Else Blangsted, a Holocaust survivor who went on to a 35-year career as a film music editor who worked with some of the industry’s most successful directors, producers and composers – Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Dave Grusin, Sydney Pollack, among others – died Friday, May 1, from natural causes at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99.
Blangsted’s death, which occurred just three weeks short of her 100th birthday, was confirmed by her cousin, the Oscar–winning filmmaker and producer Deborah Oppenheimer.
Though she occasionally worked in TV throughout the years – Hazel, Dennis the Menace, Apple’s Way and the 1976 miniseries Helter Skelter, among others – it was in film that Blangsted left her most indelible professional mark. A partial roster of her film credits, spanning 1955’s Picnic to 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, includes On Golden Pond, The Great Santini, Ordinary People, The Color Purple, The Goonies, In Cold Blood, Cactus Flower, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Front, Tootsie, All of Me, A Dry White Season, The Milagro Beanfield War, Children of a Lesser God, A Soldier’s Story, Under the Volcano, Racing with the Moon, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Absence of Malice, Goin’ South, The Electric Horseman, And Justice for All, Meatballs, Six Weeks and Fort Apache, The Bronx.
“She was a brilliant woman,” said composer and longtime friend Randy Newman. “I loved her. She wished me well, even after she knew me.”
Other filmmakers, actors and composers with whom Blangsted worked were Jack Nicholson, Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, Stanley Kramer, John Huston, Norman Jewison, Mark Rydell, Richard Benjamin, Richard Donner, Martin Ritt, Dudley Moore, Phil Alden Robinson, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Brian DePalma, Joseph Sargent, Tony Bill, Leonard Nimoy, Randa Haines, Nicholas Meyer, Ulu Grosbard, Tony Richardson and Ivan Reitman.
“The loss of Else Blangsted is a tragic milestone in my life,” said Grusin, the composer who was her frequent collaborator. “For years, she was my anchor in the turbulent and frantic business of scoring for film. And while the ultimate use of film music is to enhance the movie, we also needed to satisfy the powers that be: the directors and producers (and sometimes the stars.) But for me, the most pertinent question about my own work always was: ‘Does Else think it’s okay?’ She was my personal quality guru, and she extended that humanity into many other parts of my life. Vielen dank, meine liebste Else.”
Actor James Cromwell, a longtime and close friend, paid tribute: “William Faulkner said, ‘I believe man will not merely endure: he will prevail.’ Else endured the rise of fascism and prevailed, even in Hollywood. Her indefatigable will, her fierce commitment to the work, her loyalty to those she loved, and her contempt of the banal made her a legend and a force to be reckoned with. To Else, everything good had music, and when she heard the music, she danced. We met at a wedding when she walked up to me and said, ‘You want to dance?’ And, boy, could she dance. We danced together for 30 years, and our last was as sublime as our first. She was my best friend, and, take her for all in all, I shall not look upon her like again.”
Blangsted, according to information provided by her family, lived a remarkable life of tragedy and joy: She grew up in a Jewish family in Nazi Germany, got pregnant out of wedlock as a teen in 1936, attempted suicide, gave birth to a daughter she believed to have been stillborn, and fled Germany in 1937 for Hollywood.
She landed her first job there as a nanny for the family of producer Mervyn LeRoy, and soon began working in the industry’s studios, including a short-term stint as an actress. On being cast in a Cecil B. DeMille film, she later recalled, “I had a small part in Samson and Delilah. You can see me in the movie — I’m standing behind Hedy Lamarr, and they put this wig on me with blonde curls that made me look like a cocker spaniel. There were 300 extras in this scene who had to start running when Samson pulled down the walls of the temple. I asked DeMille if we could have a rehearsal because I was scared of being trampled. He refused and did the scene. You know anytime you fear something, that is when it will happen — I did get trampled. I got hurt. That was the end of my acting career.”
Preceded in death by husband Folmar Blangsted, a film editor, Blangsted was 64 when she met the 48-year-old daughter that she’d been told had died at birth. She is survived by two daughters, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
At 88, Blangsted became the first music editor to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, with presenter Robert Redford introducing her as a woman with “the mind of an artist and the soul of a saint.” After dancing through the crowd, Blangsted accepted the award, saying, “Like everyone else, I did my job, and I did my best. I just did it longer, not better.”
In 2011, Blangsted told author and songwriter Paul Zollo that her job had changed considerably over the years. “It’s an entirely different system today,” she said. “We did everything by hand. No one cuts film anymore. It’s all digital. In my day, the music editor was the communicator, ideologically speaking, between the composer and the director.”
According to her family, Blangsted, ever the music editor, requested the songs she hoped would be played at her memorial: Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”
Another of Blangsted’s wishes was very nearly achieved: She’d hoped to see 100, as her mother had. “And that’s enough,” she said. “One gets tired.”