Film and television composer Walter Scharf was born August 1, 1910, in New York City; his mother, Bessie Zwerling, was among the most popular comediennes starring in the New York Yiddish Theater. He made his professional debut in 1930 in the orchestra of the George Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, and four years later relocated to Hollywood as the arranger for famed crooner Rudy Valleé. Scharf also tenured as an arranger for Al Jolson and Alice Faye before turning to film work, composing incidental music for a series of pictures without even receiving credit; in 1942, he earned the first of ten Academy Award nominations for his score to the melodrama Mercy Island. In the years to follow, he also notched Oscar nods for 1953's Hans Christian Andersen, 1968's Funny Girl, and 1972's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but never took home the prize. In 1973, he and writing partner Don Black did earn a Golden Globe for their work on the film Ben, with the Michael Jackson-sung title theme also becoming a Top Ten pop hit. Scharf also worked on no fewer than five Elvis Presley musicals. In television, he composed for series including The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible, winning an Emmy Award for his efforts on behalf of National Geographic specials. He officially retired during the mid-'70s, but continued to compose, authoring the symphony The Tree Stands Still for Los Angeles' Stephen S. Wise Temple as well as some two hours of music for the eight-part 1979 TV miniseries Blind Ambition. In all, Scharf is estimated to have worked on some 250-odd film and TV productions. He died at his L.A. home on February 24, 2003, at the age of 92.
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