Remembrances of Rozsa
It was somewhere around 1957, as I recall, that I first discovered the music of SPELLBOUND.
I was eleven years old and in the hospital with a severely infected ingrown toe nail. I remember it was a Sunday afternoon, and the television was playing the G.E. College Bowl, hosted by Allan Ludden. The question being asked of the contestants concerned music from the movies, and panelists were asked to identify themes and match them to the films they were written for. When the theme from SPELLBOUND was played, I astonished my more adult room mate by identifying both the theme and its composer.
Two years later, in 1959, I first heard the glorious strains of the overture from BEN-HUR and I knew once and for all that Miklos Rozsa was to be an important presence in my life.
Somewhere around 1968 or 1969 I discovered that Miklos Rozsa was to perform at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, where he would conduct his Piano Concerto with Leonard Pennario at the keyboard. My brother, Erwin, and I managed to get Orchestra seats for the concert and arrived, quite excited, on the evening of the performance. I had started writing professionally about films and film music, and so was able to obtain a set of free tickets to the Academy, as well as a back stage pass for the two us. It was thrilling, to say the least, to see this legendary composer live on stage conducting before our eyes. We were determined to meet him after the concert and steadfastly made our way behind the curtains as the concert hall busily emptied. There were many other admirers of the composer gathered about him as we entered the reception area, all armed with photographs and record albums to be signed. I recall one young fan carrying a BEN-HUR album, and handing it to Dr. Rozsa. Erwin and I introduced ourselves to our hero, and were both immediately impressed by his kindness and genuine humility. After the other “fans” had dispersed and left the Academy, Eugene Ormandy, along with Leonard Pennario, adjourned to the street and began the stroll back several blocks to The Bellevue Stratford Hotel with Miklos Rozsa. As Ormandy and his guest pianist walked ahead, Erwin and I took advantage of the moment and walked together with Dr. Rozsa, talking excitedly of his scores and enormous musical legacy. I can recall watching the elderly Eugene Ormandy turning back in concern to see if his guest composer had been abducted by these nefarious, young brothers. Rozsa was quite charming and cultured, as I recall, and obligingly wrote down his mailing address for me when I asked, somewhat impertinently, for it. There began a twenty five year friendship and correspondence.
In 1979 I was managing the film and video tape departments at WTAF Television in Philadelphia. I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business one weekday afternoon, when the telephone rang. Dear friend and noted author Harry Geduld was on the line. Harry, along with his partner Ronald Gottesman, had edited The Girl in The Hairy Paw three years earlier for Avon Books in New York. The anthology was the first volume dedicated entirely to King Kong. My work on the making of the film was chosen by Harry and Ron to lead off their series of essays by both popular and unknown writers. Needless to say, I fell into the latter category. At any rate, Harry telephoned me at work to invite me to a film seminar being held that week at the main campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, where Harry chaired the film and comparative literature departments. I thanked him for his kind invitation but explained that I was very busy at work and couldn’t get away. He told me that his friend, and respected critic, Molly Haskell was attending the conference. As much as I would like to have met Ms. Haskell, I politely declined. Harry then rubbed a little salt into the wound by informing me that famed Science Fiction/Fantasy producer/director George Pal was also coming to the seminar. I nearly said “yes” at that point since George Pal was one of my boyhood heroes. Still, maturity and dedication to duty prevailed, and my work ethic stood proudly above any childish temptation I may have momentarily encountered, leading me to throw caution to the wind. It was then that Harry paused and said…”and, oh yes, there is one other person attending…Miklos Rozsa.” “Let me call the airport and make reservations,” I said.
I stayed with Harry and his wife, Carolyn, during the two day conference. As we stood and talked in the crowded hallway of the university, I turned around suddenly to see a familiar face approaching. “My God,” I thought. “It’s really him walking toward me. It’s Miklos Rozsa.” With an ever deepening smile and racing heart, I moved toward my favorite composer and said “Dr. Rozsa, it’s Steve Vertlieb.” He shook my hand warmly, and I told him how nice it was to see him again. During the course of a two day seminar, I spent eleven hours at his side. We ate together, talked together, and attended a concert of his music together. On the final morning of the conference, I was speaking with Dr. Rozsa in virtually the same spot I had first encountered him the day before. He was waiting to be ushered into a private dining area where members of the Miklos Rozsa Society, headed by President John Fitzpatrick, would share an intimate…by invitation only…luncheon. I was not yet a member of the Indiana based society and so I gracefully stepped aside, and allowed him to be escorted into the dining area. As the doors closed behind him, I walked over to Carolyn Geduld, wistfully recalling some of the magic of the rapidly expiring experience. Suddenly, the doors to the restaurant burst open and John Fitzpatrick came running out, looking most concerned. “My God, John,” I said. “What’s the matter? Is Dr. Rozsa all right?” “Everything is fine,” said John. “We sat down at our tables. Dr. Rozsa looked up, somewhat puzzled, and asked “Where’s Steve?” I thought my heart would stop. John ushered me into the dining room, and I was seated once again next to Miklos Rozsa.
As the conference concluded that afternoon and Dr. Rozsa prepared to leave for Indianapolis Airport, he took both my hands in his…looked into my eyes…and said “I feel that you are very sincere.” Fighting back tears, I told him how much he meant to me, and wished him a safe journey home to Los Angeles. My own journey to the airport was shared by George Pal in a private limousine. During the one hour trip, I had an opportunity to speak at length with Mr. Pal about Miklos Rozsa’s score for his production at MGM of THE POWER. Pal disclosed that he had the master tapes in his possession, and that he was donating them to the Rozsa Society to make available to the membership, and to all of Rozsa’s fans and admirers.
In the years that followed, my respect and affection for Miklos Rozsa continued to grow and to flourish. Toward the end, when a debilitating stroke impaired both his sight and his ability to write, Juliet Rozsa read her father my letters while he would dictate his response to her. I would write two published articles in tribute to his career and artistry including, most recently, "Time After Time: The Life of Miklos Rozsa."
I remain in touch with his daughter, Juliet, and recently attended a concert honoring what would have been his 100 th birthday at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, DC.
Miklos Rozsa passed from this singular reality on July 27 th, 1995. He was eighty eighty years old.
Knowing him was one of the most profound experiences of my life, while his music continues to give voice to my heart and illuminate my soul.
This report was written in celebration of the
9th anniversary of Film Music Review.
See these related links:
A Tribute to Miklos Rozsa in Washington, DC
Steve Vertlieb: A Life Among the Stars
100th Brithday Tribute to Miklos Rozsa
CD Review: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Film Music Review
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