Legendary Hollywood music and sound engineer Dan Wallin dead at age 97

 April 12, 2024

A legendary Hollywood figure who dominated the entertainment industry for decades that even many film and TV buffs have likely never heard of just passed away.

Dan Wallin, an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning music scoring engineer, died on Wednesday at his home in Hawaii at the age of 97, according to Variety.

He is survived by his wife, Gay Goodwin Wallin, and leaves behind an incalculable number of fans of his work over the decades, to say nothing of the many friends and colleagues and composers he collaborated with, to make the music and sound effects of hundreds of movies and TV shows sound exactly right.

An orphan, WWII veteran, radio man, and sound recorder

Wallin was born in 1927 in Los Angeles, California, and grew up during the Great Depression in an orphanage, where he learned to play the drums.

He served during World War II in the U.S. Navy as an aviation radio operator, which led to him getting a job after the war at CBS in L.A., where he handled live radio broadcasts of big band performances, and by the 1950s, was doing sound work for television.

In 1965, Wallin was hired on at Warner Brothers as the studio's in-house music engineer, where he specialized in recording music scores written by famed composers and performed by everything from small bands to massive orchestras.

He would spend 18 years at WB before moving on to work as a scoring engineer at several other prominent studios, including Paramount and Sony.

A 50+ year career

According to Wallin's IMDb page, his first notable credit as a scoring mixer came in the 1960 film "Spartacus," and by the time he retired in 2013, he had accumulated 541 music department credits, 76 sound department credits, and three soundtracks to his name.

He was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound -- in 1971 for "Woodstock" and again in 1977 for "A Star is Born" -- and won a Primetime Emmy in 2009 for his sound mixing in that year's annual Academy Awards Show.

He was also nominated for sound mixing Emmys for his work in the 1993 TV miniseries "Citizen Cohn" as well as for the 1997 TV miniseries "Gotti."

A perfectionist who loved music

In 2012, shortly before he retired and moved to Hawaii with his wife and their four dogs and a parrot, Wallin was featured in a profile piece by the Los Angeles Times while he was finishing up his scoring work on "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" at the 20th Century Fox studio.

Then 84, he was known as being the oldest working sound engineer but also still one of the sharpest in the industry, and was heralded for his abilities to emplace microphones and adjust various levels on the million-dollar soundboard to achieve perfection with each individual instrument in the orchestra.

Early on in his career, Wallin recorded and mixed not just music but also sound effects -- he often traveled to a local gun range to record the exact sound of a gunshot from a specific caliber and model firearm for a film or TV show -- but increasingly focused on just music while leaving the sound effects to others near the end of his career.

"It used to be the music was part of the story. The credits read dialogue, music, and sound effects," Wallin recalled to the Times of pre-1980s Hollywood. "Now they read dialogue, effects, and music, and that’s just so wrong. The emotion of the movie is the music when it’s written correctly."

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