Herschel Burke Gilbert was one of the finer composing talents to emerge in post-World War II Hollywood. Born in 1918, Gilbert studied composition and the viola at the Juilliard School of Music in the late '30s. He worked for bandleader Harry James as an arranger during the early '40s and entered the movie industry as an orchestrator in the middle of the decade. Gilbert's early credits as a composer were concentrated in low-budget suspense movies, but he excelled within that genre and several of the cues that he wrote for one such film, Open Secret (1948), took on a separate life and were heard on the small screen for decades after they were reorchestrated and tracked into numerous, early filmed television shows. Gilbert earned his first Oscar nomination in 1953 for the score he wrote for director Russell Rouse's The Thief (1952). The espionage thriller (which starred Ray Milland) told its story without any dialogue, thus offering the composer an 86-minute audio canvas that was entirely his own. He filled it up, writing strikingly dark, brooding passages for strings and horns, even the quietest of them fully exposed and all in a surprisingly dissonant, modernistic manner. Much of the score was moody and disconcerting in keeping with the plot and the tone of the film, and in many ways, Gilbert's work anticipated the boldness (if not the style) of Leonard Bernstein's music for On the Waterfront, written two years later. The Thief also brought to fruition a notion first suggested in a famous quip by Oscar Levant from 1933: the pianist/composer, leaving a showing of King Kong with its dense, groundbreaking Max Steiner score, had called that film "a symphony accompanied by a movie." The Thief was precisely that for Gilbert, and it elevated him to the front rank of screen composers. Over the next five years he was one of the most visible composers in Hollywood, earning Oscar nominations for his music for Otto Preminger's The Moon Is Blue (1953) and for his adaptation of the music for Preminger's Carmen Jones (1954). He began composing for television in 1957. His title theme (and the related series background score) for The Rifleman -- with its memorable folk-like melody and beautiful horn part -- and his brash, playful theme for Burke's Law -- a throwback to his days arranging for the Harry James Orchestra, with its swaying strings and romping brass -- were two of his more successful television creations.
Herschel Burke Gilbert Biography
by Bruce Eder