Miklós Rózsa: Hollywood Reminiscenses

The original tape was made for John Stevens by Dr. Rózsa from Hollywood in October, 1981.

© Copyright
The Miklós Rózsa Film Music Society - Australia
Mr. John Stevens
4/365 Rau Street,
Albury, N.S.W., 2640

Transcribed by Paul Packer


I wrote the music for Quo Vadis? It was not an easy assignment, but I was very anxious to do this picture, and looking back now, 31 years later, I must say it was worth it.

MGM produced the picture in Europe. A picture of this magnitude couldn't have been done in Hollywood even then. Thousands of extras...it would have cost far more than the 7 million dollars it did. Then it was considered the most expensive picture ever made; today the stupidest comedy costs considerably more. Well, I had a good angel at MGM: managing director L.K. Sidney. Mr. Sidney called me to his office and said `We have a great picture coming up, Quo Vadis?, and I'd like you to write the music. However, there are difficulties. The picture will be produced in Europe, and we're trying to use as many European writers, composers, actors, technicians as possible.' I asked why. `Well,' he said, `they're cheaper. Here's a list of composers which was suggested by our business manager--' (I like this very much when a business manager is suggesting artistic lists) `--and what do you say to that?' And there were all the composers from Italy, from England and France. I went through the list and said, `There's only one name I approve wholeheartedly, and that's Sir William Walton. If you get him you don't need me.' And Sidney liked him apparently, but he said, `Yes, but I want you to do the picture.' I said, `Yes, I'd like to, but I have to point out that I can not do it better than William Walton would.' `Alright,' he said, `leave it to me.'

Of course there were a few absolutely impossible names, cheap hack composers, and I pointed these out, telling him they were absolutely out of the question for a picture of this seriousness and magnitude. Soon after he called me into his office and told me, `It's all settled: you're going to write the music for Quo Vadis?' Well, I was overjoyed and started working right away. There was a script, there was a producer, an old friend of mine from London, Hugh Gray. And we started to work on many things which had to be composed for the picture before the shooting.

One day the director, Mervyn LeRoy, came to my office and wanted to hear some music. I played it for him and he said, `Well, I haven't got much time; for the rest I'll listen in Rome.' I said, `But I'm not going to Rome.' `Why not?' he asked. I said, `Because I haven't been told I'll be sent to Rome.' He said, `This's absolutely impossible. We're taking grips over, and we're not taking the composer!' I said, `Well, my dear Mervyn, this is up to you.' So he ran up to Louie B. Mayer's office and made a scene, and Mayer, who was completely innocence about this business, said, `Well, of course, take him!' So, that's why I went to Rome.

But in the meantime I was called in to another executive's office, Eddie Mannix, a tough little Irishman, who said, `I hear you're going to Rome. Okay, you can go to Rome if you do a picture for us in London as well.' I said, `Mr. Mannix, if you ask me to do a picture on the moon, and that's the price of my going to Rome, I'll do it!' The picture was the second Mrs. Miniver, The Miniver Story, but first I had to go to Rome. Now Rome is the most enchanting city in the whole world. Probably now, with all this terrorism and hold-ups and terrible things happening, it's not the same as in 1950. But then, five years after the war, there was a euphoria, a happiness, and it was terribly, terribly cheap. So...I went to Rome, did all I had to do--had to find an assistant, which was at that time a young Englishman, Marcus Dodds, who later made a good name for himself in England as a composer and conductor, and then I had to go back to Hollywood. But in the meantime I became very friendly with the producer, Sam Zimbalist. He was a very interesting man. He was not an educated man. He used to be a cutter in the studios, and looked at everything from the cutting side; but he knew the film business. He knew very little about music, but somehow, after our conversations, after my playing him my music, which he did not understand, he trusted me, and that was enough.

