Columbia Says Goodbye to Alum Peter Berkos '51

peter berkos sitting in chair in front of bookcases
Academy Award Winning Sound Effects Editor Peter Berkos ’51 recently passed away, leaving behind a lasting legacy in television and film.

Academy Award Winning Sound Effects Editor and Columbia College Chicago Alum Peter Berkos ‘51 passed away at age 101 on Jan. 2 following a successful career in the movie and television industry.  

He came to Columbia after serving in World War II as a radar technician in the Army Air Corp.  

Berkos credited the college’s working professionals with molding his direction. Drama professor and mentor Aline Neff pushed him toward directing, which he did for stage, radio and TV in Chicago. Another instructor, actor/director Gilbert Fergusen, “talked me out of dropping out in my first year,” Berkos told Columbia’s “Demo Magazine” in 2015. 

Shortly after graduation from Columbia, the filmmaker headed for Los Angeles along with his wife Sally Ann, also an alum, and two of his classmates, Sam Reynolds and Sam Berland, who would become lifelong colleagues and friends. “We decided to go to Hollywood, where films were being made,” he said. “We packed up and came out here. We were four Columbia students, working together.” 

He would then spend 37 years at Universal Studios, starting as a storeroom clerk and working his way up to the production offices and then moved to editing. He especially enjoyed working one-on-one with actors and directors on re-recording dialogue through a process called automatic dialogue replacement (ADR).  

In the late ’50s, Berkos even spent a day with Hollywood legend Orson Welles working as a sound editor on “Touch of Evil” (1958).  

Eventually, Berkos landed the role of supervising editor. “My job was to create the sound effects, and I usually had no less than five people assembling the soundtracks,” he told “Demo Magazine.” 

In 1963, Berkos became president of the Motion Picture Sound Editors, where he began a long fight for sound editors’ membership in the film and television academies—as well as for screen credits for sound effects editors. Back then, giving screen credit to sound editors wasn’t just uncommon—it was unheard of. Berkos spent 12 arduous years bargaining with the studio system for sound field recognition. He himself never received screen credit until the late 1970s, and it wasn’t until the ’80s that sound editing became an annual Academy Award category. 

His work, though, did not go unnoticed. While at Universal, he won an Academy Award (Special Achievement Oscar) for his sound effects work on the “Hindenburg” (1975) and seven Golden Reels, one of which was for his work on the first “Battlestar Galactica” (1978) TV series.  

Berkos, who at one time helped mentor 19-year-old Steven Spielberg, retired from sound effects editing in 1987 but went on to write several books, including “Tpito the Third Twin,” “Stage Fright,” “The Double Double Cross,” and “Vignettes of My Life” Books 1 & 2. He also compiled and published “Reflections and Memoirs of Sally Ann Berkos,” a collection of his late wife’s writings. 

Berkos leaves behind two children as well as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Services will be a full Military Funeral Honors at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego on Friday, March 22, 2024, at 10:30 a.m.