A native Californian, Friedhofer was born in San Francisco and came to Hollywood at the dawn of the sound era in 1929. After playing cello for silent films he studied arranging and orchestration, two fields in which he would excel. For the next decade Friedhofer was the orchestrator of choice for A-list composers such as Korngold and Steiner.
His few early original scores included The Adventures of Marco Polo (1937) and The Lodger (1944) but his real breakthrough came with The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946. Its haunting main theme and atmospheric cues poignantly evoke the bittersweet emotionalism of William Wyler’s moving drama of veterans returning home from World War II. This Oscar-winning score is a pioneering example of the American sound that composers such as North and Bernstein, among others, would perfect in the 1950s. Friedhofer himself entered a prolific period for original work with his many scores for 20th Century-Fox in the CinemaScope/stereophonic sound era of the early 1950s.