So, when everybody came home, and I finished writing the music, I went to London to record it, because that being a European picture the studio had the right to record the music in Europe, and I asked for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I have adored this orchestra from way back in my London times when I went to hear them under Sir Thomas Beecham and found them a wonderful body of musicians, and I wanted to have them for these recording sessions. I got them, the full orchestra, and also the BBC choir. Now, those people who have seen Quo Vadis?, which is running now quite often on television, have heard this choir and know what it means to have such a great choir.

Coming back, we went through the mixing for voices, effects and music, and there I found my friend Zimbalist completely negative toward the music--not that he didn't like it, but he just didn't want to hear it too much; he preferred the sound effects. Of course he's not the only one. This is one of Hollywood's main crimes against the art of music, that they are drowning it out with stupid sound effects--and there I must say that the French director Alain Resnais, with whom I did a picture in Paris about four years ago, told me and said in an interview, he either has sound effects or music, but not the two together. That is a very wise statement, because sound effects fight the music, the result being that you don't hear the sound effects strong enough and don't hear the music at all, so why have it? But...we went through that, the picture was a big success, and it was the opening of a complete new era in Hollywood: the super-colossal biblical\historical picture. They'd done that before, yes, but not on this magnitude, with what the new techniques offered.

So, as I say, Zimbalist and I became friends. He was the only man, and I have to emphasise that I've spent 14 years of my life in the MGM studios...he was the only man to whom I could walk over at the end of the day and say, `Can I come over to talk?' `Come on!,' he'd say, and I'd rush over to his office and we'd talk for about an hour--about everything, not only films, but art, music. He was, I remember, very proud when I wrote my violin concerto for Jascha Heifitz, and wanted to know all about him--how he played, how we worked together, what the success was.

Anyhow, when Ben-Hur was going to be made he told me--this was about 2 or 3 years before the actual production--and he informed me that he was working on Ben-Hur but I shouldn't say anything to anybody. Well, I didn't, but I was waiting impatiently and doing stupid film after stupid film hoping that one day this nonsense will stop and the great story of Ben-Hur will open up for me. He was a secretive man, Zimbalist. When he had a script, or half a script, he gave it to me and asked me not to show it to anybody. Then he finally had the whole script and we sat down and discussed casting and the director.

Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur The question of the director was a great problem. There were very few directors in Hollywood who could have done such a magnificent subject. Many people were suggested, mostly those under contract to MGM, but none was good enough for Zimbalist. One day he informed me he'd found a man who'd accepted, or was willing to accept, called William Wyler. Wyler was without question one of the outstanding directors in Hollywood, with great successes to his name, and a man of intelligence, of good taste, of European schooling...he was the ideal man. However, he was such a strong personality, and such a great name in the film industry, that I had to tell Zimbalist one day, `You know you have Wyler. This is not going to be a Zimbalist picture anymore; it will be a William Wyler picture.' And modest as he was he said, `That doesn't matter at all. The only thing that matters is that we have a great picture.'

The studio found it necessary to loan me out not to another studio, Universal, to do A Time To Love And a Time To Die. Interestingly enough, my first Biblical motet was on the same subject: `To everything there is a season etc...' And it was a very good picture, a war picture, which unfortunately had no success in America at all but was very popular in Europe where the war was closer. There was a young man in it, the star, whose name was John Gavin. He was tall, young, dark, good-looking--very close to Ramon Navarro, the first Ben-Hur. So I went to Zimbalist and said, `You should look at this young man. He's unknown, but I think he'd make an ideal Ben-Hur.' Well, he and Wyler came to Universal and looked at the film, and I went to him next day (I didn't know John Gavin at all, so it wasn't a question of a personal favour), and he said, `Yes, he's very good, he looks good, he doesn't have one bad scene in the picture, but he has no name. We're doing a picture for $15 million dollars and we need a star.' So, he recommended the Ben-Hur who became the Ben-Hur you all know--Charlton Heston, who at that time had quite a name playing Moses in The Ten Commandments.

