Bob Cobert, ‘Dark Shadows’ and ‘Winds of War’ Composer, Dies at 95

Jon Burlingame

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Bob Cobert, the Grammy- and Emmy-nominated composer of television’s “Dark Shadows” and “The Winds of War,” died of pneumonia Feb. 19, in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 95.

Cobert’s themes for the 1960s Gothic horror soap “Dark Shadows” – “great spook music,” he once called it – were his most popular compositions, and “Quentin’s Theme” (for the character played by David Selby) became a top 10 hit in 1969 as recorded by the Charles Randolph Grean Sound, earning a Grammy nomination as Best Instrumental Theme.

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The “Dark Shadows” score, the first daytime soap to generate a best-selling soundtrack album, cemented Cobert’s partnership with the series’ creator-producer Dan Curtis, who continued to employ Cobert on nearly all of his television and film projects for the next four decades.

They did four features and more than two dozen television films together. Their largest-scale project was “The Winds of War,” the 18-hour 1983 miniseries based on Herman Wouk’s World War II novel, and its 1988-89 sequel, the 30-hour “War and Remembrance,” which brought Cobert an Emmy nomination for original score.

Curtis’s penchant for producing successful horror projects led to other memorable Cobert scores including his detective jazz for Darren McGavin as reporter Carl Kolchak in the hugely popular “The Night Stalker” (1972) and its sequel “The Night Strangler” (1973); a Romanian music-box treatment for Jack Palance in “Dracula” (1974); and a terrifying theme for the notorious Zuni doll menacing Karen Black in “Trilogy of Terror” (1975).

Their features included two based on the “Dark Shadows” series (“House of Dark Shadows” in 1970 and “Night of Dark Shadows” in 1971), the Bette Davis haunted-house tale “Burnt Offerings” in 1976 and the Danny Aiello comedy-drama “Me and the Kid” in 1993. Their other 1970s collaborations, all for television, included the high-rated Depression-era FBI dramas “Melvin Purvis, G-Man” and “Kansas City Massacre” in 1974-75 and the Western “Last Ride of the Dalton Gang” in 1979.

Curtis, in notes for a 2000 Varèse Sarabande collection of Cobert themes, wrote: “Bob has worked with me on nearly every picture I have made and has never failed me. It’s almost as if he could read my mind. People throw around this word too lightly, but in this case I am more than justified in using it: Bob Cobert is a true genius. He can write any kind of score and write it brilliantly.”

Robert Cobert was born October 26, 1924 in Brooklyn. He studied composition and conducting at New York’s Juilliard School during the war years and later studied composition at Columbia University with well-known classical composer Henry Cowell. During the ’40s, he also played clarinet and saxophone at such famous venues as the Stork Club and the Copacabana.

In the 1950s, his pop songs were recorded by such artists as Freddy Martin and Frances Wayne; his folk opera “Frankie and Johnny” and orchestral “Mediterranean Suite” were released on records. But television beckoned in 1960, as producer David Susskind hired Cobert to score such literary adaptations as “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Heiress” and the short-lived CBS horror anthology “Way Out.”

The New York-based composer also enjoyed great success with game-show themes including “Password,” “To Tell the Truth” and “The Price Is Right” in the 1960s and the “$25,000 Pyramid” (later the “$100,000 Pyramid”) in the 1980s. His other daytime TV credits included “The Doctors” soap and a “CBS Afternoon Playhouse,” “I Think I’m Having a Baby,” for which he received a 1981 Daytime Emmy nomination.

The “Dark Shadows” phenomenon, spurred by the introduction of vampire-as-tragic-figure Barnabas Collins in 1967, earned Cobert his greatest fame. “Quentin’s Theme,” introduced as a turn-of-the-century gramophone recording, was recorded by numerous artists including Henry Mancini and earned a special BMI citation for more than 100 million radio broadcasts. He returned to haunted Collinwood for the 1991 NBC prime-time reboot of “Dark Shadows.”

Cobert’s final score was for the 2005 Showtime film “Our Fathers,” based on the Catholic church sex scandal. In retirement, he remained popular on the “Dark Shadows” fan circuit, making several appearances at conventions; and he composed and recorded a “Requiem for Helen” in memory of his late wife. He also taught film composition at the University of Southern California.

Survivors include his children William, Holly and Suzy; and six grandchildren.

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