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July 26, 2013
Frank Comstock Dead at 90
Adam-12, Rocky and Bullwinkle composer had diverse and notable career in film, TV, big band by Jon Burlingame
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—Frank Comstock, Emmy-nominated composer for TV shows including Adam-12 and Rocky and His Friends, and arranger for big bands and such vocalists as Doris Day and the Hi-Los, died on May 21. He was 90.
Comstock was among the last of the great swing-band arrangers who later found work in the film and television studios and went on to compose memorable, iconic themes familiar to generations of Americans.
He was born Sept. 20, 1922, in San Diego, and began playing the trombone at the age of 8. He began arranging in high school and never had a formal lesson in arranging or orchestration. Upon graduation from high school, he joined the Sonny Dunham band as trombonist-arranger and, in 1942, joined Benny Carter's band as arranger. In 1943 he joined Les Brown and His Band of Renown as chief arranger and remained in that capacity until 1965.
In 1947, while continuing to arrange for Brown, Comstock began freelancing in the Hollywood studios and for various record labels. Doris Day sang his arrangements with the Brown band, and that resulted in Comstock writing arrangements for her on such films as I'll See You in My Dreams (1951), On Moonlight Bay (1951), By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), April in Paris (1952), Calamity Jane (1953) and others. Comstock and Day remained friends to the end of his life and, as late as the 1990s, still joked about going back on the road.
He often went uncredited, as with his arrangement of "I Wanna Be Loved by You" for Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot (1959) or work on The Desert Song (1953), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and Finian's Rainbow (1968). He did get screen credit for his orchestrations on The Eddie Cantor Story (1953), The Helen Morgan Story (1957), The Music Man (1962), Hello, Dolly! (1969) and other films.
In the 1950s, Comstock became friendly with producer-star and jazz fan Jack Webb, who hired Comstock to supply the themes and underscore for his TV series The D.A.'s Man (1959), Temple Houston (1963-64), Adam-12 (1968-75) and Escape (1973). His sole Emmy nomination was for scoring the 1970 Adam-12 episode "Elegy for a Pig." In addition, he scored many episodes of Pete Kelly's Blues (1959) and Dragnet (1968-70); the feature film The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961) and the TV-movies The D.A.: Murder One (1969) and The D.A.: Conspiracy to Kill (1971), all Webb productions.
He also wrote the theme and scores for the Dean Jones comedy Ensign O'Toole (1962-63); composed scores for such 1960s sitcoms as Gilligan's Island, McHale's Navy and F Troop; arranged much of the jukebox music heard during the early seasons of the 1970s hits Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley; and scored the TV-movie The Night That Panicked America (1975).
Perhaps most significantly, Comstock penned the original themes for several segments of the animated Rocky and His Friends (1959-61), specifically "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," "Fractured Fairy Tales," "Peabody's Improbable History" and "Bullwinkle's Corner." Fellow composer Fred Steiner conducted the music in Mexico in order to save on union costs, but when producer Jay Ward learned that Comstock had retained publishing rights to the music, he ordered new themes written by Steiner that Ward's company would own, and these eventually replaced Comstock's.
His association with Les Brown resulted in his contributions of arrangements to Bob Hope TV specials for 15 years. Over the years, he also arranged songs for variety shows headlined by Judy Garland, Andy Williams and Carol Burnett.
In addition to his work in the studios, he was a busy arranger for records, especially in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. He worked with the innovative vocal group The Hi-Los, in collaboration with vocal arranger Gene Puerling, throughout the 1950s; he also wrote charts for Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney and other singers, and contributed arrangements for theme-park rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
His own albums included A Young Man's Fancy (1954), Patterns (1955), the cult exotica favorite Project Comstock: Music From Outer Space (1962) and – a favorite among TV-theme collectors – TV Guide Top Television Themes (1959), on which he shared arranging duties with Warren Barker. His last known recording projects were arrangements for contemporary jazz bandleader Brian Setzer just four years ago.
©2013 Jon Burlingame
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