Television and film music composer Fred Steiner, creator of the bold and gritty theme for the “Perry Mason” TV series and one of the composers of the Oscar-nominated score for “The Color Purple,” died of undisclosed causes June 23 at his home in the Mexican state of Jalisco. He was 88.
One of the busiest composers working in Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Steiner also crafted music for “Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Rawhide,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and other TV series.
Mr. Steiner said he wanted to create music for Mason, writer Erle Stanley Gardner’s legal-eagle lawyer, that projected two key facets of his personality: suave sophistication and the underlying toughness that allowed him to go head to head with the criminals with whom he often came into contact. The piece he came up with, titled “Park Avenue Beat,” pulsed with the power of the big city and the swagger of a beefy hero played to perfection by actor Raymond Burr.
“In those days, jazz — or in those days, rhythm and blues was the big thing — represented the seamier side of life,” Mr. Steiner told National Public Radio interviewer Nina Totenberg in 2002. “Don’t ask me why — that’s a sociological question.”
Frederick Steiner was born Feb. 24, 1923, in New York, the son of violinist, composer and arranger George Steiner. He began playing the piano at 6 and took up the cello at 13.
He received a scholarship to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where he studied with composer Normand Lockwood.
His early jobs included composing, arranging and conducting music for New York-based radio shows in the 1940s, and he was appointed musical director for the ABC radio series “This Is Your FBI.”
After moving west in 1947, Mr. Steiner soon found film and TV work in Hollywood. Among his early assignments for CBS-TV were “Man Against Crime,” “The Danny Thomas Show” and “Gunsmoke.”
In 1958, Mr. Steiner moved his family to Mexico City for 21 / 2 years after landing a job as director of an independent record company and was commissioned to create a library of music for Mexican television and government-produced documentaries.
Mr. Steiner returned to Southern California in 1960 and resumed his career in Hollywood. He also continued his studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at the University of Southern California, where he received a degree in musicology and later taught composition.
The serious, classical music aspect of Mr. Steiner’s life was a counterweight to the lighthearted character of one of his more widely recognized compositions, the jaunty Broadway-style theme he wrote for “The Bullwinkle Show” — a later incarnation of “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle” — and the charged-up, forthright Dudley Do-Right theme used in the series.
Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Shirley; two daughters; a sister; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.