Monday, February 24, 2020

RIP Robert Cobert, Frank Jay Gruber

Robert Cobert films his cameo  in "War And Remembrance," 1985.
We're mourning two of our own today. News came over the transom this morning that Robert Cobert and Frank Jay Gruber passed away last week. My reflex was to publish seperate obituaries for each man today, but that felt somehow inappropriate. Cobert has been the topic of many conversations at this website over the years, but Gruber was a frequent contributor to our dialogues. I'm feeling his loss much more urgently and refuse to ghettoize his death as something other.

But there's a structure to this narrative and it begins with Robert Cobert. I awoke this morning to a message and photos from Jim Pierson, the marketing director and producer at Dan Curtis Productions, about Cobert's death. "He lived as long and joyful of a life as anyone I've ever known," Pierson said

Dark Shadows was obsessed with world building, and those worlds were mostly created by Cobert and the late scenic designer Sy Tomashoff. Tomashoff was responsible for building the body; as the show's composer, Cobert gave Dark Shadows its soul. And because of the way in which he worked, Cobert had an invisible influence over everything we saw. The rigorous production schedule meant the music had to be written independently of the show's taping. Much of what you saw on Dark Shadows was paced to meet Cobert's music. (I've heard that it was the first score for a daytime drama that used a symphonic orchestra, but couldn't find anything this morning to verify that.) By the time the series wrapped in 1971, Cobert had composed more than 600 tracks spanning almost 8 hours of music. Some are short "stings" last just seconds; others run several minutes.

Cobert with David Selby and Jonathan Frid.
By pure conicidence (or perhaps just due to the creative persistance of both men) Cobert and actor Jonthan Frid first came together in a 1961 television adaption of The Picture of Dorian Gray. You'll have to be paying attention to notice, though: Cobert is not credited for his work, and Frid's walk-through is so brief that you'll likely miss him.

Cobert continued his relationship with Curtis over the years, working on both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, Dracula, Trilogy of Terror, and the epic mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Not to be outdone by his own work on Dark Shadows, those two mini-series represent the longest ever scores written for a movie. Cobert received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 41st Annual Saturn Awards in 2015.

Cobert died Feb. 19 of pneumonia at the age of 95.

Just as I sat down to write this piece, CHS contributor Nancy Kersey sent me a message informing me that Frank had died Feb. 23. He was 54 and had been battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer since last July. Frank had been with The Collinsport Historical Society from almost the beginning and was always there when I needed him for something, no matter how silly. This is a man who volunteered to pick me up at Newark Liberty International Airport, a place I'd politely describe as Blade Runner-esque. He was a good guy and I've missed him since he had to withdraw from social media a few months ago to tend to more important matters.

Below is a photo we took together at the airport af the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival. I hate having my photo taken and had just declined a photo with Will McKinley for that reason. (Almost four years later and I still feel guilty about that.) But here we are together in 2016, just a few days after we first got to meet in person, and the last time I'd ever see him. I'm the one with the glasses.

Frank kicked in enough work to the CHS over the years that he's got his own hyperlink. I'd encourage you to spend a few mintues today reading some of his old pieces. You can find his obituary online here. Memorial contributions can be made in Frank’s name to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

- Wallace McBride

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