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A remarkably prolific composer, Victor Young wrote songs and underscoring that appeared in hundreds of films which earned him 22 Academy Award nominations during his relatively short career. Although Young died after only twenty years in the business, romance standards like "When I Fall in Love," "Stella By Starlight" and "Love Letters" kept him alive in film credits long past 1956.
The son of a tenor with the Chicago Opera, Young proved a child prodigy, beginning to play the violin at age six. About four years later, following the death of their mother, the young boy and his sister Helen were sent to live with their grandfather in Poland. Although he was a tailor of meager means, Young's grandfather recognized his charges' musical potential and managed to send them both to study at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music. While still a teenager, Young made his debut as a concert violinist at the Warsaw Philharmonic before moving on to tours of Europe and the United States. The classically trained musician proved a remarkably adept composer of popular tunes. His memorable melodies were big hits in his day and live on as durable standards, songs that remain part of every nightclub singer's repertoire to the present. Young had his first hit with 1928's "Sweet Sue, Just You," and would later find success matching his melodies with evocative scoring, becoming a prolific and respected film composer.
In 1936 Young began working for Paramount Pictures, first as a musical director and soon as the studio's chief composer and arranger, scoring and arranging nearly 100 feature films there. His ability and versatility were proven with his flawless work on such disparate efforts as the large scale Western "Wells Fargo" (1937), the zany Preston Sturges comedy "The Palm Beach Story (1942) and the Raymond Chandler-penned suspenseful drama "The Blue Dahlia" (1946). Young's notable Paramount features also include his magnificent scoring of the 1943 war drama "For Whom the Bell Tolls," the atmospheric accompaniment to Fritz Lang's "Ministry of Fear" (1944), his melodic and heart-wrenching music for the moving melodrama "To Each His Own" (1946) and the unforgettable score for "Shane" (1953). His capabilities as a film composer, and particularly as a memorable theme writer, could often make an otherwise unremarkable movie noteworthy, as was the case with 1945's "Love Letters," largely uninspired aside from Young's romantic title tune.
Remarkably prolific, the composer's credit appeared in dozens of films for studios other than Paramount. Young did outstanding work at Republic Pictures, his compositions including the dulcet theme for "Rio Grande" (1950), the lilting take on traditional music for "The Quiet Man" (1952), and the dramatic scoring for the flamboyant Western "Johnny Guitar" (1954). His work for other studios also won him several Oscar nominations, including the original score to Columbia Pictures' "Golden Boy" (1939), and the title songs of both "My Foolish Heart" (RKO, 1950) and "Written on the Wind" (Universal, 1956)--both of which also proved top chart hits.
The composer teamed up with various lyricists during his career, most frequently and most notably with Ned Washington, who put words to Young's classics including "My Foolish Heart" and "Stella by Starlight." Other lyric contributors include Arthur Freed, writer of "Wells Fargo," and "Love Letters" lyricist Edward Heyman. In addition to his busy film career, the composer won an Emmy Award for his work as musical director of the special "Light's Diamond Jubilee" (1954), a television celebration of Edison's invention of the light bulb that aired on the then-four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and Dumont). He was also the musical director of "The Milton Berle Show" (NBC, 1955-56). After his 1956 death, Young finally won an Academy Award for that year's sublime score to "Around the World in 80 Days."
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Began playing violin at age six (date approximate)
Sent to live with grandparents in Warsaw after mother's death and father's abandonment (date approximate)
Had first hit record with "Sweet Sue, Just You"; lyrics by Will J Harris
Formed his own orchestra, alternately billed as The Victor Young Orchestra and Victor Young and His Singing Strings
Began working for Paramount Pictures, first as a musical director and then as chief composer and arranger, scoring dozens of movies for the studio
Wrote the dramatic and involving Oscar-nominated score for the film adaptation of Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
Wrote the charming popular theme to the otherwise unremarkable film "Love Letters"
Scored the moving melodrama "To Each His Own"
His theme song to "My Foolish Heart" earned the composer hit status and an Oscar nomination
Composed the appropriately lively score for "The Quiet Man", starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara
Wrote the score (including Peggy Lee's popular theme song) to the flamboyant Western "Johnny Guitar", starring Joan Crawford
Posthumously won first Academy Award for the 1956 effort "Around the World in 80 Days"