I finished that picture and went back to MGM, where they were more-or-less ready to go back to Rome and start this tremendous picture--this was the Summer of 1958. Zimbalist called me into his office and said, `I'm embarrassed to tell you this, but the studio just doesn't want to take you to Rome. We need you for one scene only there, and that's the Bacchanal. And we haven't decided how to cast it, which ballet company could do it, and you could advise us while you're there. But the studio doesn't want to send you.' So in the meantime there were `dark forces' trying to get the picture away from me--Zimbalist told me so, that there was somebody in the studio, very influential, apparently a friend of the studio's Artistic Director, who wants to do the music. And I said, `Let him. You don't have to take me.' And Zimbalist flew up, `Over my dead body! As long as I'm alive you're the composer of this picture.' I said, `Thank you.' So, now he comes to tell me there is no money from the fifteen million dollars to pay for my trip to Rome, which was a bit curious; but again the same `business manager' was at work, who was always telling the studio, `What is the musician? You can get them in Rome for nothing!' So I told Zimbalist, `Well, it's too bad that the studio cannot pay my expenses, but I will be in Italy anyway,' because by that time my contract was changed at MGM and I had to work only 8 months and 4 months during the Summer I was free --that's how my contract was, that's how I wanted it. So I told him we'd be in Italy. At that time I was writing the double concerto, the Sinfonia Concertante for Heifitz and Piatigorsky, so I would be in Rapallo, and from there I could just come over. And Zimbalist said, `Well, that makes it easy. We will pay all your expenses from Rapallo to Rome and back.' Mind you, this was all of $20. So the business manager was very happy that he could get me for $20 and not have to pay all my expenses from Hollywood to Rome.

So that's how it actually happened. My family and I went to Rapallo, I started to work on the double concerto, and then suddenly a telegram came--this was in the Summer, about August--asking would I come for 2 weeks. So we went, and were installed in a grand hotel, and Zimbalist and I discussed the bacchanal. He told me that he and the business manager went to Nice, and there was an African group, Ballet Africaan, and they'd engaged them, because that's something colorful and interesting and not just European dancers. I said, `Fine, in the Roman Empire during the time of Christ it's quite possible that an African troupe would have come and danced at the banquet which Arrius gives for Ben-Hur in Rome.' So the Ballet Africaan arrived. They were beautifully built dancers, and a few men who played drums. Well, we worked on it for several days and we got a choreographer--only drums, which was perfect for me, because I could just add a few instruments, which I did later. And everything went well, and the scene was that there was an enormous banquet hall, and these African girls rush in and start their dance under the fountains. Now Wyler had an idea, which was quite correct for the time, that there should be uncovered breasts. Well of course the studio thought this unheard of and said it couldn't be shown in America. (This has been greatly changed in the last 21 years!). So they made two versions, one with uncovered breasts and one with some garment. And as the cameraman, Bob Surtees, one of the finest cameramen in Hollywood, was very high up and shooting downwards, Wyler, who hears very badly, shouted up, `Bob, what do you see?', and Bob shouted down, `Tits!' Well, everyone laughed, but Wyler didn't understand him--as I say he didn't hear out of one ear. So he repeated the question and back came the same answer.

Well, it was a fascinating scene, and I discussed everything with the choreographer, and after two weeks when it was all finished I went back to Rapallo and continued my work on the double concerto. Coming back around September--the picture was still shooting, they had about three months still to shoot, because Wyler, good as he was, was very slow--he repeated scenes many, many times. For instance there's a little episode I remember, I went down around noon to his set when he was directing the famous scene with Messala, who after Ben-Hur and his family are taken away, goes to see the tile, whether it was really an accident that the tile got loose or was it deliberately thrown. Wyler sees me and comes over and says, `Tell me, can you express musically what a man feels when he's just sacrificed his best friend for his personal ambition?' I said I thought I could. He said, `Alright, lunch now!' After lunch he said, `Come back, I want you to see this. I will give you much more time--I did it much too fast. I will give you time until he looks around in the courtyard, goes up the stairs to the roof, examines the tile, and comes to the conclusion that it was all an accident, that Ben-Hur's innocent. However, he does not want to jeopardize the advantage that he's gained from the situation personally.' I said, `That's fine. I can use all the time you can give me to really express something.' In the evening they called me to the manager's (this is the famous `Business Manager') office, and they told me that my presence cost the studio ten thousand dollars because the whole morning's work was thrown away and had to be re-done, and if I show my face once more on the set, and Mr. Wyler gets into the temptation to re-do things, then they'll ship me back to Hollywood as fast as they can. I said, `Thank you'.

