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Space Age Music Maker

Jerry Adler

  • Born Hilliard Gerald Adler 30 October 1918, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Died 13 March 2010, Ellenton, Florida

A remarkable virtuoso, Jerry Adler never quite got the same level of acclaim as his older brother Larry. This was due, in part, to the fact that his most-recognized performances can be found on movie soundtracks, where his name, if it appeared at all, was buried somewhere deep in the fine-print credits.

Inspired, no doubt, by his brother's example, he began playing the harmonica at a young age. By 13, he had won the same local talent competition as Larry, playing the same piece, Beethovenís Minuet in G. The prize was to open a week of shows for comedian Red Skelton. Within two years, he was performing in front of King George V at London's Palladium Theatre. When introduced to the King, he reached out to shake hands instead of making the expected bow of deference, which got him blasted in the British tabloids.

He moved to Hollywood in the late 1930s and it became his base for the next forty years. His playing first appeared on screen in Frank Capraís "You Canít Take it With You" in 1938, and film became the focus of his work for over twenty years. He taught James Stewart and other actors how to mime playing the harmonica and worked as a session musician in numerous films. Among most noteworthy soundtrack performances were on "Pot o'Gold" with Stewart (1941), "Shane", and "The Alamo" (1960). One of his rare on-screen appearances was with Kirk Douglas in "The Juggler" (1953).

During the Second World War Adler served in the US Army Air Corps as an entertainer. He toured the Pacific theatre and appeared on stage and on film in Moss Hart's patriotic revue, "Winged Victory." He also performed for troops in the Pacific as part of an entertainment unit called the Winged Pigeons.

Beginning in the 1950s, he became a regular performer on the cruise ship circuit, and appeared on the Norwegian and other lines in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Atlantic dozens of times over the next four decades.

He retired to Sarasota, Florida, in the mid-1980s and lived there until his death. He published an autobiography, Living From Hand to Mouth: My Memoir, in 2005.


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