Rejected scores, unrealized projects, and times when things just don’t work out are all part of a film composer’s work life. Near the end of Dimitri Tiomkin’s scoring career he was scheduled to score the Western drama, Welcome to Hard Times. Conceived as a television movie, it was first released theatrically in May 1967, then broadcast on television in December the same year.
Tiomkin’s nascent film composing career took root at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Culver City, California in the late 1920s, when he provided music for MGM short films, such as Devil-May-Care and Crazy House, featuring ballets conceived and choreographed by his wife Albertina Rasch. Tiomkin signed a multi-picture contract with MGM in the fall of 1929. (Unlike most other Hollywood composers of the studio era, Tiomkin was never under a long-term contract to a studio.)
Coming full circle, he signed a two-picture contract with MGM on October 14, 1963. The first assignment was apparently for 36 Hours, a spy thriller starring James Garner, Rod Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint. The music was recorded at the MGM scoring stage in Culver City, in August and September of 1964, and the film was released in 1965.
The following year Saul N. Rittenberg (1912–2005), who headed MGM’s legal department, wrote to Tiomkin to confirm the second assignment. Tiomkin was to commence work on Welcome to Hard Times between September 23 and October 3, with scoring to be completed within six weeks, as allowed by the film’s post-production schedule.
By this time Saul Rittenberg was well established in entertainment law practice, having cut his teeth with the Los Angeles firm Loeb & Loeb, specializing in the motion picture industry. A decade later he testified before Congress as an authority on copyright law for the landmark Copyright Act of 1976.
Tiomkin countersigned a copy of Rittenberg’s August 1966 letter a day after receiving it. Welcome to Hard Times, a moral tale of frontier life was based on E.L. Doctorow’s debut novel, and would be directed by Burt Kennedy and star Henry Fonda.
MGM vice president and studio head Robert M. Weitman announced on August 22 that Tiomkin would score Welcome, after nearly a week of discussions with the composer and the film’s producers Max E. Youngstein and David Karr.
By October 7, by mutual agreement “for the reasons which you explained to us,” Tiomkin was relieved of his commitment to the film and to any obligation for a second picture. The “us” was Rittenberg and Bob Weitman.
“It is further understood that no compensation is to be paid for the time you spent on WELCOME TO HARD TIMES nor for any ideas or suggestions offered by you for the picture.”
And that was that. Within days Tiomkin countersigned Rittenberg’s letter of October 7, and Tiomkin’s secretary subsequently returned the script to Weitman.
By early November composer Harry Sukman had been signed to score the film. Sukman and Tiomkin were lifelong friends; Sukman was at the piano for the recording sessions of Wild Is the Wind a decade earlier.
Reviews for Welcome to Hard Times were generally unfavorable, “Unsatisfactory oater for bottom of grind bills,” noted a Variety reviewer. Life magazine film critic Richard Schickel offered some hope in his review, “Neorealism on the Old Corral” calling the film imperfect, but worthy of viewing. Variety’s Boxoffice BookinGuide did note that Sukman’s music was outstanding.
One last note of interest, MGM took some heat from exhibitors for airing the film on ABC-TV just seven months after it was released to theaters. The studio had to publicly assure the National Association of Theatre Owners that theaters remain the “primary” market for MGM features and NATO president Julian Rifkin said he was convinced that the incident was a “mistake which is not likely to be repeated and which is not likely to set any precedent.”
Letters from Saul N. Rittenberg to Dimitri Tiomkin, August 17, 1966, and October 7, 1966
“Tiomkin to Tune MGM’s ‘Welcome’,” Variety, August 22, 1966
“Sukman Tunes ‘Times’,” Variety, November 2, 1966
“Welcome to Hard Times,” Variety film review, March 29, 1967
“Neorealism on the Old Corral,” by Richard Schickel, Life, May 26, 1967
“MGM Assures Exhibs No More Pix Will Go To TV In 7 Months,” Variety, January 9, 1968