What Musical Family Has The Oscars On Lock? Hello, Newmans. | Texas Public Radio

What Musical Family Has The Oscars On Lock? Hello, Newmans.

Feb 26, 2016
Originally published on February 25, 2016 8:25 pm

This story was inspired by a question at an insanely hard Oscars trivia night in Los Angeles last year: Which family has the most Oscar nominations?

At the time, I had no idea, but the extremely smart people I was playing with knew immediately. Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy Newman have more than 80 nominations between them for music direction, scoring, song, composition and score. They're part of a musical dynasty that began almost a century ago.

Born in 1901, Alfred Newman was a child piano prodigy, who supported his family by playing on the vaudeville circuit before becoming a Broadway conductor at age 17. Movie music was still an innovative technology when Newman arrived in California in 1930, only a few years after the release of the very first film with a score. He set to work adapting the era's musicals to the screen, including the still classic Whoopee!, starring Eddie Cantor, and Reaching For the Moon, with Douglas Fairbanks.

Even today, you can hear Alfred Newman's work at the beginning of every movie from 20th Century Fox. He wrote the classic pre-credits fanfare you can probably sing in your sleep.

Edmund Stone says that when Alfred Newman ran the studio's music division, he was a prolific composer whose lush, expressive music was intended to heighten the film's acting and dialogue. (Stone knows a thing or two about movie music; he hosts a radio show about it called The Score.)

"Wuthering Heights, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How to Marry A Millionaire, The Song of Bernadette, How Green Was My Valley, and on and on," Stone marvels. "Hundreds of films that he either composed or conducted."

Alfred Newman would also win nine out of his 36 Oscar nominations, and bring his two younger brothers into the business. One of them, Emil Newman, similarly composed, conducted and scored hundreds of movies. His one nomination was for 1941's Sun Valley Serenade, featuring the Glen Miller Orchestra. And other brother Lionel worked with Alfred at Fox for nearly half a century, where he racked up 11 Oscar nominations, including a win in 1970 for Hello, Dolly! (You can watch his very charming acceptance speech on YouTube.)

But that same year, Alfred Newman died of complications from emphysema. His son Thomas was only a teenager who, up until that point, had been mostly been interested in baseball. Thomas Newman told NPR in 2004 that music became a passion after his father's death.

"It was a reconciling," he said.

Thomas Newman received his 13th Oscar nomination this year for his score for Bridge of Spies. He also wrote music for Skyfall, The Help, Erin Brockovich and The Shawshank Redemption. And his older brother David Newman has composed music for nearly 100 movies, including The War of The Roses and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. (He was nominated once, for scoring the 1997 animated film Anastasia. His father Alfred scored a live action version of the same story in 1956.)

Their cousin Randy Newman, whose pop songs have brought him success far beyond Hollywood, has 20 Oscar nominations and two wins. He was asked by Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air whether being a Newman affected how he writes music.

"It probably did," he responded, adding that he learned from his uncles that music needs to feel in the right place. As an example, he mentioned a song from his first album.

"The song 'Cowboy' — I didn't use a piano, because it's an indoor instrument," he explained. "It used to be in movies, you paid attention to stuff like that. I didn't like it when I heard a piano outside. It took me inside."

So, is there a Newman family sound? Edmund Stone considered the question, and the overwhelming diversity of the Newman scores.

"I don't think so," he said. "Could you hear Alfred Newman in Wall-E, composed by Tom? Could you hear Lionel's music in Galaxy Quest, composed by David? Could you hear any of the Newmans in Finding Nemo?" (One assumes you could probably find Thomas, who composed it.)

While I've only discussed the six Newman family members who've been nominated for and won Oscars, numerous other Newmans — including the third generation — are also accomplished musicians, composers and working in the film music industry.

"You could probably say the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree," Stone observes. Or in the case of the Newmans, the orchard.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now some trivia. Which family has the most Oscar nominations - the Newmans - not as in Paul Newman but a legendary Hollywood musical dynasty. We'll let NPR's Neda Ulaby make the introductions.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy Newman have more than 80 nominations between them for music direction, scoring, song composition and score. Meet Alfred Newman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALFRED NEWMAN: In 1930, I came to Hollywood as a composer and music director on the contract Samuel Goldwyn.

