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Space Age Music Maker

Stanley Wilson

  • Born 25 November 1915, New York City
  • Died 17 July 1970, Aspen, Colorado

A key figure in Hollywood's music industry in the 1950s and 1960s, Stanley Wilson rarely recorded specifically for record audiences, but two of his albums are classics of space age pop. Pagan Love is a prime piece of jungle exotica, a collection of Wilson originals depicting various aspects of romance and sex among the primitives--at least, as seen by Hollywood. Music from "M-Squad" collects incidental music from the bloody television detective show starring Lee Marvin--most of it written by Wilson or Benny Carter--and featuring the theme by Count Basie Orchestra that was introduced in the series' second season. As might be predicted with that cast of contributors, Music from "M-Squad" is a choice sample of crime jazz.

Wilson started out in the music biz as a trumpeter in Dixieland-style bands in the 1930s. After World War Two, he joined MGM's music department in Los Angeles, moving a year later to Republic, where he churned out scores for countless B-movies and serials. In the late 1950s, he joined the new television arm of Universal Studios as head of creative activities, which meant he was in charge of putting music behind all of the studio's productions, hiring and assigning composers, arrangers, orchestrators, and conductors--which were often rolled into a single job. In this position, Wilson employed many of the other arrangers and composers mentioned on this site--most notably, Juan Garcia Esquivel, with whom he composed the signature melody that accompanied the Universal emblem at the end of all the studio's shows.

Wilson often pitched in to fill in the gaps in the production schedule. Elmer Bernstein recalled him running from studio to studio in the course of a day, conducting one session, assisting with scoring at another, selecting cuts from archive music to accompany a low-budget show at a third. Toward the end of his career with Universal, he began to dedicate more of his own time to specific shows, composing themes and much of the background music for "It Takes a Thief," "The Bold Ones," and "The Name of the Game." Benny Carter and Stanley Wilson, 1962

He traveled to France in 1963 to record the soundtrack to the television special, "Princess Grace's Monaco." It was one of his rare professional trips outside the U.S., and he was impressed by the quality of the French musicians he worked with in Monte Carlo: "I found the orchestra most proficient, cooperative ... equal in most respects to the studio musicians that I had been working with." After the shooting was finished, he accepted a small job of arranging and conducting an album of French standards, accompanied by "M-Squad" colleague and jazz great, Benny Carter. On the album, The World of Sights and Sounds, Stop One: Paris, Wilson manages to create a very pleasant blend of rich strings, a small jazz combo fronted by Carter, and an effervescent wordless vocal choir led by Michel Legrand's sister, Christiane.

Wilson is still remembered as an exceptionally supportive musical director. Sandy DeCrescent, Universal's orchestrator, recalled for Fred Karlin's book, Listening to Movies,

Stanley Wilson was the most wonderful, nuturing kind of person. He started a lot of young composers. Dave Grusin, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Lalo Schifrin, Billy Goldenberg--he was like the big daddy....He found talent through their tapes, and the recommendations of other people. And Stanley was always looking and always wanting to help people.... When he died, I don't think I have ever, ever seen an outpouring of grief as there was for this man....

The pace of his work may have caught up with him in the end, however. Wilson died suddenly of a heart attack moments after addressing the 1970 Aspen Music Festival on the subject of composing for films and television.


  • Pagan Love, Capitol T-1552
  • Music from "M-Squad," RCA LSP-2062
  • Top TV Themes, Decca DLP 74481
  • The World of Sights and Sounds--Stop One: Paris, CRC Charter CLM 105

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