So, I was back in Hollywood in September, and I was driving on Sunset Boulevade when the radio announced that Sam Zimbalist, producer of Ben-Hur, still being filmed in Rome, has died of a heart attack. Well, the shock was terrible, I nearly went into a car before stopping at the last moment, hardly touching him, and I went home and called the studio and they confirmed the very sad news. The man was a very consciencious man. He worked very seriously, and he knew that this is not just one film, this is one of the greatest films ever made. Anyway, as I said, Wyler was rather slow, he did not deliver the amount of footage they wanted. Because of that Zimbalist got flattering letters from New York and Hollywood telling him that he's wasting the studio's money. And the head of the studio came to Rome and agreed with Sam that the footage was absolutely great, and said, `Sam, the success and the future of MGM is in your hands.' Well, that did it! This poor man was sleepless, and didn't dare say anything to Wyler about how much time he takes--he once told me, `He takes so much time, but look at the gorgeous stuff he turns out. The smallest actor plays like a star under his direction. What can I do?' Well, he got a heart attack.

So now there was no producer on the picture, so one of the executives was sent immediately to Rome, who of course was not a film maker but was overseeing the costs. Around Christmas I received a telegram from Rome that Mr. Wyler wants me there. It was the first time I flew this long distance, but it had to be immediately, and I flew over Stockholm and then to Rome. And Rome in December was very different from the Rome I knew during the Summer. There were no more tourists; Rome was returned to the Romans. I did what Mr. Wyler wanted me to do. There was a scene at the crucifixion where he wanted some women to cry and sing a hymn--later it was cut from the picture. We did that. And now I was in Rome, and he said I should stay till the end of his shooting period which was about the middle of January. I had not too much to do, but I thought now's the time to write things I couldn't do anywhere but in Rome. And I was thinking of the marches, and went up one day to the Forum Romanum where all this happened two thousand years ago. And it was a Sunday, there was nobody around, and I started to march on the Via Sacra, where all the big parades and marches took place, and I thought something must be still in the air, some inspiration will come which will sound Roman, authentic. And I wrote down ideas in a little book I always carry with me, and suddenly I saw two young girls who looked at me in astonishment, and suddenly one said to the other `Umpatzo!'--a madman. So I quickly put my book away and start to walk instead of marching, and they fled. However, the original idea of the Parade Of The Charioteers happened at that very moment, and that's what I later developed.

We needed about three marches; these I wrote in the studio, and suggested we record there with an Italian orchestra, which would sound authentic. We had the permission of Hollywood. Of my staying there a day or two longer, permission was needed, because it's always like that with the musicians. A writer or art director or actor, these are very important people who have to be kept no matter how long they're staying, but when it comes to a composer, well, who's a composer?--anyone can write music and any music will do. That was the general attitude of the so-called Production Managers both in Hollywood and Rome at that time.

