Just four days after the passing of legendary television composer Earle Hagen follows the disclosure that Alexander Courage, composer of the famous theme for the series Star Trek, died May 15 in Rancho Mirage. In an uncanny coincidence, both Courage and Hagen were 88 years old. Known as "Sandy" to his friends, Courage was a Philadelphia native who earned his diploma from the Eastman School of Music in 1941; after a stint in the Army Air Corps, he worked as a staff arranger for CBS Radio. In 1948, Courage joined the staff of MGM as an orchestrator and arranger, working mostly on musicals, and several years passed before began to compose original scores. Courage's first credits were earned on films that no one else wanted to do, such as early rock and roll pictures like Hot Rod Girl (1956). Courage's score for the western The Left Handed Gun (1959), starring Paul Newman, finally gained some recognition for Courage's talents within the industry.
By the time Star Trek went into production in 1965, Courage was working at Twentieth-Century-Fox as an assistant to Alfred Newman. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had originally wanted Jerry Goldsmith to score the show, but Goldsmith was overcommitted â€“- among the projects on Goldsmith's desk at that time was the famous score for The Blue Max (1966) â€“- and Goldsmith recommended Courage instead. At that time, typical scoring for outer space-related fare consisted of worried strings, eerie theremin, and primitive analog electronic blips and bloops. Roddenberry -â€“ a former Air Force pilot and police officer turned screenwriter whose experience was gained in westerns and dramatic programs -- explained to Courage that wanted the score to emphasize adventure over spaciness. In the Star Trek theme, Courage gave him the best of both worlds â€“- the high-flying, wordless soprano soaring over a backdrop that had the panoramic perspective of western scoring; it is one of the most famous of all TV themes. The eight-note opening fanfare Courage composed has been used as a motto in practically anything having to do with Star Trek, whether it involves the original cast or not.
While working on the original Star Trek series was rewarding, it was hardly lucrative, and Courage departed to serve as musical director of the film Doctor Dolittle (1968) with Rex Harrison, a job that earned him an Academy Award nomination. However, he regretted leaving Star Trek, and for the 1970s, consoled himself through serving as music supervisor for The Waltons (1972-81). Courage was not the only one who had regrets about Star Trek: Jerry Goldsmith agreed to score several of the Star Trek features, often in tandem with Courage. Alexander Courage continued to compose for films until the turn of the century. One of his last projects was The Mummy (1999).
One interesting sidelight is that Alexander Courage was on a long list of Star Trek participants who had issues with the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry. Not long after Courage departed from Star Trek, Roddenberry composed lyrics for the wordless Star Trek theme, cutting into half the profits earned by Courage in residuals. While money was certainly an issue, the main thing Courage was genuinely upset about was the quality of said lyrics, which began, "Beyond the rim of the starlight/My love is wand'ring in star-flightâ€¦" They don't exactly roll off the tongue.