After graduating from college in 1943, he began composing theme and incidental music for a huge number of radio shows. He also worked as an orchestrator (writing out all the parts for all parts of an orchestra) in film. His big break was on the jazz score for 1955's Man With the Golden Arm. This led to a job as an incidental music composer for the TV shows Navy Log (1955-1956) and Boots and Saddles (1957-1958).
His first breakout hit was "Park Avenue Beat", the theme song he wrote for Perry Mason and which was used on the show from 1957 to 1966. In 1961, he wrote the theme song for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. He later composed episodic and incidental music in the 1960s for The Twilight Zone; Rawhide; Gunsmoke; Have Gun, Will Travel; Hogan's Heroes; The Long, Hot Summer; and Lost In Space.
In 1965, Steiner was one of five composers (the others were Alexander Courage, Sol Kaplan, Joseph Mullendore, and Gerald Fried) hired to compose for Star Trek. Alexander Courage wrote the show's theme song and music for the first two pilots ("The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before"). But the third episode produced was "The Corbomite Maneuver" -- and that episode's music was composed by Fred Steiner.
Steiner contributed music to more Star Trek episodes than any other composer (including Courage). Gerald Fried probably had as great an impact on the show, as he devised the "fight theme" used in "Amok Time". Sol Kaplan, too, made a major contribution with the throbbing attack theme for "The Doomsday Machine".
Fred Steiner continued to work consistently through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s in television, as he could write symphonic, jazz, and jingle music. Among the shows he worked on were The Guns of Will Sonnett, Daniel Boone, Mannix, Hawaii Five-O, Dynasty, and Tiny Toon Adventures.
Steiner was an uncredited composer for Return of the Jedi in 1983, writing incidental music to fill in the musical score after George Lucas made numerous changes to the film just before its debut. John Williams was not available to score these moments, so Steiner filled in.
In 1985, Steiner was one of 12 composers jointly nominated for the soundtrack to the film The Color Purple, which he received an Oscar nomination.
An example of where Fred Steiner's underscore was re-used very effectively: This is the cold open to the Star Trek episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday". The Enterprise has sling-shotted back through time and space after running into a black hole. It's trapped in 1965, where it's drifted into the atmopshere of Earth and is barely hanging on. The U.S. Air Force scrambles a fighter jet to intercept the UFO....