At age sixteen, Goldsmith saw the 1945 film Spellbound in theaters and was inspired by veteran composer Miklós Rózsa's soundtrack to pursue a career in music. Goldsmith later enrolled and attended the University of Southern California where he was able to attend courses by Rózsa, but dropped out in favor of a more "practical music program" at the Los Angeles City College. There he was able to coach singers, work as an assistant choral director, play piano accompaniment, and work as an assistant conductor.
Film and television scoring
1950s and work at CBS
In 1950, Goldsmith found work at CBS as a clerk typist in the network's music department under director Lud Gluskin. There he began writing scores for such radio shows as CBS Radio Workshop, Frontier Gentleman, and Romance. In an interview with Andy Velez from BarnesandNoble.com, Goldsmith stated, "It was about 1950. CBS had a workshop, and once a week the employees, whatever their talents, whether they were ushers or typists, would produce a radio show. But you had to be an employee. They needed someone to do music, and I knew someone there who said I'd be great for this. I'd just gotten married and needed a job, so they faked a typing test for me. Then I could do these shows. About six months later, the music department heard what I did, liked it, and gave me a job." He later progressed into scoring such live CBS television shows as Climax! and Playhouse 90. He also scored multiple episodes of the television series The Twilight Zone. He remained at CBS until 1960, after which he moved on to Revue Studios, where he would later compose music for such television shows as Dr. Kildare and The Man from U.N.C.L.E..
His feature film debut occurred when he composed the music to the 1957 western Black Patch. He continued with scores to such films as the 1957 western Face of a Fugitive and the 1959 science fiction film City of Fear.
Goldsmith received more critical praise with his daring music to the 1970 World War II biopicPatton. Throughout the score, Goldsmith used an echoplex to loop recorded sounds of "call to war" triplets played on the trumpet that musically represented General George S. Patton's belief in reincarnation. The main theme also consisted of a symphonic march accompanied by a pipe organ to represent the protagonist's militaristic yet deeply religious nature. The film's music subsequently earned Goldsmith an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score and was one of the American Film Institute's 250 nominees for the top twenty-five American film scores. Goldsmith's critical success continued with his emotional score to the 1973 prison escape film Papillon, which also earned him an Academy Award nomination and a nomination as one of the AFI's top twenty-five American film scores.
In 1974, Goldsmith was faced with the daunting task of replacing a score by composer Phillip Lambro to the neo-film noirChinatown. With only ten days to compose and record an entirely new score, Goldsmith quickly produced a score that mixed an Eastern music sound with elements of jazz in an ensemble that only featured a trumpet, four pianos, four harps, two percussionists, and a string section. Goldsmith received an Academy Award nomination for his efforts though he lost to Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola for The Godfather Part II. The score to Chinatown is often regarded as one of the greatest scores of all time and ranks No. 9 on the AFI's list of top 25 American film scores. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
In 1976, Goldsmith composed a dark choral score to the horror film The Omen, which was the first film score to feature the use of a choir in an Avant-garde style. The score was successful among critics and garnered Goldsmith his first (and ultimately only) Academy Award for Best Original Score and a nomination for Best Original Song for "Ave Satani". It was also one of the AFI's 250 nominees for the top twenty-five American film scores. His wife, Carol Heather Goldsmith, also wrote lyrics and performed a vocal track titled "The Piper Dreams" released solely on the soundtrack album. Goldsmith would go on to compose for two more entries in the franchise; Damien: Omen II (1978) and Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981).
In 1979, Goldsmith composed a score to the landmark science fiction film Alien. His score featured an orchestra augmented by a shofar, didgeridoo, steel drum, and serpent (a 16th-century instrument), while creating further "alien" sounds by filtering string pizzicati through an echoplex. Many of the instruments were used in such atypical ways they were virtually unidentifiable. His score was, however, heavily edited during post-production and Goldsmith was required to rewrite music for several scenes. The final score resulted in several pieces being moved, replaced, or cut entirely. Director Ridley Scott and editor Terry Rawlings also, without Goldsmith's consent, purchased the rights to the "Main Title" from Freud (1962) which they used during the acid blood sequence. Despite the heavy edits and rewrites, Goldsmith's score for the film earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score and was one of the AFI's 250 nominees for the top twenty-five American film scores.
