Stalling, Carl

views updated May 23 2018


Composer. Nationality: American. Career: 1920s—accompanist for silent films; 1928—musical director at Walt Disney's studios; 1931–36—employed by Ub Iwerks's studio; 1936–57—musical director for Warner Bros. cartoons. Died: 29 November 1972.

Films as Musical Director:


Steamboat Willie (Disney)


The Merry Dwarfs (Disney); When the Cat's Away


Gold Diggers of '49 (Clampett and Jones); Porky's Poultry Plant (Williams and White); Toytown Hall (McKimson and Walker); Milk and Money (Jones); Porky's Moving Day (Smith); Boulevardier from the Bronx (Smith); Don't Look Now (Clampett); Little Beau Porky (Tashlin); The Village Smithy (Avery); Coo-Coo Nut Grove (Freleng); Porky of the Northwoods (Tashlin)


He Was Her Man (Freleng); Porky the Wrestler (Avery); Pigs Is Pigs (Freleng); Porky's Road Race (Tashlin); I Only Have Eyes for You (Avery); Picador Porky (Avery); The Fella with the Fiddle (Freleng); She Was an Acrobat's Daughter (Freleng); Porky's Romance (Tashlin); Porky's Duck Hunt (Avery); Ain't We Got Fun (Avery); Porky and Gabby (Iwerks); Clean Pastures (Freleng); Porky's Building (Tashlin); Steamlined Greta Green (Freleng); Sweet Sioux (Freleng); Porky's Super Service (Iwerks); Uncle Tom's Bungalow (Avery); Egghead Rides Again (Avery); Porky's Badtime Story (Clampett); Plenty of Money and You (Freleng); Porky's Railroad (Tashlin); A Sunbonnet Blue (Avery); Get Rich Quick Porky (Clampett); Speaking of the Weather (Tashlin); Porky's Garden (Avery); Dog Daze (Freleng); I Wanna Be a Sailor (Avery); Rover's Rival (Clampett); The Lyin' Mouse (Freleng); The Case of the Stuttering Pig (Tashlin); Little Red Walking Hood (Avery); Porky's Double Trouble (Tashlin); The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (Tashlin); Porky's Hero Agency (Clampett); September in the Rain (Freleng)


Daffy Duck and Egghead (Avery); Porky's Poppa (Clampett); Porky at the Crocadero (Tashlin); What Price Porky (Clampett); Porky's Phoney Express (Dalton and Howard); Porky's Five and Ten (Clampett); Porky's Hare Hunt (Hardaway and Dalton); Injun Trouble (Clampett); Porky the Fireman (Tashlin); Porky's Party (Clampett); Porky's Spring Planting (Tashlin); Porky and Daffy (Clampett); Wholly Smoke (Tashlin); Porky in Wackyland (Clampett); Porky's Naughty Nephew (Clampett); Porky in Egypt (Clampett); The Daffy Doc (Clampett); Daffy Duck in Hollywood (Avery); Porky the Gob (Hardaway and Dalton)


The Lone Stranger and Porky (Clampett); It's an Ill Wind (Hardaway and Dalton); Porky's Tire Trouble (Clampett); Porky's Movie Mystery (Clampett); Prest-O Change-O (Jones); Chicken Jitters (Clampett); Porky and Teabiscuit (Dalton and Hardaway); Kristopher Kolumbus, Jr. (Clampett); Polar Pals (Clampett); Scalp Trouble (Clampett); Old Glory; Porky's Picnic (Clampett); Wise Quacks (Clampett); Hare-Um Scare-Um (Hardaway and Dalton); Porky's Hotel (Clampett); Jeepers Creepers (Clampett); Naughty Neighbors (Clampett); Pied Piper Porky (Clampett); Porky the Giant Killer (Freleng); The Film Fan (Clampett)


