The Music Makers of Star Trek: Gerald Fried
The Star Trek universe has just lost the last of The Original Series’ music composers, Gerald Fried, who passed away 17th February 2023, just days after his 95th birthday. By all accounts a terrific human being, Fried grew up in the Bronx, NY, where he was a 1945 graduate of the High School of Music & Art. He then attended the Juilliard School of Music, majoring in oboe. But most of his skill in filmscoring was self-taught.
Gerry Fried left an enormous catalog of work in television and film. He received his start composing for a short film produced in 1951 by his Bronx pal Stanley Kubrick. The film was called Day of the Fight and was released by RKO-Pathé. This led to more work — he was on his way.
Mr. Fried’s filmography on Wikipedia is huge, with dozens of westerns, horror, noir, sci-fi, and adventure films through the 1950s into the ’60s. Moving into television, he composed for Shotgun Slade, Riverboat, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Man Who Never Was, It’s About Time, Mission: Impossible, and Gilligan’s Island.
But for fans of Star Trek, all of that was dress rehearsal for Mr. Fried’s finest and most well-known work for just five episodes. He joked that, if the series’ producers had known he had written for Gilligan’s Island, they never would have hired him. Bob Justman agreed. “I certainly detested Gilligan’s Island,” he said. “But he had the right spirit. He did a hell of a job.”
Fried’s freshman effort for Star Trek was the Season 1 episode “Shore Leave”. He composed a partial score for all of the action sequences on the pleasure planet. His Irish Jig theme for Finnegan, Kirk’s bullying upper classman from the Academy, is probably the most memorable; but his Rabbit Music cue (recall Dr. McCoy’s first contact with the Alice in Wonderland characters?) was used again and again in subsequent episodes.
On the strength of his work for “Shore Leave”, Fried was invited back for Season 2. This was particularly good for the show, because his Season 2 output was simply phenomenal.
June and July of 1967 was a very busy time. He needed to have his “Catspaw” score ready for a 21st June scoring session. A little over two weeks later, on 7th July, he was back with “Friday’s Child”. Less than two weeks later, on 19th July, he was back again, with his landmark score for “Amok Time”. Fried created complete scores for these three episodes — meaning they consisted of entirely new music.
In a 1998 interview, he commented, “The time pressures were so great that I didn’t have time to think or enjoy the fact that Star Trek seemed to be a little more intelligent than anything else I’d done. There seemed to be a feeling that they were on to something special… a feeling of intelligence there instead of just turning out a product.” Yet he was able to create some of the most memorable music in TV history.
The discerning Star Trek viewer will recognize many of the music cues from these three episodes, but perhaps none more than the dramatic and climactic “Ancient Combat/Second Kroykah”, in which Kirk and Spock fight to the death in “Amok Time”. This was some of the most sophisticated and complex music composed for a TV show, featuring irregular time signatures and a harmonic construct “borrowed” from the great Igor Stravinsky.
For Season 3, Gerry Fried contributed one more great score, for “The Paradise Syndrome”. For this project, he took inspiration from a TV documentary he’d scored the year prior (the Emmy-nominated Gaugin in Tahiti). One of Fried’s most beautiful and lyrical scores features the woodwind theme for Miramanee and its heartbreaking finale, “Death of Miramanee”.
After Star Trek, Fried worked through the ’70s and ’80s in both TV and films. They included his work on I Will Fight No More Forever and The Mystic Warrior, for which he studied Native American culture. But perhaps his most well-known music is from the epic TV mini-series Roots, starring LeVar Burton.
Through a mutual Trek music acquaintance, I had the honor of a brief email exchange with Gerry Fried this past January (2023). I was able to tell him about my series of YouTube videos and my admiration for his work, which he graciously acknowledged, saying, “I loved hearing of your activities.” On 14 February, I sent Mr. Fried the link to my latest video (about his score for “Friday’s Child”), to which he replied, “DP, thanks for sending. I loved it. Best, Gerry.” My response was a late birthday wish. I didn’t receive a reply.
On Friday, 17th February, we learned that Mr. Fried had passed away from congestive heart failure. He made no mention of his health issues and certainly had no obligation to correspond with me. But he did anyway. This experience I will honor always.