However, I stayed to the very end and came back, and then the picture was tremendously long, of course. Ultimately it was released on 24 reels--the usual length of a picture is about 10 reels. And I told the studio that, as with Quo Vadis?, I cannot do it overnight, don't expect me to deliver a score two weeks after you finish the cutting; I want to start right now. Well, they were intelligent enough to understand this, and I started my work from a rough cut. A rough cut means that it's assembled as it was shot and will be shortened later--but I didn't care; I told them if it's shortened I'll shorten my music. The actual cutting lasted nine months. This is an unheard of time, because usually the final cut is finished in four weeks. But this was not an ordinary picture, and they needed time. They had the chief editor of MGM, Margaret Booth, who was with the studio about forty years and was the last word in editors-- all the present editors are her pupils. And Margaret and I became friends in Rome, where we went out for dinner very often, and she's the greatest professional person in Hollywood I have known. Naturally she worked together with Wyler, but the actual physical cutting was her responsibility (there were two other cutters who did the picture, naturally, because it was so enormous). And Wyler was in the studio supervising the cutting, and one day he told me he wanted to talk to me. I said, `Yes, anything--shall we discuss the music?' He said, `Yes, I have a musical idea.' Now this sounded ominous. I don't like it when the directors have musical ideas--usually they're commonplace things like, `Let's play the Stay-Spangled Banner here,' and if it's an English director, `Let's play God Save The King.' So, I went to his office, and he said, `Now, you've seen the Nativity scene. How do you like it?' I said, `I think it's very beautiful and very impressive.' He said, `Well, my idea is that there the music should play Adeste Fideles.' I said, `Adeste Fideles! Why?' He said, `Oh well, because it's a Christmas song.' I was terrified. I said, `But this is a sixteenth century latin hymn.' `Oh,' he said, `that doesn't make any difference.' `It does,' I said. `Our story is in the first century, and I'll try to create music which has some resemblance to music of the first century. And whatever my music is worth, it will be accepted as the music of the period.' `Oh,' he said, `I don't see your point.' I said, `If you want a Christmas song of that nature, why don't you play Irving Berlin's I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas. This is also a Christmas song.' He said, `Oh no, we want to have an old hymn and Adeste Fideles is good enough.' Well, I protested. He told me that when he did Dodsworth, the first scene was that Dodsworth, a New York businessman, is leaving his office, he's through, he's going--closing his drawers, sadly looking round his office and leaving the room. His Musical Director at that time was Alfred Newman, and Willy told him, `Of course at this point you should play Auld Lang Syne, which means Goodbye.' And Alfred Newman said, `Why not!' So he did play it, and everybody knew this is goodbye. `Well,' I said, `I'm not convinced at all, and I'm basically opposed to using Adeste Fideles. Because I would be the laughing stock of the whole world when we see the first Christmas and we play a song written sixteen hundred years later.' Well, he didn't get my point and I didn't see his. This went on for months. As I said the cutting period lasted nine months, and all through this time whenever he saw me he said, `How about it? Did you think about it?' I said, `Yes, I thought about it very carefully, and my answer is categorically no.' So I went to the head of the studio, and I said, `I want to make one thing clear. He wants to have Adeste Fideles and I am not going to use it. I am going to write my own music and whether this is accepted or not is not my business, but nobody can force me to use Adeste Fideles.' He said, `Yes, that's true, that's what I've said and that's my belief.' I said, `In that case, why do you want me to repeat this, with Adeste Fideles?' He thought for a while, because I caught him exactly with his own words, and he said, `Well okay, I want to hear what you've written.' I said, `You come to the recording session you will hear it."

Well, the nine months went by and I was working feverishly, and it was a wonderful period in my life for film music, because there was a great subject, a great film, and the story of our Lord. The recording was made in Hollywood, though the film was, like Quo Vadis? a European film, but the studio felt we should do it here because it would save time. Well, it did. I could get an eighty piece orchestra, chorus, anything I wanted. When it came to the recording, the first piece we recorded was the rowing of the galley slaves. He (Wyler) said nothing. We finally came to the Nativity scene. We recorded the music that you all know now, and he said, `Well, that is very lovely.' I said, `Thank you', and that took care of the whole question of using Adeste Fidelis. (I must say, in parenthesis, that Newman learned his lesson later, which probably shortened his life. He did The Greatest Story Ever Told, and the director forced him to record the Halleluiah Chorus from The Messiah. Newman wrote some very beautiful music, which I've heard, for the resurrection scene, but there was the director, who again knew better, who said, `No, it's the Halleluiah, because everybody knows the Halleluiah.' So, the film went out with this--it became the laughing stock of the whole world; people laughed at this magnificent scene where suddenly they hear The Messiah. And poor old Newman got very upset, and that was part of the heart condition that finally killed him.)

