Elmer Bernstein (April 4, 1922 – August 18, 2004) was an American composer best known for his work writing music for film and television.
Bernstein was born in New York City. During his childhood he performed professionally as a dancer and an actor and won several prizes for his painting. He gravitated toward music by his own choice at the age of twelve, at which time he was given a scholarship in piano by Henriette Michelson, a Juilliard teacher who guided him throughout his entire career as a pianist. She took him to play some of his improvisations for composer Aaron Copland. Copland was encouraging and selected Israel Citkowitz as a teacher for the young boy.
He wrote the theme songs or other music for more than 200 films and TV shows, including The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Ten Commandments (1956), The Man with the Golden Arm, To Kill a Mockingbird, Robot Monster, and the fanfare used in the National Geographic television specials.
Most of his compositions, particularly his movie themes, are recognizable for being syncopated or off-beat.
Bernstein was recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with Golden Globes for his scores for To Kill a Mockingbird and Hawaii. In 1963 he was awarded the Emmy for Excellence in Television for his score of The Making of The President, 1960. He is the recipient of Western Heritage Awards for The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). He received five Grammy nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and garnered two of Broadway's coveted Tony Award nominations for How Now Dow Jones and Merlin.
Additional honors included Lifetime Achievement awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), The Society for the Preservation of Film Music, the USA, Woodstock, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach and Flanders International Film Festivals and the Foundation for a Creative America. In 1996, Bernstein was honored with a star on Hollywood Boulevard. In 1999, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Five Towns College in New York and was honored by the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Bernstein again was honored by ASCAP with its marquee Founders Award in 2001, and with the NARAS Governors Award in June 2004. He received 14 Academy Award nominations, but his only win was for Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Along with many in Hollywood, Bernstein faced censure during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. He was "gray-listed" (not banned, but kept off major projects) due to sympathy with left-wing causes, and had to work on low-budget science fiction films such as Robot Monster and Cat-Women of the Moon.
Bernstein died in his sleep, at his home in Ojai, California.
He was not related to composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein.
Works for Broadway theater