Les Baxter Dead at 73

Midnight on the Cliffs HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Les Baxter, the composer, conductor and arranger who developed an easy-going yet exotic big band style, died Monday (January 15, 1996) of a massive heart attack due to kidney failure at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach. He was 73.

Baxter composed more than 250 scores for feature films, television and radio shows; his compositions include the whistling theme for the TV series ``Lassie.''

He also worked as musical director on many albums for Capitol Records from the 1940s through the 1960s. Among his credits are the conducting of Nat King Cole's recording of ``Too Young.''

Feature scoring credits included ``The Pit and the Pendulum,'' ``Black Sunday,'' ``The Raven,'' ``Fall of the House of Usher,'' ``The Man With the X-Ray Eyes,'' ``Frogs,'' ``Beach Party,'' ``Beach Blanket Bingo,'' ``Operation Bikini,'' ``How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,'' ``Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine,'' and ``Black Sabbath.''

Baxter's career began in the 1940s playing saxophone in Los Angels jazz clubs, backing performers such as Billie Holiday. As a singer, he was a member of Mel Torme's backup group, the MelTones, and performed with Artie Shaw.

Soul of the Drums After a brief stint with RCA Records, Baxter jumped to Capitol where he enjoyed success with his own albums.

Album credits featuring Baxter as conductor-arranger-composer include ``Ritual of the Savage,'' ``Ports of Pleasure,'' ``Tamboo,'' and ``Baxter's Best.'' Baxter orchestrated and conducted Yma Sumac's debut album, ``Voice of the Xtabay.'' He also composed ``Quiet Village,'' which was a hit for Martin Denny in 1959.

He was the music arranger for the Bob Hope and Abbott & Costello radio shows, conducting his own orchestra. His television resume included ``Music of the Sixties (The Les Baxter Special),'' ``Buck Rogers in the 21st Century,'' ``Cliffhangers,'' ``The Milton Berle Show,'' ``The Tycoon'' and ``The Gumby Special.''

In the mid 1950s, he appeared in several features including ``College Capers'' (Universal, 1954) with Eileen Barton and ``Untamed Youth'' (1957) with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran.

Baxter last performed in public at the Century Club in Century City on Nov. 16, 1995.

He is survived by a daughter, son and grandson.

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