That same year, Goldsmith concluded the decade composing what is widely considered his most recognized and celebrated score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Having been Gene Roddenberry's initial choice to compose the original Star Trek pilot "The Cage" yet being unable to do so due to scheduling conflicts, Goldsmith was the first pick of both Paramount Pictures and director Robert Wise to compose a score for The Motion Picture. Faced with composing a new Star Trek theme for the film, Goldsmith initially struggled for inspiration, and proceeded to compose as much of the score as possible before the need to develop the main title theme. His initial score for the scene in which the newly-refit Starship Enterprise is revealed to the audience was not well received by the filmmakers, director Robert Wise feeling that it lacked a strong thematic hook and evoked sailing ships. Though somewhat irked by its rejection, Goldsmith consented to re-work his initial idea and finally arrived at the majestic Star Trek theme which was ultimately used. The film's soundtrack also provided a debut for the Blaster Beam, an electronic instrument 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 m) long, created by musician Craig Huxley. The Blaster had steel wires connected to amplifiers fitted to the main piece of aluminum; the device was played with an artillery shell. Goldsmith heard it and immediately decided to use it for V'Ger's cues. An enormous pipe organ first plays the V'Ger theme on the Enterprise's approach, a literal indication of the machine's power. His score for The Motion Picture earned him Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations, and was one of the AFI's 250 nominees for the top twenty-five American film scores. Goldsmith would later compose the scores for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), as well as the theme to the television series Star Trek: Voyager in 1995. In addition, his theme for The Motion Picture, as arranged by Dennis McCarthy, was reused as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987.
In 1982, Goldsmith was hired to compose the music to the classic Tobe Hooper-directed, Steven Spielberg-produced fantasy horror film Poltergeist. He wrote several themes for the film including a gentle lullaby for the protagonist Carol Anne and her family's suburban life, a semi-religious theme for scenes concerning the souls trapped between the two worlds, and bombastic atonal bursts during scenes of horror. The film's score garnered him an Academy Award nomination, though he lost again to fellow composer John Williams for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Goldsmith later returned in 1986 to compose the more synthetic score to Poltergeist II, the first of its two sequels.
He did, however, still manage to compose for such non-fantasy productions as the 1981 period television miniseries Masada (for which he won an Emmy Award), the controversial 1982 war film Inchon, the 1982 action classic First Blood, and his Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominated score to the 1983 political drama Under Fire in which he used the ethnic sounds of a South American pan flute, synthetic elements, and the prominently featured solo work of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.
During the 80's, Goldsmith scored the Michael Crichton film, Runaway, the composer's first all-electronic score. In an interview with Keyboard Magazine in 1984, Goldsmith said that in order to simulate the ambiance of a real orchestra, several speakers were set up in an actual orchestra hall similar to how they would be arranged if they were live players. The playback was re-recorded to capture the feel of the hall.
Goldsmith finished out the decade with noteworthy scores to such films as the 1987 medieval adventure Lionheart, the 1987 science fiction comedy Innerspace, the 1988 action film Rambo III, the 1989 science fiction horror Leviathan, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), his second Star Trek film score. Goldsmith's score to Leviathan (1989) incorporated the use of recorded whale sounds during the main titles. His critically acclaimed comedy score to The 'Burbs (1989) is also noteworthy for the use of pipe organ, recorded dog barking sound effects, and for parodying the trumpet "call to war" triplets on an echoplex from his previous score to Patton (1970).
In 1990, Jerry Goldsmith received critical acclaim for his score to the romantic drama The Russia House, which featured a unique mixture of Russian music and jazz to complement the nationalities and characteristics of the two main characters. He also composed critically acclaimed music for the 1990 science fiction action film Total Recall, which Goldsmith later regarded as one of his best scores. Other noteworthy scores of the era include Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) (in which Goldsmith also made a brief cameo appearance), the 1991 psychological thriller Sleeping with the Enemy, the 1991 family comedy Mom and Dad Save the World, the 1992 fantasy romance Forever Young, the 1993 thriller The Vanishing, and the 1993 family comedy Dennis the Menace. In 1992, Goldsmith also composed a critically acclaimed score for the medical drama Medicine Man. In concert, Goldsmith would later recount a story of how actor Sean Connery copied Goldsmith's signature ponytail hairstyle for his character Robert Campbell in the film. In the film's closing credits, Goldsmith is listed as "hair designer".
Goldsmith's final cinematic score, composed during declining health, was the critically acclaimed music for the 2003 live action/animated film Looney Tunes: Back in Action, directed by long-time Goldsmith collaborator Joe Dante. His last work was with another long-time collaborator, Richard Donner (for whom Goldsmith had scored The Omen in 1976), on the 2003 science fiction film Timeline. However, due to a complicated post-production process, Goldsmith's score was rejected and replaced by a new score by composer Brian Tyler. Goldsmith's rejected score was later released on CD, 7 September 2004 through Varèse Sarabande, not long after his death in 2004. The album quickly became out of print and has since become a sought rarity among soundtrack collectors.
Toccata for Solo Guitar
In the 1950s, Goldsmith composed "Toccata for Solo Guitar". The music was later performed and recorded by Gregg Nestor and released through BSX Records 5 January 2010.
The Thunder of Imperial Names
In 1957, Goldsmith composed the patriotic piece based on a text by Thomas Wolfe titled "The Thunder of Imperial Names" for concert band and narration, which first appeared on the CBS Radio Workshop episode "1489 Words". "The Thunder of Imperial Names" was later performed and re-recorded in 2006 by the U.S. Air Force Tactical Command Band under conductor Lowell E. Graham and narrated by Gary McKenzie.