Porky's Last Stand (Clampett); The Early Worm Gets the Bird (Avery); Africa Squeaks (Clampett); Mighty Hunters (Jones); Ali Baba Bound (Clampett); Busy Bakers (Hardaway and Dalton); Elmer's Candid Camera (Jones); Pilgrim Porky (Clampett); Cross Country Doctors (Avery); Confederate Honey (Freleng); Slap Happy Pappy (Clampett); The Bear's Tale (Avery); The Hardship of Miles Standish (Freleng); Porky's Poor Fish (Clampett); Sniffles Takes a Trip (Jones); You Ought to Be in Pictures (Freleng); A Gander at Mother Goose (Avery); The Chewin' Bruin (Clampett); Tom Thumb in Trouble (Jones); Circus Today (Avery); Porky's Baseball Broadcast (Freleng); Little Blabbermouse (Freleng); The Egg Collector (Jones); A Wild Hare (Avery); Ghost Wanted (Jones); Patient Porky (Clampett); Ceiling Hero (Avery); Malibu Beach Party (Freleng); Calling Dr. Porky (Freleng); Stage Fright (Jones); Prehistoric Porky (Clampett); Holiday Highlights (Avery); Good Night Elmer (Jones); The Sour Puss (Clampett); Wacky Wildlife (Avery); Bedtime for Sniffles (Jones); Porky's Hired Hand Freleng); Of Fox and Hounds (Avery); The Timid Toreador (McCabe and Clampett); Shop, Look and Listen (Freleng)


Elmer's Pet Rabbit (Jones); Porky's Snooze Reel (McCabe and Clampett); The Fighting 691/2th (Freleng); Sniffles Bells the Cat (Jones); The Haunted Mouse (Avery); The Crackpot Quail (Avery); The Cat's Tale (Freleng); Joe Glow the Firefly (Jones); Tortoise Beats Hare (Avery); Porky's Bear Facts (Freleng); Goofy Groceries (Clampett); Toy Trouble (Jones); Porky's Preview (Avery); The Trial of Mr. Wolf (Freleng); Porky's Ant (Jones); Hollywood Steps Out (Avery); A Coy Decoy (Clampett); Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt (Freleng); Porky's Prize Pony (Jones); The Wacky Worm (Freleng); Meet John Doughboy (Clampett); The Heckling Hare (Avery); Inki and the Lion (Jones); Aviation Vacation (Avery); We, the Animals, Squeak (Clampett); Sport Chumpions (Freleng); The Henpecked Duck (Clampett); All This and Rabbit Stew (Avery); Notes to You (Freleng); The Brave Little Bat (Jones); The Bug Parade (Avery); Robinson Crusoe, Jr. (McCabe); Rookie Revue (Freleng); The Cagey Canary (Avery); Porky's Midnight Matinee (Jones); Rhapsody in Rivets (Freleng); Wabbit Twouble (Clampett); Porky's Pooch (Clampett)


The Bird Came C.O.D. (Jones); Aloha Hooey (Avery); Who's Who in the Zoo (McCabe); Porky's Cafe (Jones); Conrad the Sailor (Jones); Crazy Cruise (Avery); The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (Freleng); Saps in Chaps (Freleng); Dog Tired (Jones); Daffy's Southern Exposure (McCabe); The Wacky Wabbit (Clampett); The Draft Horse (Jones); Nutty News (Clampett); Lights Fantastic (Freleng); Hold the Lion, Please (Jones); Gopher Goofy (McCabe); Double Chaser (Freleng); Wacky Blackouts (Clampett); Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (Clampett); Foney Fables (Freleng); TheDucktators (McCabe); Eatin' on the Cuff (Clampett); Fresh Hare (Freleng); The Impatient Patient (McCabe); The Dover Boys (Jones); The Hep Cat (Clampett); The Daffy Duckaroo (McCabe); The Hare-Brained Hypnotist (Freleng); A Tale of Two Kitties (Clampett); My Favorite Duck (Jones); Ding Dog Daddy (Freleng); Case of the Missing Hare (Jones)


Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Clampett); Confusions of a Nutzy Spy (McCabe); Pigs in a Polka (Freleng); Tortoise Wins by a Hare (Clampett); Fifth Column Mouse (Freleng); To Duck or Not to Duck (Jones); Flop Goes the Weasel (Jones); Hop and Go (McCabe); Super Rabbit (Jones); The Unbearable Bear (Jones); The Wise Quacking Duck (Clampett); Greetings Bait (Freleng); Tokio Jokio (McCabe); Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk (Freleng); The Aristo-Cat (Jones); Yankee Doodle Daffy (Freleng); Wackiki Wabbit (Jones); Tin Pan Alley Cats (Clampett); Porky Pig's Feat (Tashlin); Scrap Happy Daffy (Tashlin); Hiss and Make Up (Freleng); A Corny Concerto (Clampett); Fin 'n' Catty (Jones); Falling Hare (Clampett); Inki and the Minah Bird (Jones); Daffy the Commando (Freleng); Puss 'n' Booty (Clampett)