During the recording Wyler was always there. He made a few suggestion which usually were good--I accepted them if they were good. But once he started to tell me, Why does the oboe play that and why not the clarinet and this kind of thing, and he knew absolutely nothing; inasmuch as he learned the violin when he was young he thought he was a musician. So I said to the orchestra, `Ladies and Gentleman, you have a new conductor from now on. This is Mr. William Wyler who will take care of you from now on. Willy, here is my baton; please continue; I will listen to it.' He got a red face and said, `No, no, don't be silly, you just go ahead.' From then on there was no more interference.The Chariot Race from Ben-Hur

So we finished in friendship, and the dubbing started, again with 24 reels and this difficult material--it was a difficult job to put music and all the effects together. Finally we are doing the scene with the rowing of the galley slaves. They just did one take, which was very satisfactory--actually I devised this scene right from the beginning. There were four speeds of rowing as the battle got faster and more furious, and I insisted that this be done to a metronome, and the metronome was a drum. As you remember there was the hortator beating a rhythm for the slaves to row to as the battle gets faster and faster and more furious. And these four rhythms I recorded with a timpani in Rome, and I said, `These are the four speeds, and as they progress you have to play it back' --I wasn't there when it was actually shot-- `and they have to row in the same tempo, because otherwise you have people who row this way, that way, and this has to be synchronized.' So it was. Then I recorded my music to these four speeds, all in four sections getting faster and faster, and finally leading into the battle. Well, when Wyler came up and listened he said, `No, I don't want any music in this scene.' Well, all the dubbing people and Margaret Booth said, `But Mr. Wyler, the whole scene is flat!' He said, `Oh no, we have the hortator with his rhythm beating on wood, and that's the music I want.' They said, `For four minutes?' He said, `Yes, for four minutes.' So, they played it to him that way, and at that moment his brother Walter was there, and as they were born in France they both speak French. And I overheard a conversation--they didn't know I speak French--and Walter Wyler said, `Mais ecoute. Tu es fou. Sans Musique tu n'as pas une scene. C'est la musique qui fait la scene.' (But listen. You're mad. Without music you don't have a scene. It's the music that makes the scene.) Presently Wyler came back and said, `Well, alright, let's hear it once again, but with much less music.' They played it, but with much less music. He said, `No, that's not right. Let's try it with a little more music.' So, I have heard that the chief dubbing man called up on the telephone to the chief projectionist and said, `Put back the original track.' So they put back the original track, the same as he heard it when he wanted no music whatsoever, and he said, `This is it! Now you have it. This way is much better.' We said nothing, but people started to laugh and said, `Another battle has been won!'

Well, the picture was happily finished, and he never said a word about the music. He listened to about two weeks recording, about three, four weeks of dubbing, but never a word about whether he likes it or not. So I thought, He doesn't like it. We went to a preview of the film in Dallas, Texas, and it was an enormous success--really enormous. I've been to many previews, but I never had a preview like this; the audience stood up and applauded for minutes, and there was a big commotion, shouting and so on. And we came out of the cinema, and he came to me and embraced me and said, `You wrote a great score!' I said, `But Willy, you've heard this before, for weeks and weeks--you never said a word.' He said, `Ah, but my mother-in-law is a Texas girl. She lives here in Texas. She's a piano teacher who knows all about music, and she told me, "Willy, you have a great score," so I accept her judgement.' Since then I refuse to listen to mother-in-law jokes, because this mother-in-law saved my music in the film because...well, with Wyler anything could have happened; he was famous for being very difficult with composers. He was not difficult with me, really. But I was stubborn, as I usually am, and he didn't get anywhere so he gave in. The result was the picture was a tremendous success. It swept the whole world, and is still going around strongly, not only on television but with theatrical releases, and it is one of the cornerstones of film making not only in Hollywood but the whole world.