In 1970, Goldsmith was approached by conductor Leonard Slatkin to compose a short piece for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. The atonal composition was written in three sections developed from one common 12-tone row including the "turbulent" first section, the "introspective" second section, and climaxing in a "very agitated" third section. Goldsmith later reflected that the piece was a result of much turbulence in his life, stating, "I was going through a divorce and my mother was seriously ill with cancer." Goldsmith continued, "All of my personal turmoil – pain, anger, and sorrow – went into writing 'Music for Orchestra' in strict dodecaphonic form."
Fireworks (A Celebration of Los Angeles)
In 1999, Goldsmith composed the energetic "Fireworks" (A Celebration of Los Angeles) to conclude his first concert series with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Looking back on the experience, Goldsmith later said, "After starting to write what was to be a big fireworks extravaganza, I realized that I was writing about the city where I was born and had lived my entire life. I decided instead to make the piece a grand celebration of my childhood, growing years, my years of maturity, and all the events that climaxed with my first appearance at the Hollywood Bowl."
Goldsmith was married twice. He was first married to Sharon Hennagin in 1950 which ended in their divorce in 1970. He later married Carol Heather in 1972 and the couple remained together until his death in 2004. His oldest son Joel Goldsmith (1957–2012) was also a composer and collaborated with his father on the score for Star Trek: First Contact, composing approximately twenty-two minutes of the score. Jerry Goldsmith also conducted Joel's theme for The Untouchables and composed the theme for the pilot Hollister, scored by Joel. Goldsmith's daughter, Carrie Goldsmith, went to high school with famed Titanic composer James Horner, who also composed music for Star Trek's second and third films: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Carrie Goldsmith was working on a biography of her father, though the book has been suspended indefinitely for unspecified reasons.
Goldsmith died at his Beverly Hills home on July 21, 2004 after a battle with colon cancer at the age of 75. He was survived by his wife Carol and his children Aaron, Joel (died April 29, 2012), Carrie, Ellen Edson, and Jennifer Grossman.
His composition style has been noted for its unique instrumentation, utilizing a vast array of ethnic instruments, recorded sounds, synthetic textures, and the traditional orchestra, often concurrently.
Jerry Goldsmith has often been considered one of film music history's most innovative and influential composers. While presenting Goldsmith with a Career Achievement Award from the Society for the Preservation of Film Music in 1993, fellow composer Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Pink Panther) said of Goldsmith, "... he has instilled two things in his colleagues in this town. One thing he does, he keeps us honest. And the second one is he scares the hell out of us." In his review of the 1999 re-issue of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture soundtrack, Bruce Eder highly praised Goldsmith's ability, stating, "...one of the new tracks, 'Spock's Arrival,' may be the closest that Goldsmith has ever come to writing serious music in a pure Romantic idiom; this could have been the work of Rimsky-Korsakov or Stravinsky — it's that good." In a 2001 interview, film composer Marco Beltrami (3:10 to Yuma, The Hurt Locker) stated, "Without Jerry, film music would probably be in a different place than it is now. I think he, more than any other composer bridged the gap between the old Hollywood scoring style and the the [sic] modern film composer."
In 2006, upon composing The Omen (a remake of the Goldsmith-scored 1976 film), Marco Beltrami dedicated his score to Goldsmith, which also included an updated arrangement of "Ave Satani" titled "Omen 76/06". Likewise, when composer Brian Tyler was commissioned in 2012 to update the Universal Studios logo for the Universal centennial, he retained the "classic melody" originally composed by Goldsmith in 1997, opting to "bring it into the 21st century."
Over the course of his career, Goldsmith received 18 total Academy Award nominations, making him one of the most nominated composers in Academy Awards history. Despite this, Goldsmith won only one Oscar, for his score to the 1976 film The Omen. This makes Goldsmith the most nominated composer to have won an Oscar only on one occasion.
^ Jerry Goldsmith, Best Original Score - Motion Picture nominations and wins at the Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
Clemmensen, Christian. Patton soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
"Jerry Goldsmith - Chinatown Interview" at YouTube. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
Teachout, Terry (2009-07-10). According to producer Robert Evans, Goldsmith's Chinatown score made the difference between the success and failure of the film. "The Perfect Film Score: At 35, Goldsmith’s ‘Chinatown’ sounds better than ever" article at the Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
Clemmensen, Christian. The Wind and the Lion soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
^ Clemmensen, Christian. The Omen soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
"Jerry Goldsmith wins the Oscar" Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar speech on YouTube. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
Clemmensen, Christian. Islands in the Stream soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-02-18.
Clemmensen, Christian. The Boys from Brazil soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
Clemmensen, Christian. Alien soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture soundtrack review at AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-02-16.
Roberts, Jerry (1995-09-08). "Tapping a rich vein of gold; Jerry Goldsmith's music is as varied as the films he's scored". Daily Variety.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Director's Edition DVD special features. Retrieved 2011-03-29.
Staff (2004-07-24). "Jerry Goldsmith, Composer for such films as Chinatown and The Omen". The Daily Telegraph. p. 27.