DIMITRI ZINOVIEVICH TIOMKIN was one of six US composers to be given the title of “Legend of American Music”. A record-holder for the number of Oscars that were received over a period of time, a Commander of the Legion of Honor (France) and of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain).

Dmytro Tiomkin, circa 1899


After studying at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, the 27-year-old Dimitri Tiomkin tried his hand at post-revolutionary music, but he did not like Soviet authorities. So in 1921, Tiomkin emigrated to Germany and then to France, where his father lived. Dimitri was making money playing instruments and took lessons from famous European pianists. Four years later he crossed the ocean and during the years 1925-1929 did the same in the United States. He even performed at Carnegie Hall. He caught lightning in a bottle when he came to Hollywood in 1929. His career was like a whirlwind. Dimitrii was directly involved in the release of 136 films. He composed music for 121 of them, played himself in 14 more movies, and also produced the iconic movie “Mackenna’s Gold”. His rise to glory began with the “orgasm melody”.

Dmytro Tiomkin with a US general.


The meticulous producer David Selznick ordered 11 tunes for his film “Duel in the Sun” (1946). Six composers came forward: appearing in the work of such a prominent artist would guarantee a successful career. But then an unprecedented scandal happened: the producer dismissed each composer, one by one. The stumbling block was Selznik’s demand for an “orgasm melody”. Selznick wanted the kind of music in a movie that one would enjoy no less than sex. And then he was introduced to Tiomkin, who agreed to try his luck without hesitation.

“An orgasm?” asked Tiomkin.

– “How do you imagine it?”

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“Think of something,” Selznick replied.

The composer worked hard with the notes for several months. At the last moment, he added forty drummers and a hundred choirs to his “melody”. And he heard the verdict: “In general, I like it. But this is not an orgasm! I don’t f*ck like that”, Selznick responded. Tiomkin was indignant: “Mr. Selznick, you f*ck your way, I f*ck my way. To me, that is f*cking music.” Puzzled by such a strong argument, the producer agreed with the composer. That’s how Tiomkin’s name became known in Hollywood. 

Dmytro Tiomkin with his wife Albertina Rush, circa 1927


During the seven years (1953-1959), this Ukrainian received four Oscars. He also collected a large crop of Golden Globes: five awards from 1952 to 1965.  

To this day, no one has received Oscars as fast as the Kremenchuk “cowboy”. He achieved another incredible triumph: in 1953, Tiomkin won two Oscars at once: for the music to the western “High Noon” and also for his song “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin.” He was particularly successful in scoring music for westerns. When asked how a Slavic-born person feels about the cowboy pride and poetry of the American West, the composer replied with a reference to the Ukrainian plains: “Because a steppe is a steppe. There is a lot in common between Cossacks and cowboys.”

Alfred Newman, Ned Washington, Dmytro Tiomkin and Walt Disney, March 19, 1953


- Because of poverty, Tiomkin emigrated “in an unbearably bright green suit” made of a pair of curtains and said that he had felt like a clown during the first weeks in Germany.

- In the Russian TV series “Seventeen Moments of Spring” his music can be heard in the scene where the Nazi authorities are watching an American movie.

- The song “Wild Wind” set to music by Tiomkin has been performed by Barbra Streisand, Nina Simone, David Bowie.

- He composed music for films by iconic producers and directors: six by Howard Hawks, five by Stanley Kramer, and four by Alfred Hitchcock.

- His friends called the composer “Dimi”.

- He received two Oscars for work with Walt Disney at the same time. When he was asked by a journalist how he felt at that moment, Tiomkin said: “Like a mother of wonderful twins.”

- From the composer’s memoirs: “Ukrainian women have very beautiful legs, even in Hollywood I have not seen legs like those. I remember when I was a kid, I was ashamed of looking at them for so long: it seemed obscene to me.” The composer’s accent that hinted at his origins, in Hollywood was called “borschovy”.

Dmytro Tiomkin, John Wayne and Pilar Wayne, 1960


• Tiomkin was born on May 10, 1894 in Kremenchuk, Poltava region.

• After a career in Hollywood and the death of his wife, Albertina Rasch, in 1967 he moved to London where he lived for the rest of his life.

• He died on November 11, 1979. He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale (California, USA).

• The composer Carl Palmer dedicated a monograph to the Ukrainian: “Dimitri Tiomkin. Portrait” (1984). In 1993 the US Postal Service released a series of six stamps “Legends of American Music”, that included Tiomkin. 

Dmytro Tiomkin with his wife Albertina Rush

This article by Nadiia Avramchuk and Mykola Sukhomozsky is reprinted with the publisher's permission from the book (UN)Celebrated Ukrainians Who Changed the Course of History, SAMIT-KNYHA, Kyiv, 2020. 

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