R.I.P. Pat Williams, ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Composer

Pat Williams took the job of scoring the Mary Tyler Moore Show pilot because his friend Allan Burns, who co-created the show with James L. Brooks, asked him to. It wasn’t, to be sure, that he knew it would become a classic for the ages. In fact, he’d heard nothing but bad things about it from industry friends. “It wasn’t like cymbals crashed and you heard a wild C-major chord from an orchestra when the Mary Tyler Moore Show pilot was made,” he told me for my book, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

The man who used that perfect music metaphor within that wry comment died Wednesday at 79. He gave Mary Tyler Moore its distinctive score throughout its seven-year run, inserting delicate echoes of the show’s indelible theme song (written and performed by Sonny Curtis) played by strings, flutes, clarinets, and flugelhorns. “I thought there was a certain vulnerability to the feeling of the show,” he said, “and that’s what I tried to put into the music.” He scored each episode individually and by hand, working the music in with the natural, live audience laughter in the rough cuts. A 25-piece orchestra played his compositions.

He went on to score many of the MTM Enterprises shows, including The Bob Newhart Show and Lou Grant. He was also a Grammy-winning big-band jazz musician, but to the industry, he will be remembered, as one fellow composer said, as “the undisputed king of the three-second cue.”

 

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