ULABY: That's Newman on a recorded tribute to his friend George Gershwin. Alfred Newman was born in 1901. He was a child piano prodigy. He supported his family on the vaudeville circuit before becoming a Broadway conductor at the age of 17. His first Hollywood jobs were adapting the era's musicals to the screen such as "Whoopee."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "WHOOPEE")

ULABY: And you still hear an Alfred Newman composition in every movie released by 20th Century Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFRED NEWMAN SONG, "20TH CENTURY FOX FANFARE")

ULABY: Alfred Newman ran the studio's music division for decades. He created lush, expressive scores intended to heighten the acting and dialogue.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "REACHING FOR THE MOON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Forgive me. Forgive me.

EDMUND STONE: "Weathering Heights," "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame..."

ULABY: Edmund Stone hosts a radio show about film music called "The Score."

STONE: "...The Song Of Bernadette," "How Green Was My Valley" and on and on - hundreds of films that he either composed or conducted.

ULABY: Out of 36 Oscar nominations, Alfred won nine, mostly for scoring. That means either writing original film music or adapting someone else's into a movie. And Newman brought his two younger brothers into the business.

STONE: Lionel was at Fox working with his brother for 46 years and had a hand in 200 films and eventually would become the vice president of music at Fox.

ULABY: Racking up 11 Oscar nominations and a 1969 win for helping to turn this stage hit into movie musical for Barbra Streisand.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO, DOLLY")

BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) Hello, Rudy.

ULABY: And hello, Emil Newman. Emil also composed, conducted and scored hundreds of movies. His one nomination in 1941 was for a film featuring the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRA SONG, "IN THE MOOD")

ULABY: In 1970, the oldest brother, Alfred, died from emphysema. His son Thomas was 15.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

THOMAS NEWMAN: My memories, though, are vague and kind of dreamy.

ULABY: Thomas told NPR in 2004 he was mostly interested in baseball before his father died. After, he started taking music seriously.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

T. NEWMAN: It was reconciling.

ULABY: Thomas Newman has been nominated for 13 Oscars, this year for the score for "Bridge Of Spies." Thomas also wrote the music for "Skyfall," "The Help," "Erin Brockovich" and "The Shawshank Redemption."

(SOUNDBITE OF THOMAS NEWMAN SONG, "COMPASS AND GUNS")

ULABY: Thomas Newman's older brother David has composed music for nearly a hundred movies, including "The War Of The Roses" and "Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure." He has, says Edmund Stone, one nomination.

STONE: For the score for the animated film "Anastasia" in 1997.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID NEWMAN SONG, "PROLOGUE")

STONE: Which, by the way, was the same film that his father, Alfred, scored for the live-action film.

ULABY: In 1956.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFRED NEWMAN SONG, "ANASTASIA")

ULABY: Many years later, their cousin Randy was asked on WHYY's Fresh Air whether being a Newman affected the way he writes music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RANDY NEWMAN: Maybe. It probably did.

ULABY: Randy has 20 Oscar nominations and two wins. He said back when he was known for his pop songs, he'd absorbed his uncle's lessons about music needing to be in the right place. Take a song from his first album.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

R. NEWMAN: The song cowboy, you know, I didn't use a piano on it because it was an indoor instrument. It used to be in movies, you'd pay attention to stuff like that. I didn't like it when I heard a piano outside. Somehow it took me inside.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COWBOY")

R. NEWMAN: (Singing) Cowboy.

ULABY: So is there a Newman family sound? Edmund Stone of the show "The Score" considered the question.

STONE: Could you hear Alfred Newman in "Wall-E" composed by Tom?

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM NEWMAN SONG, "DEFINE DANCING")

STONE: Could you hear Lionel's music in "Galaxy Quest" composed by David?

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID NEWMAN SONG, "GALAXY QUEST THE CLASSIC TV THEME")

STONE: Could you hear any of the Newmans in "Finding Nemo?"

ULABY: Composed by Thomas.

STONE: I don't think so.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOMAS NEWMAN SONG, "NEMO EGG")

ULABY: It should be mentioned we only discussed those six members of the Newman family who've been nominated for and won Oscars. Numerous other Newmans, including the third generation, are also accomplished musicians, composers and working in the film music industry.

STONE: You could probably say the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

ULABY: Or in the case of the Newmans, the orchard. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.