrange for Else’s parents and sister to come to the United States. He also set Ms. Blangsted on her course in Hollywood, finding her a job in the Warner Bros. wardrobe department, where she worked her way from seamstress to wardrobe woman. She reconnected with Seelig, who had survived the war in Argentina, and who came to America to marry her. They had a daughter before separating in 1947 and eventually divorcing.
Around that time, Ms. Blangsted had her one on-screen role in a major Hollywood film — as an extra in Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic, “Samson and Delilah” (1949), starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr.
“They put this wig on me with blond curls that made me look like a cocker spaniel,” she told Paul Zollo, the author of an oral history of Hollywood. In the scene when Samson pulls down the temple walls, Ms. Blangsted was trampled amid hundreds of extras. “That was the end of my acting career,” she said.
She toiled in unglamorous Hollywood jobs cleaning and waxing film. But after marrying Folmar Blangsted, a Danish-born film editor, in 1960, she found work as a music editor. Despite her scant musical experience — she played the guitar and read music — Ms. Blangsted excelled in the job. She worked for Paramount and Columbia studios before establishing herself as an independent music editor, working with directors including Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, Norman Jewison and Carl Reiner.
Film composer Randy Newman said in an interview that a good music editor fills a “tremendous psychiatric function” as he or she liaises between the director, the composer and the musicians. He described Ms. Blangsted as a “master.”
“For years, she was my anchor in the turbulent and frantic business of scoring for film,” Grusin said in an emailed statement. “And while the ultimate use of film music is to enhance the movie, we also needed to satisfy the powers that be: the directors and producers (and sometimes the stars.) But for me, the most pertinent question about my own work always was: ‘Does Else think it’s okay?’ ”
Zollo wrote that Ms. Blangsted timed the cues for her scores to the one-hundredth of a second. “When Henry [Fonda] finally catches the fish, I timed the fish,” Ms. Blangsted said, recalling her work with Grusin in “On Golden Pond” (1981). “You’re not aware of it. But you like it better. For some reason, you feel that he really caught that fish.”
Ms. Blangsted was widowed in 1982 and was working with Grusin on “Falling in Love” (1984), starring Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, when she learned of her daughter in Switzerland.
Lily Kopitopoulos had waited until after the death of her adoptive parents to search in earnest for her birth mother. She had known since her youth that she was adopted — she recalled her adoptive mother inspecting her face with a magnifying glass, wondering aloud whether Lily would acquire a “Jewish nose” — and told the New Yorker that when she was in movie theaters, she sometimes scanned the crowd looking for women roughly 16 years her senior who might be her mother.
She placed the ad in Aufbau with assistance from HIAS, an organization founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. When Ms. Blangsted reached her by phone in Switzerland for the first time, she began. “This is your mama. . . . Forgive me. The nurse told me you were dead.”
Ms. Blangsted was 64, and Kopitopoulos was 47 when they met. By all accounts, it was a joyous reunion.
“She’s another Else who happens to live in Switzerland,” Ms. Blangsted told the New Yorker. “Lily is what I might have been if I hadn’t worked in a tough place like Hollywood and if I hadn’t dulled my heart.”
Kopitopoulos visited California before Ms. Blangsted moved to Switzerland. They spent several years living near each other before Ms. Blangsted decided to return to her life in Los Angeles, where she died. In addition to Kopitopoulos, survivors include her other daughter, Erica Seelig; two grandsons; and two great-grandchildren.
Deborah Oppenheimer, a relative of Ms. Blangsted and an Oscar-winning producer, confirmed Ms. Blangsted’s death but did not cite a specific cause.
“I’m convinced that there is a puppeteer in the sky and we’re all on long threads,” Ms. Blangsted said in the documentary made by her grandson. “Sometimes they pull you where it’s not so good. Sometimes they pull you where it’s really good. The rest of the time they’re busy with the other threads. It’s a puppeteer.”
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