Little Red Riding Rabbit (Freleng); What's Cookin', Doc? (Clampett); Meatless Flyday (Freleng); Tom Turk an d Daffy (Jones); Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears (Jones); I Got Plenty of Mutton (Tashlin); The Weakly Reporter (Jones); Tick Tock Tuckered (Clampett); Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips (Freleng); The Swooner Crooner (Tashlin); Russian Rhapsody (Clampett); Duck Soup to Nuts (Freleng); Angel Puss (Jones); Slightly Daffy (Freleng); Hare Ribbin' (Clampett); Brother Brat (Tashlin); Hare Force (Freleng); From Hand to Mouse (Jones); Birdy and the Beast (Clampett); Buckaroo Bugs (Clampett); Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears (Freleng); Plane Daffy (Tashlin); Lost and Foundling (Jones); Booby Hatched (Tashlin); The Old Grey Hare (Clampett); Stage Door Cartoon (Freleng)


Odor-able Kitty (Jones); Herr Meets Hare (Freleng); Draftee Daffy (Clampett); The Unruly Hare (Tashlin); Trap Happy Porky (Jones); Life with Feathers (Freleng); Behind the Meat Ball (Tashlin); Hare Trigger (Freleng); Ain't That Ducky (Freleng); A Gruesome Twosome (Clampett); A Tale of Two Mice (Tashlin); Wagon Heels (Clampett); Hare Conditioned (Jones); Fresh Airedale (Jones); The Bashful Buzzard (Clampett); Peck Up Your Troubles (Freleng); Hare Tonic (Jones); Nasty Quacks (Tashlin)


Book Revue (Clampett); Baseball Bugs (Freleng); Holiday for Shoestrings (Freleng); Quentin Quail (Jones); Baby Bottleneck (Clampett); Hare Remover (Tashlin); Daffy Doodles (McKimson); Hollywood Canine Canteen (McKimson); Hush My Mouse (Jones); Hair-Raising Hare (Jones); Kitty Kornered (Clampett); Hollywood Daffy (Freleng); Acrobatty Bunny (McKimson); The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (Clampett); Bacall to Arms (Clampett); Walky Talky Hawky (McKimson); Racketeer Rabbit (Freleng); Fair and Wormer (Jones); The Big Snooze (Clampett); The Mouse-merized Cat (McKimson); Rhapsody Rabbit (Freleng)


The Gay Anties (Freleng); A Hare Grows in Manhattan (Freleng); Rabbit Transit (Freleng); Easter Yeggs (McKimson); Crowing Pains (McKimson); A Pest in the House (Jones); Little Orphan Airedale (Jones); Slick Hare (Freleng); Mexican Joyride (Davis); Catch As Cats Can (Davis)


Gorilla My Dreams (McKimson); Two Gophers from Texas (Davis); What Makes Daffy Duck (Davis); What's Brewin', Bruin? (Jones); Daffy Duck Slept Here (McKimson); A Hick, a Slick and a Chick (Davis); Back Alley Oproar (Freleng); I Taw a Putty Tat (Freleng); Rabbit Punch (Jones); Nothing But the Tooth (Davis); Buccaneer Bunny (Freleng); Bugs Bunny Rides Again (Freleng); The Rattled Rooster (Davis); The Shell Shocked Egg (McKimson); Haredevil Hare (Jones); You Were Never Duckier (Jones); Dough Ray Me-ow (Davis); Hot Cross Bunny (McKimson); The Pest That Came to Dinner (Davis); Hare Splitter (Freleng); Odor of the Day (Davis); The Foghorn Leghorn (McKimson); A Lad in His Lamp (McKimson); Daffy Dilly (Jones); Kit for Kat (Freleng); The Stupor Salesman (Davis); Riff Raffy Daffy (Davis); My Bunny Lies over the Sea (Jones); Scaredy Cat (Jones)


Wise Quackers (Freleng); Hare Do (Freleng); Holiday for Drumsticks (Davis); The Awful Orphan (Jones); Porky Chops (Davis); Daffy Duck Hunt (McKimson); Rebel Rabbit (McKimson); Mouse Wreckers (Jones); High Diving Hare (Freleng); The Bee-devilled Bruin (Jones); Curtain Razor (Freleng); Bowery Bugs (Davis); Mouse Mazurka (Freleng); Long-Haired Hare (Jones); Henhouse Henry (McKimson); Knights Must Fall (Freleng); Bad Ol' Putty Tat (Freleng); The Greyhounded Hare (McKim son); The Windblown Hare (McKimson); Dough for the Do-Do (Freleng); Fast and Furry-ous (Jones); Each Dawn I Crow (Freleng); Frigid Hare (Jones); Swallow the Leader (McKimson); Bye Bye Bluebeard (Davis); For Scent-imental Reasons (Jones); Hippety Hopper (McKimson); Which Is Witch? (Freleng); Bear Feat (Jones); Rabbit Hood (Jones); A Ham in a Role (McKimson)


