Young was born in Chicago on August 8, 1900, into a very musical Jewish family, his father being a member of one Joseph Sheehan's touring Opera company. The young Victor began playing violin at the age of six, and was sent to Poland when he was ten to stay with his grandfather and study at Warsaw Imperial Conservatory (his teacher was Polish composer Roman Statkowski), achieving the Diploma of Merit. He studied the piano with Isidor Philipp of the Paris Conservatory. While still a teenager he embarked on a career as a concert violinist with the Warsaw Philharmonic under Juliusz Wertheim, assistant conductor in 1915–16.
When he graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory, the war prevented him from returning to the US; so he remained in Poland, which was occupied by the Germans, earning his keep by playing with the Philharmonic, in a quartet and a quintet, and in between he gave lessons. His future wife, Rita Kinel, who met him in late 1918, used to smuggle food to him, for he had neither enough money to buy it or time to eat it.
He returned to Chicago in 1920 to join the orchestra at Central Park Casino. He then went to Los Angeles to join his Polish fiancée, finding employment first as a fiddler in impresario Sid Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre Orchestra then going on to be appointed concert-master for Paramount-Publix Theatres. After turning to popular music, he worked for a while as violinist-arranger for Ted Fio Rito.
In 1930 Chicago bandleader and radio-star Isham Jones commissioned Young to write a ballad instrumental of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust", which had been played, up until then, as an up-tempo number. Young slowed it down and played the melody as a gorgeous romantic violin solo which inspired Mitchell Parish to write lyrics for what then became a much performed love song.
In the mid-1930s he moved to Hollywood where he concentrated on films, recordings of light music and providing backing for popular singers, including Bing Crosby. His composer credits include "When I Fall in Love", "Blue Star (The 'Medic' Theme)", "Moonlight Serenade (Summer Love)" from the motion picture The Star (1952), "Sweet Sue, Just You", "Can't We Talk It Over", "Street of Dreams", "Love Letters", "Around the World", "My Foolish Heart", "Golden Earrings", "Stella by Starlight", "Delilah", "Johnny Guitar" and "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You".
Young was signed to Brunswick in 1931 where his studio groups recorded scores of popular dance music, waltzes and semi-classics through 1934. His studio groups often contained some of the best jazz musicians in New York, including Bunny Berigan, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Arthur Schutt, Eddie Lang, and others. He used first-rate vocalists, including Paul Small, Dick Robertson, Harlan Lattimore, Smith Ballew, Helen Rowland, Frank Munn, The Boswell Sisters, Lee Wiley and others. One of his most interesting recordings was the January 22, 1932 session containing songs written by Herman Hupfeld: "Goopy Geer (He Plays Piano And He Plays By Ear)" and "Down The Old Back Road", which Hupfeld sang and played piano on (his only two known vocals).
In late 1934, Young signed with Decca and continued recording in New York until mid-1936, when he relocated to Los Angeles.
On radio, he was the musical director of The Old Gold Don Ameche Show and Harvest of Stars. He was musical director for many of Bing Crosby's recordings for the American branch of Decca Records. For Decca, he also conducted the first album of songs from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, a sort of "pre-soundtrack" cover version rather than a true soundtrack album. The album featured Judy Garland and the Ken Darby Singers singing songs from the film in Young's own arrangements. He also composed the music for several Decca spoken word albums.
He received 22 Academy Award nominations for his work in film, twice being nominated four times in a single year, but he did not win during his lifetime. He received his only Oscar posthumously for his score of Around the World in Eighty Days (1956). Thus, Victor Young holds the record for most Oscar nominations before winning the first award. His other scores include Anything Goes (1936), The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936), Artists and Models (1937), The Gladiator, Golden Boy (1939), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), The Uninvited (1944), Love Letters (1945), So Evil My Love (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), The Paleface (1948), Samson and Delilah (1949), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949), Our Very Own (1950), September Affair (1950), My Favorite Spy (1951), Payment on Demand (1951), The Quiet Man (1952), Scaramouche (1952), Something to Live For (1952), Shane (1953), The Country Girl (1954), A Man Alone (1955), The Conqueror (1956) and The Maverick Queen (1956).
He contributed two tone poems, "White" and "Black", to the 1956 album Frank Sinatra Conducts Tone Poems of Color.
His last scores were for the 1957 films Omar Khayyam, Run of the Arrow and China Gate, which were released after his death. The last was left unfinished at the time of his death and was finished by his long-time friend, Max Steiner.
"The Call of the Faraway Hills", which Young had composed for the film Shane, was also used as the theme for the U.S. television series Shane. Young won a Primetime Emmy Award for his scoring of the TV special Light's Diamond Jubilee, which aired on all four American TV networks on October 24, 1954.
Young died in Palm Springs, California after a cerebral haemorrhage at age 56. He is interred in the Beth Olam Mausoleum in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, California. Dr. Max Nussbaum, rabbi of Temple Israel, Hollywood, officiated. His family donated his artifacts and memorabilia (including his Oscar) to Brandeis University, where they are housed today.
|1939||Breaking the Ice||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Army Girl||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|1940||Man of Conquest||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Gulliver's Travels||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Golden Boy||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Way Down South||Best Music (Scoring)||Nominated|
|1941||North West Mounted Police||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Dark Command||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Arizona||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|Arise, My Love||Best Music, Score||Nominated|
|1942||Hold Back the Dawn||Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture||Nominated|
|1943||Take a Letter, Darling||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Nominated|
|Silver Queen||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Nominated|
|Flying Tigers||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Nominated|
|1944||For Whom the Bell Tolls||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Nominated|
|1946||Love Letters||Best Original Song for "Love Letters" (shared with Edward Heyman)||Nominated|
|Love Letters||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Nominated|
|1949||The Emperor Waltz||Best Scoring of a Musical Picture||Nominated|
|1950||My Foolish Heart||Best Original Song for "My Foolish Heart" (shared with Ned Washington)||Nominated|
|1951||Samson and Delilah||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Nominated|
|1957||Around the World in 80 Days||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture||Won|
|Written on the Wind||Best Original Song for "Written on the Wind" (shared with Sammy Cahn)||Nominated|
|1952||September Affair||Best Original Score||Won|
|1953||The Quiet Man||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|1955||Light's Diamond Jubilee||Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Variety Program||Won|
|Medic||Best Original Music Composed for TV||Nominated|
|Light's Diamond Jubilee||Best Original Music Composed for TV||Nominated|