"John Williams" has a lot of fans for his motion picture scores…"Close Encounters," "Jaws," "Superman," various "Star Wars" films, "Empire of the Sun," "Indiana Jones,""Home Alone," "Poseidon Adventure," and "Schindler's List" among them.
In his early days writing TV themes, "Johnny Williams" composed the dynamic, staccato epics "Lost in Space," "Land of the Giants" and "The Time Tunnel." But…and here's how he ends up on the blog of less renown, he also composed the jagged theme for "Checkmate" and the classical introduction to "Alcoa Theatre" aka "Alcoa Premiere." Those are the two you get below.
As the photo above would indicate, "Alcoa Theatre" was an anthology series. Few episodes seem to have survived. "Checkmate" was a private eye hour that was anchored around the rather wooden Anthony George, but ended up with a wider fan base thanks to Doug McClure and Sebastian Cabot. That's the formidable, genial Mr. Cabot with guest-star Peter Lorre in a memorable episode.
The themes below were recorded by one-name one-hit-wonder Valjean, who seemed to be trying for a Liberace-type air of mystery. Sounds like he might be from France, and have a French accent, right? Actually, Valjean Johns was born in Shattuck, Oklahoma and attended the University of Oklahoma. He became well known in the Mid-West, and at the age of 28, got a contract with Carlton, a label that dabbled in everything from vibraphone jazz via an album by Gene Estes (which I once had) to "The Little Space Girl" novelty 45 (which I still have).
Valjean managed a Top 40 hit with "The Theme From Ben Casey" in 1962, cashing in on the hot doctor series starring the brooding Vince Edwards. Naturally the pianist quickly filled up an album with more TV themes, including the rival "Dr. Kildare" which starred the strawberry blond Richard Chamberlain. Tucked amid the usual tracks ("Peter Gunn," a piano natural and "Perry Mason") were the two John Williams items...formerly popular shows now quite obscure to most people...even if they, or at least the themes, deserve better.
Although the album didn't quite crack the Billboard Top 100, Valjean Johns didn't disappear from the music scene. He enjoyed a career playing with respectable if rural symphony orchestras (including his home state's Tulsa Philharmonic) over the next decades. Born November 19, 1934, Valjean passed on a decade ago: February 10th, 2003. Checkmate. But he wasn't wrapped and stored in Alcoa aluminum foil.
Valjean tinkles John Williams