Composer-conductor and film-score icon John Williams has won five Academy Awards, and with 52 Oscar nominations, he holds the record for any living person.
His amazing array of nominated films includes the "Star Wars" franchise, episodes of the "Harry Potter" series, the "Indiana Jones" ’80s trilogy and the biopic "Lincoln" (2012), which featured Williams conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on the soundtrack.
Legendary director Steven Spielberg, who has worked with Williams for almost all of his own blockbusters, including "Jaws" (1974), "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) and "Jurassic Park" (1993), has said of his longtime friend and collaborator, “Without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly, nor do brooms in Quidditch matches, nor do men in red capes. There is no Force, dinosaurs do not walk the Earth, we do not wonder, we do not weep, we do not believe.”
Ahead of the CSO at the Movies live-to-picture presentation of "Jurassic Park" on March 25 and 27, here's a look back at Williams' Oscar legacy:
The first — "Just give me a doll!": After starting out in the ’50s as primarily a performer and occasional arranger-composer on TV series (including Blake Edwards' private-eye dramas "Peter Gunn" and "Mr. Lucky"), Williams segued to film scoring. After several movie credits in the ’60s, he scored his first Oscar nomination for the now-camp classic "Valley of the Dolls" (1967), based on Jacqueline Susann's tawdry best seller. "Dolls," in the parlance of the times, referred to downers — barbiturates and benzodiazepines. They are the drugs of choice for the film's strung-out protagonist Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), who keeps pleading: "Just give me a doll! Just one!"
Williams' first Oscar nomination came in the category (since eliminated) of best scoring of music, adaptation or treatment; he arranged instrumental versions of Andre and Dory Previn’s songs. As one film scribe noted, Williams' score "features swelling strings and over-the-top arrangements that fit the soap opera that is 'Valley of the Dolls.' " Alas, Williams lost to Alfred Newman and Ken Darby for "Camelot."
It should have been a contender — "Jurassic Park": Though now regarded as one of John Williams' most popular works, "Jurassic Park" won three Oscars — but received no nominations in the best score or song categories that year. However, Williams did walk off with Oscar gold — best score for another Spielberg film, "Schindler's List."
Williams drew inspiration from sound designer Gary Rydstrom's work with dinosaur grunts, which the composer described as "a rugged, noisy effort — a massive job of symphonic cartooning." While attempting to capture the dinosaurs' "rhythmic gyrations," Williams created what he called "these kind of funny ballets." As he did with Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), Williams felt he needed to compose "pieces that would convey a sense of awe and fascination," given that the movie dealt with "overwhelming extremes of happiness and excitement."
Two decades later, after the release of the latest sequel, the "Jurassic Park" soundtrack remained so popular that Williams' theme music went to No. 1 on Billboard magzine's Classic Digital Songs chart — while the soundtrack for the sequel "Jurassic World," written by Michael Giacchino, languished at No. 126 on Billboard's Top 200.
The Land of Lincoln lands "Lincoln": For his 2012 biopic about the Great Emancipator, Steven Spielberg once again recruited his favorite musical collaborator. Williams in turn persuaded Spielberg to tap the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for the task, since the composer-conductor had longed to work on a film soundtrack with the forces at Orchestra Hall.
Frank Villella, director of the CSO Rosenthal Archives, wrote about the collaboration for his From the Archives blog. “I can’t speak for Steven certainly, but I would guess that this particular project, 'Lincoln,' was viewed by him as a great responsibility and a daunting challenge very different than making a straightforward entertainment film,” Williams said. “For quite a few years now I’ve been conducting the Chicago Symphony ... one of our greatest orchestras in the country and certainly one of the best in the world. And every time I would come back from Chicago, I’d say, ‘Steven, that’s the greatest orchestra in Chicago. Someday we should do something with them,’ never really thinking that would be practical. And as we approached the time to make the decisions about where, when and how to do 'Lincoln,' I think Steven said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be a great time to have your friends down at the Chicago Symphony perform?’ ”
The ultimate insult: To speed up this year's televised Academy Awards on March 27, several categories, including best score — Williams' domain through the decades — will not be announced live. The winners in these categories will be honored before the ceremony and then their acceptance footage will be edited into the live telecast.
Dozens of Hollywood heavy hitters, including Williams and directors Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro, have written to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which oversees the event, to protest the move. Spielberg cited Williams’ “Jaws” score in his own rebuke of the decision, saying, “without John Williams, ‘Jaws’ would wear dentures” — that is, it would have no musical "teeth." Years earlier, Spielberg had declared: "The score was clearly responsible for half of the success of that movie.”