Home Tweet Home (Freleng); Hurdy Gurdy Hare (McKimson); Boobs in the Woods (McKimson); Mutiny on the Bunny (Freleng); The Lion's Busy (Freleng); The Scarlet Pumpernickel (Jones); Homeless Hare (Jones); Strife with Father (McKimson); The Hypochondri-Cat (Jones); Big House Bunny (Freleng); The Leghorn Blows at Midnight (McKimson); His Bitter Half (Freleng); An Egg Scramble (McKimson); What's Up, Doc? (McKimson); All Abirr-rd (Freleng); 8 Ball Bunny (Jones); It's Hummer Time (McKimson); Golden Yeggs (Freleng); Hillbilly Hare (McKimson); Dog Gone South (Jones); The Ducksters (Jones); A Fractured Leghorn (McKimson); Bunker Hill Bunny (Freleng); Canary Row (Freleng); Stooge for a Mouse (Freleng); Pop 'im Pop (McKimson); Bushy Hare (McKimson); Caveman Inki (Jones); Dog Collared (McKimson); Rabbit of Seville (Jones); Two's a Crowd (Jones)


Hare We Go (McKimson); A Fox in a Fix (McKimson); Canned Feud (Freleng); Rabbit Every Monday (Freleng); Putty Tat Trouble (Freleng); Corn Plastered (McKimson); Bunny Hugged (Jones); Scentimental Romeo (Jones); A Bone for a Bone (Freleng); Fair-haired Hare (Freleng); A Hound for Trouble (Jones); Early to Bet (McKimson); Rabbit Fire (Jones); Chow Hound (Jones); His Hare Raising Tale (Freleng); Cheese Chasers (Jones); Lovelorn Leghorn (McKimson); Tweety's S.O.S. (Freleng); BallotBox Bunny (Freleng); A Bear for Punishment (Jones); Sleepy Time Possum (McKimson); Drip-Along Daffy (Jones); Big Top Bunny (McKimson); Tweet, Tweet, Tweety (Freleng); The Prize Pest (McKimson)


Who's Kitten Who? (McKimson); Operation: Rabbit (Jones); Feed the Kitty (Jones); Gift Wrapped (Freleng); Foxy by Proxy (Freleng); Thumb Fun (McKimson); 14 Carrot Rabbit (Freleng); Little Beau Pepe (Jones); Kiddin' the Kitten (McKimson); Water, Water Every Hare (Jones); Little Red Rodent Hood (Freleng); Sock a Doodle Doo (McKimson); Beep, Beep (Jones); Hasty Hare (Jones); Ain't She Tweet (Freleng); The Turn-Tale Wolf (McKimson); Cracked Quack (Freleng); Oily Hare (McKimson); Hoppy Go Lucky (McKimson); Going! Going! Gosh! (Jones); Bird in a Guilty Cage (Freleng); Mouse Warming (Jones); Rabbit Seasoning (Jones); The Egg-cited Rooster (McKimson); Tree for Two (Freleng); The Super Snooper (McKimson); Rabbit's Kin (McKimson); Terrier Stricken (Jones); Fool Coverage (McKimson); Hare Lift (Freleng)


Don't Give Up the Sheep (Jones); Snow Business (Freleng); A Mouse Divided (Freleng); Forward March Hare (Jones); Kiss Me Cat (Jones); Duck Amuck (Jones); Upswept Hare (McKimson); A Peck'o'Trouble (McKimson); Fowl Weather (Freleng); Muscle Tussle (McKimson); Southern Fried Rabbit (Freleng); Ant Pasted (Freleng); Much Ado about Nutting (Jones); There Auto Be a Law (McKimson); Hare Trimmed (Freleng); Tom-Tom Tomcat (Freleng); Wild over You (Jones); Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century (Jones); Bully for Bugs (Jones); Plop Goes the Weasel (McKimson); Cat-Tails for Two (McKimson); A Street Cat Named Sylvester (Freleng); Zipping Along (Jones); Duck! Rabbit! Duck (Jones); Easy Peckin's (McKimson); Catty Cornered (Freleng); Of Rice and Hen (McKimson); Cats A-weigh (McKimson); Robot Rabbit (Freleng); Punch Trunk (Jones)


