This month marks the 55th anniversary of the 1960 film The Alamo, produced and directed and starring John Wayne. Garnering a coveted best picture nod from the Motion Picture Academy, the film picked up a total of seven nominations, including one for supporting actor Chill Wills. Dimitri Tiomkin came away with nominations for the music score and the now-classic song, “The Green Leaves of Summer.”
Fifty-five years ago concert performances of film scores were few and far between. Aficionados of film music had to rely on soundtrack recordings and even those could be nonexistent or difficult to find. Today one can log on to Movies in Concert, pick a random day, and choose from a whole smorgasbord of concert listings for film music in performance around the world.
In October 1960 residents of San Antonio were therefore fortunate to live in the city of the iconic Spanish mission that spawned legendary stories, books, and now, a movie based on the Battle of the Alamo. Two days prior to hosting the world premiere of the motion picture, the city was home to the world premiere of “The Alamo Suite” featuring the San Antonio Symphony.
The Symphony Concert
The concert took place at the Municipal Auditorium on Saturday, October 22, 1960.
To start, Clifton Williams, a local composer, music professor, and resident horn player with the Symphony, conducted the world premiere of his composition, “Festival.” The program notes by Richard T. Andrews explain the “music is incisive and interesting, understandable without being banal.”
The Symphony’s resident conductor, Victor Alessandro, led the orchestra before and after intermission through Dvorak’s Fourth Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Symphonic Fantasy after Dante.
For the final work of the evening, “The Alamo Suite,” Tiomkin took to podium to conduct the orchestra and the combined choruses of Trinity University and San Antonio College.
The suite told the story of the film in music through a Prelude, De Guello, Arrival of Davy Crockett, Cattle Raid, Tennessee Babe, Ballad of the Alamo, Green Leaves of Summer, and Attack on the Alamo and Finale.
The opening sentences of Andrews’s program notes on Tiomkin’s place in future history resonate:
In future times when the music of today has become history, experts in their researches will certainly interest themselves in music incidental to present-day films, much of it of a superior quality which all too often passes through the ears of the listener unheeded, in the absorption of the drama. Among the composers in this field, a pre-eminent place will be held by Dimitri Tiomkin whose work has been associated with large numbers of important and significant motion pictures.
This may have been one of the first times that underscore from a film was performed live in concert prior to the release of the film.
An Edible Alamo
On Monday, October 24, festivities were scheduled throughout the day leading up to the evening premiere.
John Wayne and actress Linda Cristal attended a Frontier Breakfast served by the San Antonio Restaurant Association on the lawn fronting the Alamo. Some 1,000 people attended.
A local bakery that served baked goods to the cast and crew of the Alamo production during filming stepped up to provide an edible Alamo in honor of the premiere.
Honors for Wayne, Grant, and Tiomkin
John Wayne, writer James Grant, and Dimitri Tiomkin were honored at a luncheon attended by Texas governor Price Daniel, the assistant to the governor of Maryland, and others at the Menger hotel. Tiomkin was made an honorary professor of music at St. Mary’s University by the school’s president, Rev. Walter Buehler.
The Film Premiere
The world premiere of the film took place at the Woodlawn Theater. Some rain didn’t stop a throng of enthusiastic fans who cheered the arrivals of Dimitri Tiomkin, John Wayne, Chill Wills, Pat Wayne, Frankie Avalon, Richard Widmark, Linda Cristal, Mrs. Robert Kennedy, Governor Price Daniel, Senator Ralph Yarborough, and San Antonio mayor John Kuykendahl.
The London Premiere
On Tuesday, October 25, Wayne flew to London where he was joined by Tiomkin for the Royal premiere of The Alamo at the Charing Cross Road Astoria Theater.
Program, San Antonio Symphony, No. 3, October 22, 1960
“Showers Fail to Wash Away Premiere Glamor,” by Jay Rogers, San Antonio Express, October 24, 1960
“‘Alamo’ Creators Honored for Filming,” San Antonio Light, October 25, 1960