Coronavirus Updates: USC  |  SCA

August 31, 2015

John Cacavas Honored at SCA

Man known for sweeping television scores remembered

Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, Professor Daniel Carlin from the USC Thronton School of Music, Michael Feinstein, and Bonnie Cacavas

The halls of the USC School of Cinematic Arts are filled with the names of multi-hyphenates and renaissance women and men who changed film, games, and all other media in America and beyond. On August 30th, John Cacavas, who passed away in 2014, joined the names Hitchcock, Pickford, Lloyd, Lucas, Spielberg, and Zemeckis with the donation of the John Cacavas Music Collection to the School of Cinematic Arts’ Libraries. Cacavas was remembered as a composer, conductor, author, chef, and raconteur at an event attended by Bonnie Cacavas, Cacavas’ ten year old grandson Eric Cacavas, composer and music anthropologist Michael Feinstein, Chair of the Graduate Program in Scoring at USC’s Thornton School of Music Dan Carlin, USC School of Cinematic Arts Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, and several honored guests including the American Society of Composers and the Film Music Society.

Bonnie Cacavas, John Cacavas’ widow, told the audience that John would have loved the party and would certainly be telling stories in the lobby. She stressed that John should be remembered across mediums and genres. “John was passionate about cooking, painting, making collages, making cocktails, and writing. He would sit at his old typewriter and type away. He would turn out novels and textbooks and a broadway show. John often said he thought he should have been a writer, but the world would have lost a lot of music. I’m so happy that his legacy will be preserved here at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.”

Cacavas was a prolific composer of television scores and was best known for writing the theme to Kojak. As television scores continue to grow as an artistic medium, Cacavas is often cited as a pioneer in the emerging artform.

“We at the USC School of Cinematic Arts will do everything we can to preserve John Cacavas’ legacy,” said Daley. “John is one of television history’s most accomplished composers. He also created music for films, mini-series, and even video games. The John Cacavas Music Collection is an incredible asset to our students and a fitting tribute to a renaissance man.”

Cacavas was born in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in 1930. He displayed an early talent for music, forming a local band at age fourteen. He studied musical composition at Northwestern University. During service in the military, Cacavas was assigned to Washington, DC, where he was an arranger for the United States Army Band.

Cacavas’ television credits are extensive, including scoring the series Hawaii Five-O, The Bionic Woman, Mrs. Columbo, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, as well as television movies such as The Elevator, SST: Death Flight, Superdome, The Time Machine, Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, and the 1982 film The Executioner's Song. Cacavas also went on to score Savalas's made-for-TV Dirty Dozen sequel movies The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987) and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988).

Professor Daniel Carlin, USC Chair of Scoring and John’s colleague at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also spoke at the event talking about John’s integrity when dealing with eligibility rules for the Academy Awards. He spoke about how John believed in integrity in all cases.

“He was a person of principals for whom doing the right thing came naturally, and that certainly left a lasting impression on me,” said Carlin. “Whether we were working together on the scoring stage, screening a movie together, discussing a score, or mulling over the latest challenge at the Academy, I knew simply being in John’s presence would leave me smarter, more sure of myself, and more grateful for being a part of his presence.”

John’s ten-year-old grandson spoke about learning about his grandfather. “The first time I learned about what he did was in 2011 in London. We were watching television and, at the end of a show, he showed me his name on the screen and said he wrote that music we just heard. Before that, I always thought his music was just scribbles on paper.”

In addition, Michael Feinstein, who has been charged with maintaining the Cacavas foundation, spoke about John’s legacy in the music world and his unique contributions to the world of television scoring.