Dog Pounded (Freleng); Captain Hareblower (Freleng); Feline Frame-Up (Jones); Wild Wife (McKimson); No Barking (Jones); The Cat's Bah (Jones); Design for Leaving (McKimson); Bell Hoppy (McKimson); No Parking Hare (McKimson); Doctor Jerkyl's Hide (Freleng); Claws for Alarm (Jones); Little Boy Boo (McKimson); Devil May Hare (McKimson); Muzzle Tough (Freleng); The Oily American (McKimson); Bewitched Bunny (Jones); Satan's Waitin' (Freleng); Stop, Look and Hasten! (Jones); Gone Batty (McKimson); Goo Goo Goliath (Freleng); From A to Z-Z-Z (Jones); Quack Shot (McKimson); Lumber Jack Rabbit (Jones); Sheep Ahoy (Jones)


Beanstalk Bunny (Jones); All Fowled Up (McKimson); Sandy Claws (Freleng); Jumpin' Jupiter (Jones); Hyde and Hare (Freleng); Speedy Gonzales (Freleng); Guided Muscle (Jones); Pappy's Puppy (Freleng)


The High and the Flighty (McKimson); The Unexpected Pest (McKimson); Stupor Duck (McKimson); Barbary Coast Bunny (Jones); Half-Fare Hare (McKimson); Raw! Raw! Rooster (McKimson); Slap-Hoppy Mouse (McKimson); Wideo Wabbit (McKimson); There They Go-Go-Go (Jones)


Scrambled Aches (Jones) (co); Ali Baba Bunny (Jones) (co); Cheese It, the Cat (McKimson) (co); Fox Terror (McKimson) (co); Piker's Peak (Freleng) (co); Tabasco Road (McKimson) (co); Bugsy and Mugsy (Freleng) (co); Zoom and Bored (Jones) (co); Mouse-taken Identity (McKimson) (co); Gonzales' Tamales (Freleng) (co); Feather Bluster (McKimson) (co); To Itch His Own (Jones)


By STALLING: article—

Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), no. 15, Fall 1975.

On STALLING: articles—

Funnyworld, no. 13, Spring 1971.

Soundtrack! (Hollywood), March 1991.

Filmfax, no. 34, August-September 1992.

Film Comment, vol. 28, September-October 1992.

Animatrix (Los Angeles), no. 7, 1993.

Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), May 1995.

* * *

"I love music," said Warners' animator Friz Freleng. "Music inspires my visual thinking. I time my cartoons to music . . . everything is done rhythmically."

Musical director Carl Stalling was one of the unsung "back-room boys" of the Golden Age of the Hollywood cartoon from around 1930–60, working in a medium where even the directors and animators (and Stalling, especially at Warner Bros., worked with the best) have only recently begun to receive the acclaim their brilliant creations deserve.

Stalling broke into the movie business in the 1920s in time-honoured fashion accompanying silent movies and conducting theatre orchestras, principally in Kansas City. It was here that he met Walt Disney, who hired him as musical director in 1928 as the age of sound was about to dawn.

The importance of Carl Stalling's musical contribution to the success of the Mickey Mouse cartoons and other early Disney work should not be underestimated. Animation and music fused in these cartoons, the visual rhythm of movement and the punchlines of gags dancing to the beats of the soundtrack. Without music, reaction to the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons (Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho) had been disappointing but the introduction of Stalling's music to the third cartoon, Steamboat Willie, transformed the situation. It was Stalling, also, who proposed the idea for the 1929 classic Skeleton Dance and launched the "Silly Symphonies" series for Disney.

A period in the early 1930s working for animator Ub Iwerks (who poached Stalling from Disney when he left to form his own studio) produced little opportunity for Stalling to shine (Iwerks' own cartoons were not outstanding) but this changed when Stalling joined Warners in 1936 after the failure of Iwerks' studio.

