Herschel Burke Gilbert

Herschel Burke Gilbert (April 20, 1918 – June 8, 2003) was a prolific orchestrator, musical supervisor, and composer of film and television scores and theme songs, including The Rifleman (starring Chuck Connors), Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor.[1] Gilbert once estimated that his compositions had been used in at least three thousand individual episodes of various television series.

Herschel Burke Gilbert
Born(1918-04-20)April 20, 1918
DiedJune 8, 2003(2003-06-08) (aged 85)
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Juilliard School of Music
Spouse(s)Trudy Gilbert (married sixty years at his death)
ChildrenToby G. Bernstein

Gwen G. Olson
John Gilbert

Paul Gilbert

Early years and education

Gilbert was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Samuel Gilbert and Bertha Shevinsky, both born in Russia.[2][3] At the age of nine, he began studying the violin in Shorewood in Milwaukee County. By the time he was 15, he had formed his own dance band.[4] He attended Milwaukee State Teachers College (now University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee) and studied for four years: two as an undergraduate and two as a graduate, from 1939–1943 at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.[5] After Juilliard, Gilbert won a music scholarship to the Berkshire Music Festival in Massachusetts, where he studied under Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. He also played the viola with bandleader Harry James.

Television and film scoring

Gilbert's music was known to millions. He composed many instrumental theme songs heard on American television through the 1950s and 1960s, including The Rifleman, Michael Shayne, The Lawless Years, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Stories of the Century, The Dick Powell Show, Four Star Playhouse, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor, The Westerner, Mrs. G. Goes to College, Law of the Plainsman, Target: The Corruptors!, Man with a Camera, and Burke's Law.[6] Many of these were TV series produced by Four Star Television when Gilbert was Music Director.

In addition to the main theme songs, Gilbert also composed library music cues used in many TV series episodes, including episodes of Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, The Adventures of Superman, Leave It to Beaver, Johnny Ringo, Harrigan and Son, McKeever and the Colonel, Gilligan's Island and Perry Mason. During his library music years, he formed a publishing company named for his sons "John Paul Music" to collect ASCAP publisher royalties.

His film work includes It's a Wonderful Life (1947), The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), The Thief (1952), Carmen Jones (1954), It Came from Beneath the Sea (1954), Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), No Place to Hide (1956), Comanche (1956), Slaughter On Tenth Avenue (1957), Sam Whiskey (1969), I Dismember Mama (1974), and The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976).[6]

Later years

Gilbert retired from television in 1966 and formed his own company, Laurel Records, which produces classical chamber music as well as some jazz. Prior to his death, he joined with his son, John Gilbert, to produce more than sixty LPs and twenty-eight CDs.[7]

Gilbert died in Los Angeles from complications of a stroke. He was survived by his wife, Trudy; daughters Toby G. Bernstein and Gwen Olson; sons John and Paul; and three grandchildren.[7]


  1. Burlingame, Jon (2003-06-13). "FMS: Feature ["Rifleman" Composer Herschel Burke Gilbert Dead at 85]". Filmmusicsociety.org. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
  2. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
  3. U.S. 1920 Federal Census
  4. "Herschel Burke Gilbert". Laurelrecord.com. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
  5. "Herschel Burke Gilbert Obituary". Laurelrecord.com. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
  6. "Herschel Burke Gilbert". findagrave.com. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  7. "Dennis McLellan, "Herschel Gilbert, 85; Wrote, Arranged Music for Movies, TV," June 14, 2003". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
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