What Those Who Remembered Forgot: Cy Feuer (1911-2006) on the Air

Well, the marquee lights of New York City’s playhouses will be dimmed tonight at 8 PM (EST) in commemoration of Tony Award-winning theatrical producer and composer Cy Feuer, who passed away this week at the age of 95. Active for well over half a century on Broadway and in Hollywood, Feuer produced shows like Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, wrote original scores for a great number of popular movies (including the much loved Adventures of Captain Marvel [1941], and served as musical director for numerous other motion picture projects.

I first heard the name Cy Feuer, who published his memoir in 2003, while listening to recordings of a late-1940s series of radio thrillers titled Escape. So, as I have done before in tributes to Shelley Winters and Don Knotts, I will provide a footnote to the obituaries you might find elsewhere.

Escape presented adaptations of adventure yarns, fantastic tales, and horror stories by noted authors like Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Among the stories rendered more exciting or eerie to the ear by Feuer, who composed the music as well as conducted the orchestra, were Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” John Collier’s “Evening Primrose,” and—the stand-out of the series—Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen Versus the Ants.”

The musical accompaniment for such high melodrama was generally less noticeable or noteworthy than the sound effects, and more often incidental rather than integral; unlike the terrifying animal sounds conceived and created by the Escape sound artists, music was employed mainly to set scenes or enhance atmosphere. It is only when you pay attention to those bridges and screens of sound that you appreciate them as being of some consequence.

Feuer—whose work was also featured on the Ford Theater program, the episodic thriller Case, Crime Photographer, and the short-lived adventure serial Shorty Bell, starring Mickey Rooney—was not given much of a chance to turn musical sounds into characters; like fellow Escape alumni Ivan Ditmars, Leith Stevens, and Wilbur Hatch, he had largely to content himself with producing the odd note to prop up or propel the plot, however odd or ordinary.

In order to fulfill their weekly assignments, radio composers commonly recycled stock music (like the musical crutches handed to The Lone Ranger when he came to television, for the supply of which Feuer is now being credited). Perhaps this is what compelled former radio composer Bernard Herrmann to emerge from the airwaves by making his music speak for and draw attention to itself, refusing to let film scores—such as the intense ones he created for Vertigo and Obsession—go under by pounding them into the viewer’s consciousness so as to let them take center stage in their minds.

On at least one occasion, however, Feuer was involved in something a trifle more ambitious, when, on 25 August 1946, he was called upon to conduct the orchestra assembled for the Columbia Workshop. Billed as “radio’s foremost laboratory of writing and production techniques,” the Workshop produced the experimental play “The Path and the Door” by newcomer Les Crutchfield (previously mentioned here), which boasted a score by modernist composer George Antheil, who had never before worked in or for broadcasting.

To intrigue audiences, radio producers were more likely to invite artists new or altogether alien to the medium, rather than permitting the reliable Girls and Guys Friday of the business to make a name for themselves. Making his escape from the radio (and B-movie thriller) mill, Cy Feuer eventually earned such distinction on the Great White Way, which will appear somewhat less dazzling during tonight’s 60-second salute to a man who managed to “Succeed in Business” these past six decades.

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