At Warner Bros., Stalling not only had brilliant cartoons to work on but also, thanks to the studio's ownership of several music publishers, access to a catalogue of hundreds of popular tunes. His grounding in the work of the masters of the clever tune/apt lyric brigade gave his arrangements an incredible diversity—light, graceful and witty—which complemented the on-screen action without ever distracting from it. He was helped considerably by an incredible recall which allowed him to select titles suited to the action or image, a facility which Chuck Jones referred to as "his computer." This helped Stalling in keeping up with the pace of work imposed at Warners where, as the principal person scoring for each of the cartoon "teams," he would often have to come up with an entire six-minute cartoon score every week. Along with the sound-effects of Treg Brown, Stalling's scores became an integral part of the output.

The reflex selection of music according to a title related to what was on-screen did, however, run the risk of descending into cliché. "Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't," said Jones, before adding that "it didn't mean anything because nobody knew the damn songs even then." This is only partly true, since even if Warner Bros. fans didn't know the titles, Stalling's method meant they came to recognize the tunes! The swingtime of "Powerhouse" became the hallmark for any mechanical activity, "California, Here I Come" accompanied trains going anywhere, and all games became jazzed up contests played out to "Freddie the Freshman."

Stalling had a particular soft spot for the catchy, energetic work of Raymond Scott (who wrote "Powerhouse," as well as such cartoony titles as "Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner" and "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals") though he would latch onto anything with a crazy title, clearing the rights to songs such as "They Gotta Quit Kickin' My Dog Around," "Honey Bunny Boo," "Huckleberry Duck," "The Girl-Friend of the Whirling Dervish" and "Go Get the Ax."

The logic Stalling applied in his selection of music often, in fact, mirrored the remorseless extensions of logic which underlay the cartoon mayhem on screen which would take things and stretch them or put them in an oddball context. Stalling's efforts even earned the praise of the famous writer and critic James Agee for his pastiche of Lizst in the 1946 cartoon Rhapsody Rabbit: "A good musician must have worked on this . . . I have never seen anything done from so deep inside the ham."

If Stalling's musical eclecticism (ragtime, swing, the classics and just about any kind of popular ditty) let him down, it was only with faster jazz of the late 1940s and 1950s, when occasionally directors would bring in an outsider for a soundtrack (e.g. in Mouse Mazurka (1949) Friz Freleng turned to jazzman Shorty Rogers for music).

The pressure under which he had to work may have dictated his reliance on borrowing and playing with the work of others—as did the desire to pastiche everything which hung in the air on the Warners' cartoon lot—but Stalling was also a consummate musician, well able to compose his own themes or songs when the opportunity arose. Bugs' theme song, "What's Up, Doc?," was composed by Stalling in 1944 and saw the light of day to marvelous effect in the great rabbit's 1950 spoof bio-pic of the same name. Footage of this number, with Bugs doing terrible things to a deadpan Elmer, later appeared in Peter Bogdanovich's 1972 feature film What's Up, Doc?.

If Stalling's contribution in his 20 years at Warners' was a backdrop to the on-screen pyrotechnics it was an important one. An actor needs a platform to act upon and Stalling's music provided part of that platform. He was brilliant at adapting a staggering range of musical material to back up the cartoons' comic pace, mimicking the referential gifts of the animators with his own musical one. Chuck Jones has called Stalling "probably the most inventive musician who ever worked in animation," but perhaps he was only obeying the rarely heeded advice of producer Leon Schlesinger: "Hit 'em with the fast music."

—Norman Miller

Stalling, Carl

views updated May 11 2018

Carl Stalling

Composer, musical director, keyboardist

Carl Stalling was a composer best known for his work on animated films for Disney and Warner Brothers studios during what is now known as the Golden Age of the cartoon. He was responsible for scoring some of the earliest cartoons at Disney, and is credited with numerous innovations he made in the field throughout his career. Between 1936 and 1958 alone, he was responsible for scoring an estimated 600 cartoons for Warner's Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies. August Kleinzahler, writing in Slate in 2003, called him "an authentic American genius, an original … as important, in his way, as Ives, Copland, Cage, Partch, and Ellington."

Stalling attributed his great love for film from having seen the film The Great Train Robbery when he was five years old. "It made such an impression on me," he said in an interview reprinted in the Cartoon Music Book, "that from then on I had only one desire in life: to be connected with the movies in some way." His first instrument was a battered toy piano that his father, a carpenter, had repaired. He took his first piano lessons at the age of six and was playing church organs by the age of eight. By age 13 Stalling was playing piano between reels at the local movie house.

