Riddle, Nelson


Riddle, Nelson
(1921–1985)
   Grammy- and Oscar-winning composer Nelson Riddle, who wrote and conducted the score for LOLITA (1961), was perhaps most famous for his lush, orchestral background music for pop singers, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Nat “King” Cole to Linda Ronstadt. One of his single most famous compositions was 1962’s “Theme from Route 66. ” His Academy Award came in 1975, for The Great Gatsby (1974).
   The theme for Lolita was actually composed by Bob Harris, brother of producer JAMES B. HARRIS. The theme was not written specifically for the film, but when STANLEY KUBRICK heard it, he decided he had to use it. According to VINCENT LOBRUTTO, Kubrick had initially approached legendary film music composer Bernard Herrmann to score Lolita, but Herrmann declined when he learned that he would have to use Bob Harris’s theme song. Lolita employs Riddle’s music in an appropriately schizophrenic manner: Some scenes are supported with “wall-to-wall,” melodramatic music, of the lush variety for which Riddle is well known. By contrast, long sections of the film, particularly after the death of Charlotte Haze (SHELLEY WINTERS), unfold with no music at all. This strategy allows an ironic tone to emerge whenever the music is on full blast—as in many of the scenes in the Haze household, which typify the film’s satirical stance toward suburban life. The result is far more effective than Riddle’s initial impulse would have been: originally, he scored the love theme in a minor key, to give a dissonant counterpoint the feelings that Humbert (JAMES MASON) harbors for Lolita (SUE LYON). Kubrick and Harris insisted that the love theme be played straight, so as not to go after a too-easy disparagement of Humbert’s character.
   As a boy, Nelson Riddle’s first musical instrument was the piano, but at age 14 he took up the trombone. After serving in World War II, he played in a number of prominent big bands, including those of Charlie Spivak, Jerry Wald, and Tommy Dorsey. In the late 1940s, Riddle worked as a staff arranger for NBC in Hollywood. Then he was hired by Capitol Records, where he did arrangements for Cole and Sinatra. Soon garnering the reputation as the best arranger in Hollywood, Riddle worked with many of the top singers of the day, including Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Dinah Shore, Betty Hutton, Johnny Mathis, and Peggy Lee. Riddle’s other work in film scoring has included Can-Can (1960), Oceans Eleven (1960), El Dorado (1967), and Paint Your Wagon (1969). He also wrote music for several television shows, including Batman, The Man From U. N. C. L. E. , Laugh-In, Barnaby Jones, Emergency!, and The Love Boat.
   Riddle served as music director at the inaugurations of both President John F. Kennedy, in 1961, and President Ronald Reagan, in 1985. His last concert appearance was in September 1985, scarcely three weeks before his death, when he provided the music for the Emmy Awards Governors Ball.
   References
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1999);
   ■ “Nelson Riddle, Award-Winning Composer-Arranger, Dead at 64,” Variety, Riddle, Nelson n 299 October 9, 1985;
   ■ “Nelson Riddle,” Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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  • Riddle, Nelson — ▪ American musician born June 1, 1921, Oradell, N.J., U.S. died Oct. 6, 1985, Los Angeles, Calif.       American popular music arranger, conductor, and composer, regarded as the premier 20th century arranger for popular singers.       Riddle… …   Universalium

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