Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Calliope Man Bernie Green

Henry Morgan’s radio show had an unsung hero. Not an actor. Certainly not a sponsor or an ABC executive. It was musical conductor and arranger Bernie Green.

There couldn’t have been a more perfect musical fit for Morgan than Green. Acidic humourist Morgan gave him a musical spot and then apparently allowed him to do whatever satiric came to his mind. Green’s ideas were brilliant. On one broadcast, he conducted his symphonic arrangement of the “Pepsi Cola Hits the Spot” jingle. Green was an ABC staff musician, so when Morgan moved to NBC, Green stayed behind, though his arrangements were still heard on the Morgan show. He ended up being the musical director on TV for Mr. Peepers, Caesar’s Hour and the Garry Moore Show, plus provided musical cues for Al Brodax’s Cool McCool cartoon series. He also recorded a couple of albums of space-age pop for RCA, including one named for MAD magazine (with Alfred E. Newman on the album cover).

Here’s Herald Tribune syndicate critic John Crosby, a fan of Morgan’s, speaking about Green and the job of supplying snippets of music for network radio shows. It was published September 15, 1949. Green died in 1975 at the age of 66.


That blast of music you hear—a bridge as it is known in the trade—just after the District Attorney says: "This is no suicide, Jenkins. This is—mu'dah!" has to be, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, written.
One of the experts in this highly specialized field is Bernie Green, A. B. C. staff conductor. Green, who will be remembered by Henry Morgan devotees for his dizzy arrangements on that program when it was on ABC, has been writing musical bridges for radio programs these eighteen years. Most of them ran from eight seconds to a minute. One day he looked in some despair at the pile of music he had written and asked himself if he were going to spend his life doing four measure cues. The next day he sat down and started work on a symphony. Had a terrible time. The first movement was roughly eight minutes long or about four times the length of even the longest music cue. Once over that hurdle, the symphony came more easily. He hopes to have it performed this year by the ABC symphony.
There are as many cliches in radio music as there are in the rest of radio, Green says. A narrator, as any radio listener knows, always has music in the background while he's telling you that it's the next morning and Stella spent a sleepless night worrying about the mortgage. When the music stops, the next scene begins. Mystery programs, soap opera and more ambitious radio drama, each has its own music cliches, and an experienced radio listener can tell you what sort of program he's listening to by the music alone. A real expert in the field can tell by the music alone not only what has happened, but what is going to happen.
Green has done his best to get away from the cliches and to compose some really original and descriptive music bridges. When "The Fat Man" went on the air three-and-a-half years ago, Green got together an orchestra which was all woodwinds and percussion instruments to give the program a distinctive tone color. When the Fat Man came on he was preceded by a short tuba solo, suggestive of his girth.
When "The Clock," a real horror number, went on the air, Green contributed possibly the most original part of it. He achieved weird musical effects by using a combination consisting of four percussion instruments, two harps and two pianos. Weird as this was, it didn't work out well because no instrument could hold a note. Green got around this by dropping one percussion instrument and adding four French horns. The effect is still pretty weird.
Green had a real field day on the Henry Morgan show. He had an idea that music could be just as entertaining as comedy and some of his arrangements were little classics of comic music. As a parody on two-piano teams, he wrote a "Concerto for Two Calliopes." One of the calliopes was a moth-eaten old job which had been lying around NBC since the death of "Showboat." ABC bought the other on from a bankrupt carnival. The NBC calliope had fourteen pipes missing, so Green blithely worked around them.
Green's latest project, which may or may not be heard on the network this fall, is a program called "The Laboratory of Dr. Bernie Green." This one, which has been auditioned twice on the air, opens with what Green describes as "the distilled essence of all horror programs" dragging chains, a crowbar opening a wooden crate, a groan, a maniacal laugh. This is meant as a musical description of Bach turning over in his grave. The rest of the program would very likely drive Bach into doing just that.

1 comment:

  1. Here's Bernie Green's "Musically Mad". Enjoy!