Miklós Rózsa receiving his Academy Award for Ben-Hur from Gene Kelly When the Academy Awards came in 1959, it swept the whole thing. There were eleven awards given to the film, including music, which was rather unusual because there are only twelve awards. The only thing that did not get an award was the script. It was written by Karl Tunberg, but in Rome Christopher Fry, a famous and very good English writer, was on the set with Wyler--I remember he was sitting next to him--re-writing the dialogue, making it more poetic, more dramatic, and more English in a way--or more archaic if you like. Wyler tried to get screen credit for both of them, splitting the credit, but the American Screenwriters Guild denied the credit for Mr. Fry, and Karl Tunberg was the only nominee. And as this was written up in the trade papers, and was a certain kind of a scandal, the Academy Award was not given to either man. Which actually was a pity because they both deserved it.

The rest, as they say, is history. The picture received its deserved credit, and as for the music I cannot complain. The Parade Of The Charioteers was published first for band and has been played in America for twenty years at football matches and at schools. And then I wrote eleven choruses based on themes from Ben-Hur and the next picture I did, King Of Kings, and this is actually the story of Jesus Christ, which has been recently recorded very well by the Brigham Young, Utah, University Choir--this has been sung in churches for twenty years since this cycle was first published. I added a twelfth one based on a beautiful poem by a Hungarian poet, and this will be now re-published in one book, and they hope it'll be played--it'll last about forty minutes--by orchestras all over the country.

Recordings of the music were numerous. There were two initial albums. The first done in Italy, conducted by Carlo Savina, because the American union did not allow me to conduct in Italy; and the second done in Nuremberg, where the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra is a favourite of mine in Europe, and we have recorded much of my music. The latest recording under my direction was for English Decca, which is just one record. Inasmuch as there is so much music in Ben-Hur I hope one day the whole score will be recorded, which will take easily two albums--but there is one problem: the orchestral scores, let alone the orchestral parts, do not exist anymore. This is rather incredible, but MGM threw out everything--not just Ben-Hur, not just my music, but some genius came there as head of the Music Department, saw all these scores lying around and said, `Throw these out, we don't need them.' They did not have the courtesy to call up the composers and ask would they like to have their scores back; they didn't have the vision to call up one university in the United States and ask if they'd like to have these scores, because all of them would like to have them now; they just said, `Throw them out!' So, the Decca album of Ben-Hur had to be re-orchestrated--fortunately I have my short scores, but the real scores are gone. And when it comes to a new recording of music which has not been recorded recently, it has to be again re-orchestrated, the parts copied, and that costs a lot of money. I have a suite of six pieces, published by Robbins, and this has been done quite a lot. I myself conducted it about two months ago in Detroit, where it made, I think--at least I felt it--a great impression on the audience. And when the famous Rowing Of The Galley Slaves came, the whole audience was applauding with the rhythm, and that was the music Mr. Wyler wanted to take out.

Well, this is the story more or less of Ben-Hur. I am glad that I had the opportunity to write it, and I can thank really Sam Zimbalist the producer, who assigned me to the picture, who withstood all the intrigues of the studio to get it away from me, for reasons I don't want to discuss; and even Mr. Wyler, who, even when he was not sure if his taste coincided with mine, did not cause any difficulties, and the music stayed in the picture as I wrote it. I know for sure that there is not going to be another Ben-Hur in my life.

© Copyright Ben-Hur
The Miklós Rózsa Film Music Society - Australia