Earle Hagen, composer of The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show themes, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 88, which is a sweet number to reach if you are a composer, especially if you play the piano (88 keys). Read his L.A. Times obit here.
A former big band trombonist, Hagen arranged a version of the old traditional tune “Londonderry Air” for producer Sheldon Leonard for Make Room For Daddy back in 1953. That led to an association which saw Hagen compose the theme songs for all of Leonard’s TV shows, including Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke and I Spy. He also did the very evocative theme from That Girl for Van Dyke writer/producers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. In all, he did the themes for 3000 TV episodes over a 33 year span.
What I never knew until I read a few of today’s obits was that Hagen himself whistled the simple and unforgettable Griffith theme. Here’s the story of how he came up with the ditty from the Times obit:
In his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Famous Composer — Nobody Ever Heard Of,” Hagen wrote that while sitting at home “wracking my brain for an idea for a theme for the Griffith show, it finally occurred to me that it should be something simple, something you could whistle. With that in mind, it took me about an hour to write the Andy Griffith theme.”
That night, he and several musicians recorded a demo of the theme for the opening of the show, with Hagen doing the whistling and his 11-year-old son Deane doing the finger-snapping. The next morning, Hagen took a copy of the demo to executive producer Leonard’s home.As Hagen recalled: “He listened and said, ‘Great! I’ll do [the show’s opening] at Franklin Canyon Lake with Andy and Ronny [Howard] walking along the bank with a couple of fishing poles over their shoulders.”
Pretty smooth. Click here and whistle along.