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Else Blangsted, the preeminent Hollywood music editor who worked on such landmark films as In Cold Blood, Tootsie, Ordinary People, The Color Purple and On Golden Pond, has died. She was 99.
Blangsted died Friday of natural causes at her home in Los Angeles, her cousin, Oscar-winning documentary producer Deborah Oppenheimer, announced. She was three weeks shy of her 100th birthday.
During her four-decade career as a music editor, the German-born Blangsted collaborated with the likes of Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kramer, John Huston, Carl Reiner, Martin Ritt, Norman Jewison, Brian De Palma, Ivan Reitman, Randa Haines, Quincy Jones — he called her his “Bavarian Princess” — Dave Grusin, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini and many others.
Of all the composers with whom Blangsted worked, she became closest with Grusin, who has scored hundreds of films. “Let us hear the music!” was her “relentless refrain,” he noted.
“The loss of Else Blangsted is a tragic milestone in my life,” Grusin said in a statement. “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 OK?’ She was my personal quality guru, and she extended that humanity into many other parts of my life. Vielen dank, meine liebste Else.”
Her work also included Cactus Flower (1969), The Front (1976), Goin’ South (1978), The Electric Horseman (1979), Meatballs (1979), And Justice for All (1979), The Great Santini (1979), Absence of Malice (1981), Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Six Weeks (1982), All of Me (1984), A Soldier’s Story (1984), Racing With the Moon (1984), Under the Volcano (1984), The Goonies (1985), Children of a Lesser God (1986), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), A Dry White Season (1989) and, her final credit, The Bonfire of the Vanities (2000).
In 2006, Blangsted became the first music editor to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, when Redford declared that she had “the mind of an artist and the soul of a saint” in his introduction.
Upon accepting the honor, she said, “Like everyone else, I did my job, and I did my best. I just did it longer, not better.”
Born on May 22, 1920, in Würzburg, Germany, Blangsted got pregnant out of wedlock as a teenager, survived a suicide attempt and gave birth to a daughter she believed to have been stillborn before fleeing her country in 1937. She would make her way to Hollywood, where she worked as a nanny for filmmaker Mervyn LeRoy.
In the 1949 film Samson and Delilah, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, she had a small part. “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,” she recalled.
“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.”
Blangsted did apprentice work for the studios before eventually becoming a music editor, starting out on television.
According to composer Perry Botkin, Blangsted became the “Queen of Music Editors” because of her ability to “communicate candidly with everyone involved, regardless of rank, and to ceaselessly champion the composer. She became the composer’s mother figure, cheerleader and most forthright critic — the ultimate support system.”
“When working on movies, the communication is more domestic than one might think,” she said. “We connect with strangers the same way we connect with people at home. And that’s important: Don’t change your language when you talk to people who have more power than you do. Language is just physical. I’m talking about what is interior. If we like ourselves enough, it passes not only for charm, but it makes you less of a liar about your own life. And that truth communicates itself. And I really think I’ve got that by the short-hairs. Because I will talk to Mr. Redford the same way I talk to you. It’s a liberating thing.”
Survivors include two daughters, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. (At age 64, she met her then-48-year-old daughter, the child she had been told had died at birth.)
Her husband, Oscar-nominated film editor Folmar Blangsted, died in 1982.
Among those with whom she built long-lasting relationships was actor James Cromwell, who became her closest friend.
“William Faulkner said, ‘I believe man will not merely endure: he will prevail.’ Else endured the rise of fascism and prevailed, even in Hollywood,” said Cromwell. “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 has selected the music she wanted played at her memorial. “‘God Bless the Child’ by Billie Holiday is No. 1,” she said. “And I’d also like Randy Newman to be there to perform ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On.'”
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