Music by Max Steiner: The Epic Life of Hollywood’s Most Influential Composer

Oxford Univ. May 2020. 424p. ISBN 9780190623272. $34.95. MUSIC
Exhaustively combing archives and special collections in the United States and abroad, Smith (A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann) paints a rich portrait of Max Steiner (1888–1971), composer of some of the greatest film scores of all time. The backstories of the music for Gone with the Wind, King Kong, Casablanca, and other films are as full of drama as Steiner’s private life. Born into a theatrical family in imperial Austria, he enjoyed a long career that took him from 19th-century Vienna to 1920s Broadway to the Golden Age of Hollywood. One of the highest paid composers in Hollywood, Steiner was nevertheless plagued by debts, owing to a gambling habit and frequent marriages. Smith has a keen eye for detail and a genuine appreciation for his subject, deftly combining details of Steiner’s personal life along with compelling accounts of his work with a roster of Hollywood notables and discussions of his composing methods.
VERDICT This well-crafted biography will have film buffs applauding.
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