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A Tale of Two Themes: THE OUTER LIMITS, ONE STEP BEYOND, and Harry Lubin

By John C. Alsedek:

Now that five decades or so have gone by, my memory regarding this isn’t as sharp as it once was. But I do remember being a big Outer Limits fan as a kid, and I was just old enough to know how Roman numerals worked. So, when I discovered One Step Beyond in syndication a year or two later, my first thought was, Hey, they ripped off the Outer Limits theme . . . only to realize that One Step Beyond had preceded The Outer Limits by four years.


It took me until the 1990s, when I got a copy of David Schow’s outstanding (and unfortunately out of print) book The Outer Limits Companion, to realize what had happened, and how it wasn’t a case of anybody ripping anyone off. What it was, was Harry Lubin.


Harry Lubin (born March 5, 1906) was an American composer, arranger, and pianist with what was already a massive resume when he linked up with the Outer Limits team in 1964. He’d started his professional career at the age of nineteen, working as the piano accompanist for Russian opera star Feodor Chaliapin. A year later, Lubin became the musical director of New York City’s Irving Place Theatre. It wasn’t long before he’d moved on to become the foreign department musical director for three successive phonograph firms: the Aeolian, the Vocalian, and the Brunswick. Before his 30th birthday, Lubin had become an in-demand Broadway composer, and before his 40th he had firmly established himself on radio as well, working with some of the biggest stars of the day.


When television began to supplant radio, Lubin moved over to the new medium. He was the musical director for the original Pinky Lee Show, which ran from 1950 until 1953 (this was the "adult" version, before it went kid-friendly). From there, he moved over to the new NBC series The Loretta Young Show, where he served as musical director and composed the theme music for much of the show’s eight-season run. But it was in 1959 that the piece of music Lubin is best remembered for came into being.


An early proponent of electronic music, Harry Lubin used a combination of electronics and lyric-free female vocals as the basis for one of television’s most memorable themes: the theme song for One Step Beyond. It wasn’t strictly a brand-new composition, as Lubin had composed the original version of the piece (entitled "Fear") for an episode of The Loretta Young Show. However, it and several other Lubin compositions became synonymous with One Step Beyond, as well as being an influence on those who followed (a prime example being another iconic TV theme, that of Star Trek by the great Alexander Courage). Eleven Lubin pieces, including "Fear" and "Weird," were released by Decca Records in 1960 under the title Music From One Step Beyond.



But how did Lubin and a variation of the One Step Beyond theme end up on The Outer Limits a few years later? Well, there’s a story there.


Today, The Outer Limits is considered one of the finest genre series ever to air. But in 1964, it was just another TV show that the network (ABC, in this case) felt was too expensive to produce for its relatively modest ratings. A second season of The Outer Limits was approved by ABC executives, but only under several conditions.


The first condition was that the show was moved from Wednesday to Saturday; this condition alone was enough to get series co-creator Joseph Stefano to quit, as Stefano realized the move was effectively a death sentence for a show largely reliant on a young audience. The other condition was that a new producer, Ben Brady, take over as the guiding force for The Outer Limits. Brady was tasked with slashing the show’s budget and rounding off what were considered "rough edges" by ABC’s higher-ups, who didn’t quite know what to make of the almost-expressionistic series. As part of this process, season one composer Dominic Frontiere was let go and replaced by Lubin, a name then very much connected to the science-fiction/fantasy genre.


Harry Lubin would compose new music and repurpose some old pieces for the 17 remaining episodes of The Outer Limits, before the predictable drop in ratings saw the show get the axe. To create themes and cues such as "Pathetic Creature" and "An Apparition," Lubin combined conventional orchestration with female voices and electronic instruments such as the theremin and the Hammond Novachord, the world’s first polyphonic synthesizer. The results were otherworldly, but I guess in a more conventional, 1950’s sci-fi way than the season one compositions of Dominic Frontiere.


So, who was better: Lubin or Frontiere? It’s a totally unfair question. Me, personally, I prefer Frontiere’s work on The Outer Limits—sometimes densely ponderous, sometimes eerily ethereal, it always just fit. And that’s why it’s a totally unfair question. Frontiere was with the show from day one and had set the standard and the tone, so of course anyone who followed him was going to come up a bit short, especially when pieces like the new Outer Limits main theme were already connected to another series. It’d be like scrapping the Seinfeld theme for a reworded version of the Friends song; it just felt a little off. That said, taken on its own merits, Lubin’s work on The Outer Limits was more than worthy of the show, consistently setting a tone in keeping with the show’s mantra of “awe and mystery, which reaches from the inner mind to . . . The Outer Limits.



Not sure what happened in Harry Lubin’s life after The Outer Limits, as biographical information about the man seems to be in short supply. But that series would end up being his last screen credit. Lubin passed away in Los Angeles on July 21, 1977; his collection of sheet music and other paperwork would go to the UCLA Library, while his publishing company, Harrose, was purchased by CPM in 2005.


One of the stars that Lubin worked with during his radio days was Dinah Shore. We’ll be taking a look back at Shore’s surprisingly diverse (surprising to me, that’s for sure!) career next time. Until then, thanks for tuning in!

 

SUSPENSE writer, producer, and radio-drama aficionado John C. Alsedek shares the history of early radio and television and the impact it has made on the world of entertainment in his ongoing series for Flapper Press.

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