Music, Magic, and Humor

A Researcher’s Journey through Max Steiner’s Life and Work


  • Stephen Butler Forest of Dean



Max Steiner, archives, Vienna, London, Hollywood


If you are a student of film music researching the life and work of Max Steiner, there are some things you should know, especially if you are working from a country other than the United States. In 2006–2007, my wife Jane and I traveled to three of the cities with which Steiner is most closely associated (Vienna, London, and Los Angeles) and visited Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, where the composer’s personal papers have been stored since 1981. This article details those journeys, taken in a strange parallel to Steiner’s own. These include Steiner’s experiences as a child prodigy from an established theatrical family in Vienna; conducting in London and the United Kingdom’s theatrical circuit; a career on Broadway, working with Victor Herbert, George Gershwin, Fred Astaire, and many other theatrical legends; and his final, thirty-five-year career as one of the founding fathers of modern film composition in Hollywood. Furthermore, the internet has made many more materials available to the scholar, including BYU’s developing online thematic catalogue. The “net” result is that future students will have an incredible amount of material available to them, much more than those of just thirty years ago.

Author Biography

Stephen Butler, Forest of Dean

Stephen Butler is a musician and from the UK who has been inflicting his music on an unsuspecting public for almost 30 years.  His latest recording is an album of his favourite rock covers entitled Songs That Should Never Be Covered.  His deep love for the music of Max Steiner began during a screening of Gone With the Wind by the BBC at Christmas, 1989. He wrote an undergraduate dissertation on the score which is now held in a dumpster round the back of the British Library.  He and his wife Jane have spent years research Max the man and composer in Vienna, London, and out here in California, collecting thousands of pages of documents, and meeting many of the world’s greatest experts on Steiner. He loves his own secret recipe for the baked bean sandwich and has an especial fondness for Olivia Newton – John .


Behlmer, Rudy, ed. 1972. Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: The Viking Press.

D’Arc, James V., and John N. Gillespie, eds. 1996. The Max Steiner Collection. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University.

Daubney, Katherine Sarah. 1996. View from the piano: a critical evaluation and contextualisation of the film scores of Max Steiner 1939–1945. Leeds, UK: University of Leeds.

Simons, John, ed. 1938. Who’s who in American Jewry, 1938–1939. Volume 3. New York: National News Association.

Smith, Steven C. 2020. Music by Max Steiner: the epic life of Hollywood’s most influential composer. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI:

Snedden, N. William n.d. Max Steiner: a chronicle of published sources.

Steiner, Max. 1937. Scoring the film. In We make the movies, ed. Nancy Naumburg, 216-38. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

———. 1963–1964. Notes to you: an unpublished autobiography. Max Steiner Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, Box 1, Folder 1



How to Cite

Butler, S. (2022). Music, Magic, and Humor: A Researcher’s Journey through Max Steiner’s Life and Work. Journal of Film Music, 9(1-2), 69–79.