Stanley Wilson (composer)

Stanley Wilson (November 25, 1917 July 12, 1970) was an American musical conductor, arranger and film composer.

Stanley Wilson
Born(1917-11-25)November 25, 1917
New York City, United States
DiedJuly 12, 1970(1970-07-12) (aged 52)
Aspen, Colorado, United States
GenresFilm and television music scoring
Occupation(s)Arranger, composer, conductor, director
Years active1947–1970
Associated actsCount Basie
Elmer Bernstein
Benny Carter
Juan García Esquivel
Percy Faith
Dave Grusin
Quincy Jones
Henry Mancini
Oliver Nelson
Lalo Schifrin
John Williams

Early life

Stanley James Wilson was born in New York City. His father, Philip Wilson emigrated from Russia and his mother, Regina Reiman Wilson from Austria. His parents had a brief career in the Yiddish Shakespeare Theatre. The youngest of 4 children (Nancy, Ruth, Mitchell, a physicist, author and husband of Stella Adler). Wilson had his first trumpet recital at the age of 5. Wilson graduated from Townsend-Harris high school at the age of 14. He attended City College of New York in pre-med. By the age of 16 he was playing trumpet on 52nd Street with Bobby Hackett and Nick's in Greenwich Village with Spud Murphy. During the latter part of his third year at City College, at the age of 17, Wilson decided he was going to make music, not medicine, his career, and he dropped out in 1937. Wilson was influenced by Edwin Franko Goldman of the Goldman band, Walter Damrosch, then conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra and studied orchestration with Nathan Van Cleave. Wilson was playing and arranging for Art Paulsen's band at the New Yorker Hotel when he met his future wife Gertrud who was from New Jersey and had been working at the World's Fair as a hostess. A month after their marriage in 1941 he auditioned for Glenn Miller. He received a call to join the Miller orchestra. By that time Wilson had joined the Eddie Brandt band. Wilson joined Herbie Holmes' orchestra in 1941, making his first trip to the West Coast with that group. He joined two uncles who had left New York for the film business in Hollywood. One of the uncles and his Godfather, Joseph Ruttenberg was an Oscar-winning MGM cinematographer (The Great Waltz, Mrs. Miniver, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Gigi). Wilson was with the Freddie Martin Orchestra for three years, playing trumpet and arranging at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles.


Wilson was one of the most prolific collaborators in the Hollywood music industry for more than three decades. The creator of original themes and incidental music for several TV series, he also composed, arranged, or orchestrated more than 100 films.

Following World War II, he joined the MGM music department in 1945, moving a year later to Republic Pictures, where he wrote scores for countless B-movies and serials for the next twelve years. While at Republic, he provided the music support for classic serials as King of the Rocket Men and Zombies of the Stratosphere, as well in exciting adventures featuring western heroes as Rex Allen, Wild Bill Elliott, Allan Lane and Roy Rogers.

In the late 1950s, Wilson became the new television branch of MCA, Inc's. Revue Studios unit as head of creative activities, taking charge of creating music behind all of the studio's productions, hiring and assigning different composers, arrangers, orchestrators and conductors, which were often rolled into a single job. Wilson was one of the first to hire composers and musicians without regard to their cultural diversity. Wilson integrated television music. As an executive, Wilson employed significant composers as Pete Rugolo, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Juan García Esquivel, Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Oliver Nelson and Lalo Schifrin, among others. Toward the end of his career with Universal, he began to dedicate more of his own time to specific shows, composing themes and much of the background music for It Takes a Thief, Wagon Train and The Bold Ones, General Electric Theatre, Markham, Tales of Wells Fargo, among others. In 1955 Wilson wrote an arrangement of Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" as the theme music for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Wilson also was the music director for M Squad, the police series starring Lee Marvin, working in collaboration with Count Basie, Sonny Burke, Pete Carpenter, Benny Carter and John Williams. Wilson composed the theme music for the first season, winning the 1959 Grammy Award for the Best Soundtrack Album and Background Score from Motion Picture or Television. For the second and third seasons, he entrusted Basie to compose a new theme.

Wilson, along with Esquivel, composed the now famous Revue Studios/Universal Television fanfare, which lasted for nearly three decades.

Wilson traveled to France in 1963 to record the soundtrack to the television special, Princess Grace's Monaco. After the shooting was finished, he arranged and conducted The World of Sights and Sounds, Stop One: Paris, an album of French standards. This time Wilson was accompanied by a small jazz combo fronted by M Squad colleague and jazz legend, Benny Carter, and included a string section orchestra and a wordless vocal choir led by Michel Legrand's sister, Christiane.

In 1967 Wilson co-produced, with Robert Wagner, a documentary film entitled The World Goes On. It was to be a pilot for the documentation of music festivals worldwide.

Death and legacy

Wilson died of a heart attack in Aspen, Colorado, at the age of 52, moments after addressing the 1970 Aspen Music Festival on the subject of composing for films and television. He was survived by his wife Gertrud and three children: Phyllis Wilson Paul of Westlake Village, California, Philip of Oahu, Hawaii and Peter (deceased). The Stanley Wilson Memorial Scholarship was established at UCLA which annually honors a brass and composition student. In 2013 John Williams and Steven Spielberg brought the idea to Ron Meyers, of Universal Studios, to name a street on the Universal lot after Stanley Wilson. Stanley Wilson Avenue is at the location of Stanley Wilson's office.

Selected filmography



TV shows


  • Wilson rarely featured his talent on records, but today some of his albums are classics of space age pop and exotica audiences. This list include:
    • Wagon Train (1957)
    • The Music From M Squad (1959)
    • Themes to Remember (1962)
    • The Lost Man (The Original Soundtrack Album) (1960)
    • Pagan Love (1961)
    • The Great Waltz - American Continental (1961)
    • The World of Sights and Sounds - Stop One: Paris - Charter Records Corp (1963)
    • Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music To Be Murdered By (1980)

As conductor

With Quincy Jones

With Oliver Nelson


  • Karlin, Fred. Listening to Movies (1994). Maxwell Macmillan International ISBN 0-02-873315-0.
  • McNeil, Alex. Total Television (1996). Penguin Books ISBN 0-14-024916-8
  • Brooks, Tim and Marsh, Earle, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows (1999). Ballantine Books ISBN 0-345-42923-0
  • Lentz, Robert J. Lee Marvin: his films and career (2000). McFarland & Company ISBN 0-7864-0723-9.
  • Wilson Family History
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