Monday, June 09, 2003

I just recently bought Andre Previn's book No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood. I had read it before for a graduate school project that involved reading just about everything ever written on film music. Reading it again is just delightful. It has to be the funniest book I have ever read. Here's a short excerpt:
At Metro, in the music department, a similar rule was instigated by the department's bookkeeper and accountant, a Mr. I.M. Halperin, a pale man with rimless glasses and a rimless sense of humor. All composers, the rule stated, had to be on the lot between ten and six every day, and should there be a deviation from these hours, he had to be notified. The rule was posted, and we waited in vain for Zorro to come and make his mark on the memo. However, as it happened, I had to work straight through the night soon after, and when I finally tottered out of my office, with eyes red as a rabbit's, I noticed that it was four in the morning. I went back to my desk and rang Mr. I.M. Halperin at home. It took quite a few rings before he answered. "Hello," I said cheerfully, "I'm so sorry to bother you, but this is Andre. I've just finished, it's not six in the evening, it's four in the morning, so I thought I had better let you know that I'm going home now." The rule was rescinded two days later, and for a very little while I was a folk hero.

All these attempts by executives to marshal the muse into line pale into insignificance in comparison to an edict once issued by Irving Thalberg.

He was the most renowned of all the MGM producers but his reign at the studio was in the early thirties, so I missed out working for him. He was the model for Scott Fitzgerald's Last Tycoon, and is generally held to have been an awesome figure of intellect, taste, and drive, and the old-timers in Hollywood still speak of him as a sort of combination Ziegfeld and Teilhard de Chardin. It is entirely possible that he was a beacon of enlightenment, but when it came to music his fund of information was miniscule. One day, the story goes, he was in his projection room running a new MGM film when something on the sound track bothered him. "What is that?" he asked irritably into the darkness. "What is that in the music? It's awful, I hate it!"

The edge in his voice required an answer, even if that answer was untainted by knowledge. One of his minions leapt forward. "That's a minor chord, Mr. Thalberg," he offered. The next day, an inter-office memo arrived in the music department with instructions to post it conspicuously. It read as follows: From the above date onward, no music in an MGM film is to contain a "minor chord." Signed, IRVING THALBERG.
Thus the title of Previn's book, in which virtually every page contains a similarly hilarious anecdote.


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