Stalling's musical career in the 1920s was spent as an accompanist and director in silent movie houses in the Kansas City area. Sound had not yet become a part of film. Each theater typically had its own orchestra that performed live for each showing of a movie. Scores were improvised from books containing thematic musical material or ideas categorized by mood, rather than set pieces. The skills learned in this setting served Stalling well throughout his career. Walt Disney saw him directing an orchestra and playing organ at the Isis Theatre during this time. The two initiated a correspondence when Disney left for Hollywood, and Disney later hired Stalling as musical director for his new film studio in 1928—just as sound was poised to become an integral part of film. The earliest cartoons had no music, but Stalling would change that.

He was asked to provide a score for shorts featuring a new cartoon character, that of Mickey Mouse. "Animation and music fused in these cartoons, the visual rhythm of movement and the punchlines of gags dancing to the beats of the soundtrack," according to the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. "It was Stalling, also, who proposed the idea for the 1929 classic The Skeleton Dance and launched the Silly Symphonies series for Disney." In all, he scored about 15 film shorts for the studio. He also had one line as Mickey Mouse in 1930's Wild Waves, and provided the singing voice for a walrus in that same short.

While at Disney, Stalling invented a system for cartoon music scoring. At the heart of this was the so-called "tick system." Like a metronome, each earphone-wearing musician in the orchestra heard a constant beat that allowed them "to synchronize the music more precisely to the action," according to Kleinzahler. The system was first used for The Skeleton Dance. In a 1969 interview, Stalling soft-pedaled the importance of his innovation. "The 'tick' system was not really an invention, since it was not patentable," he said. "Perfect synchronization of music for cartoons was a problem, since there were so many quick changes and action that the music had to match. The thought struck me that if each member of the orchestra had a steady beat in his ear, from a telephone receiver, this would solve the problem. I had exposure sheets for the films, with the picture broken down frame by frame, sort of like a script, and twelve of the film frames went through the projector in a half second. That gave us a beat…. Each member of the orchestra had a single earphone, and listened to the clicks through that." This technique is now known as a click track, and is commonly used in studio music recording.

Stalling left Disney in 1930 to work at Aesop's Fables Studio in New York, a short-lived job where he was paid three times what he had been earning, but for which he did little. In retrospect, Stalling noted that this had been a competitor's ploy to undermine Disney. He went to work for Ub Iwerks for six months in 1931 on his "Flip the Frog" series. The two had been friends while working for Disney. "We were all very good friends, Walt and Roy [Disney], Ub and I," he said. "My leaving turned out better for Walt and it turned out better for me." Stalling then worked on the Three Little Pigs and several other Disney cartoons as a freelance arranger and musician. He returned to Iwerks in 1933, and when Iwerks's studio folded in 1936 Stalling found a lasting home with Warner, where he would work for the remainder of his career.

Stalling would typically be responsible for one six-minute long score a week. "I just imagined myself playing for a cartoon in the theatre, improvising, and it came easier," he said in a 1969 interview. "Stalling would write the piano parts of the score—the skeleton—and include the cues he wanted and special notations with regard to instrumentation," wrote Kleinzahler. "He was blessed with a brilliant arranger in Milt Franklyn and an equally brilliant sound-effects man in Treg Brown, something of a comic genius in his own right." The process typically took about seven or eight days to compose, about three hours to record. Stalling had a 50-piece orchestra of eager musicians at his disposal.

Stalling borrowed bits and pieces from various musical sources, including classical music and popular songs. Warner owned several music publishers, making a large catalogue available for use. "The pressure under which he had to work may have dictated his reliance on borrowing and playing with the work of others," according to the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. "But Stalling was also a consummate musician, well able to compose his own themes or songs when the opportunity arose." John Zorn, the avant garde composer-musician, noted in an interview with Philip Brophy that appeared in the Cartoon Music Book that Stalling was not the first composer to undertake composition in this manner. "Although he used elements and melodies from Scott, it's not unlike the way Charles Ives used American folk themes. Stalling's sense of time, his sense of narrative, completely revolutionized the idea of musical development. This was before the post-modern experiments. He created something completely new."

Warner came to the fore as an animation studio in the 1940s. The animators he hired still remain atop the pantheon: Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, and Frank Tashlin. They created the now-iconic characters of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, "as well as a brand of anarchic comedy far removed from Disney's gentility," observed Jason Ankeny, writing for All Music Guide. Mel Blanc, the voice-over genius, completed the team.

