August 2015
Ray Turner and Dimitri Tiomkin

Dimitri and Olivia Tiomkin, 1973

Dimitri and Olivia Tiomkin, 1973

When Dimitri Tiomkin was living in London and Paris during the mid-1970s, his Hollywood fame followed him to Europe. He received copious fan mail and corresponded with friends and colleagues. Herschel Burke Gilbert, George Korngold, Bert Reisfeld, Harry Sukman, David Tamkin, and many others kept in touch, sometimes visited, and often reminisced about the Golden days of film music.

“Well, the good old days are over but the memories linger on,” wrote pianist Ray Turner to “Dimi” and Olivia Tiomkin in October 1975.

That letter and another from earlier the same year express gratitude and admiration for Tiomkin.

“You always tried for great effects in your pictures and it was wonderful to watch you at work.”

Turner 1975 letter

First page of a letter from Ray Turner to Dimitri Tiomkin, January 9, 1975

 

Turner bemoans the current situation and lack of work in Hollywood. “Since you left, everything that is electrifying and exciting in our business is gone.”

“They seem to want peculiar or crazy sounds on organs and [F]ender guitars nowadays.”

“I made less than three thousand dollars last year and the same the year before.” One of the gigs Turner did get was for television’s Carol Burnett Show.

“I may have to sell my home before long because I have had to borrow so much on it,” wrote Turner from his modest single story ranch-style brick and clapboard home in Cheviot Hills, a tony area of West Los Angeles, immediately south of and adjacent to Century City and Fox studios.

Dimitri Tiomkin's home
“When I pass your beautiful home on Windsor [pictured at left, Tiomkin's home on Windsor Avenue in Los Angeles, near Paramount studios] a lump comes in my throat when I think back to those grand parties when Sen. Lodge, Capra, Lebedeff and many notables* of great standing would attend.”

[*Turner is apparently referring to Senator George C. Lodge, director Frank Capra, and Russian actor Ivan Lebedeff.]

A master of honky tonk and ragtime piano, Turner was one of two pianists on bandleader Paul Whiteman’s 1926 tour of England. At the same time, Tiomkin himself was part of a piano duo playing vaudeville houses in the U.S. When sound came to film, both pianists found their way to Hollywood.

In addition to Whiteman, Turner’s career was helped along by composers Victor Young and Tiomkin. Tiomkin employed Turner as a session musician on such films as D.O.A. and High Noon.

Turner was the subject of a 1938 newspaper article, “All Film Fans Have Heard Ray Turner at the Piano, But He’s Never on Screen.” The article details his job as head pianist, off-screen musical double, and accompanist at Paramount studio, working with musical stars such as Bing Crosby.


Ray Turner clipping


Looking back in October 1975, Turner wrote to Tiomkin, “But I have had quite an interesting career as a pianist and you did so much to make it so.”

Raymond Turner died the following year in February 1976, a month shy of his 73rd birthday. Although his musical performances went largely uncredited during his lifetime, Turner’s anonymity has been appeased through archival recordings, CD liner notes, the Internet, and IMDb. Film music aficionados and others have come to know and appreciate Turner’s body of work.

Ray Turner at the piano

The elusive Ray Turner playing the piano in a screen capture from “Millions in the Air” with Bob Cummings and Eleanor Whitney.

Sources

Letter from Ray Turner to Tiomkin, January 9, 1975

Letter from Ray Turner to Tiomkin, October 18, 1975

All Film Fans Have Heard Ray Turner at the Piano, But He’s Never on Screen,” by Paul Harrison, Milwaukee Journal, October 22, 1938


It never fails, a day after posting the above we came across the following picture and brief bio of Raymond Turner in “Music and Dance in California,” edited by Jose Rodriguez, Bureau of Musical Research, Hollywood, 1940.

Raymond Turner pic and bio

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