In creating a score, Stalling would select music according to the on-screen action. For example, this included using snippets of "California, Here I Come" when trains were in the action, or "How Dry I Am" when characters were drunk, and "The Lady in Red" for Bugs Bunny in drag. In one Road Runner cartoon, for example, a chase was viewed from overhead, taking place in a cloverleaf pattern, and the score switched to "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover."

"Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't," said Jones. When it worked it engendered praise, including that of James Agee, the noted critic, who said of Stalling's use of Franz Lizst in Rhapsody Rabbit, "A good musician must have worked on this…. I have never seen anything done from so deep inside the ham." In the latter days of his career, observed Will Friedwald in an essay on Stalling in the Cartoon Music Book, "Stalling could transmit a musical joke or idea with an ever-decreasing number of notes."

"The modern cartoon, and especially the Hollywood cartoon from the Golden Age of Animation, relies so much on music that it is truly difficult to conceive what they might have been like without a soundtrack," wrote Daniel Goldmark in Animation World Magazine. "Carl Stalling was, without a doubt, the most skilled and clever composer of cartoon music Hollywood ever had. … He essentially created the sound that most fans of animated shorts know as, simply, 'cartoon music.'"

"Having established the musical conventions for cartoons, Stalling basically had an influence on every cartoon composer since his run at Warner Bros.," stated Goldmark. "He was also a master at telling a story through music, with gestures and nuances so clear, that there is never any doubt as to his intentions. If you don't believe me, go turn on your television and watch some Looney Tunes. … I guarantee you will know exactly what is happening, and to whom. This was the comedic skill of Carl Stalling."

For the Record …

Born on November 10, 1891, in Lexington, MO; died on November 25, 1974, near Los Angeles, CA.

Began playing piano, c. 1897; played piano between reels at local movie house, c. 1910; accompanist and orchestra leader for silent films in Kansas City area, c. 1918-28; hired as musical director at Walt Disney studios, 1928-30; hired away by Aesop's Fables Studio, 1930; worked at Ub Iwerks's studio, 1931, 1933-36; worked intermittently for Disney as arranger and musician, 1931-33; musical director for Warner Brothers cartoons, 1936-58.

Stalling's last score was for 1958's To Itch His Own, after which he retired. He had been the only composer the studio had for its cartoons until his departure. Stalling died in 1974 at the age of 86. After his death, Warner released two compact discs of Stalling's music, titled The Carl Stalling Project.

Selected discography

The Carl Stalling Project, Volume 1, Warner, 1990.

The Carl Stalling Project, Volume 2, Warner, 1995.

That's All Folks!—Cartoon Songs from Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes, Rhino, 2001.

Selected film compositions

For Disney

The Barn Dance, 1928.

Gallopin' Gaucho, 1928.

Plane Crazy, 1928.

The Skeleton Dance, 1928.

The Merry Dwarfs, 1929.

The Op'ry House, 1929.

When the Cat's Away, 1929.

Springtime, 1930.

Wild Waves, 1930.

For Warner Bros.

Porky's Poultry Plant, 1936.

The Village Smithy, 1936.

Picador Porky, 1937.

Little Red Walking Hood, 1937.

Sniffles Takes a Trip, 1940.

Little Blabbermouse, 1940.

Bedtime for Sniffles, 1940.

Sniffles Bells the Cat, 1941.

The Brave Little Bat, 1941.

Rhapsody in Rivets, 1941.

Inki and the Minah Bird, 1941.

Little Red Riding Rabbit, 1944.

What's Cookin', Doc?, 1944.

Stage Door Cartoon, 1944.

Odor-able Kitty, 1945.

Baseball Bugs, 1946.

Rhapsody Rabbit, 1946.

I Taw a Putty Tat, 1948.

Mouse Wreckers, 1949.

Mutiny on the Bunny, 1950.

What's Up, Doc?, 1950.

Rabbit of Seville, 1950.

Putty Tat Trouble, 1951.

Beep, Beep, 1952.

Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century, 1953.

Jumpin' Jupiter, 1955.

Speedy Gonzales, 1955.

Cheese It, the Cat, 1957.

To Itch His Own, 1958.



Goldmark, Daniel, and Yuval Taylor, editors, Cartoon Music Book, Da Capo, 2002.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 4: Writers and Production Artists, St. James, 1996.


"Carl Stalling," All Music Guide, (June 3, 2004).

"Carl Stalling and Humor in Cartoons," Animation World Magazine, (June 3, 2004).

"The Mickey Mouse Genius," Slate, (June 3, 2004).

—Linda Dailey Paulson

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