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Stalling, Carl W.

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

Stalling, Carl W.

    Virtuoso musical director at Warner Brothers between 1936 and 1958. His musical scores, which liberally mixed original music with quotes from the Warner Brothers’ vast music library, were a major factor contributing to the success of WB cartoons.

    Stalling was the house organist at the Newman Theatre in Kansas City. An advertisement for the Isis theater from a 1922 edition of the Kansas City Star, reproduced by Merritt and Kaufman, reads

        “All lovers of good mustic will rejoice in the following announcement. Carl Stallings [sic] Kansas City’s greatest movie organist will again Hypnotise Isis patrons at the $22,000 Hope Jones Organ. Welcome Home, Carl!”

    Stalling became involved with Walt Disney, who produced short animated cartoons (Newman Laugh-O-Grams) for the same movie chain in 1922. Stalling was an investor in the venture, which went bust shortly afterward.

    Merritt and Kaufman also quote Rudolf Ising regarding an experiment that Ising, Harman and Stalling tried around 1923, synchronizing the song “When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day”. Stalling, pressing a pencil against a hand-cranked reel of discarded film as it was being projected, indicated how long certain words would be held on the screen, allowing Harman and Ising to make exposure sheets that would follow the words. Merritt and Kaufman do not indicate what subsequently happened to this particular project.

    Stalling re-enters animation history when Walt Disney leaves him with the reels for Plane Crazy and Gallopin’ Gaucho, the first two Mickey Mouse cartoons ever made. They were originally made as silents, sound being added only after the success of Steamboat Willie, shortly after that film’s premiere on November 18, 1928. It was during this time that Stalling invented the tick method of orchestrating music for cartoons, which is still in wide use by studio orchestras today. Musicians wear earphones that “tick” to indicate the tempo at which the cartoon’s music is to be played, without even seeing the cartoon itself.

    Stalling is generally given credit for creating the Silly Symphonies series at Disney in 1929. Stalling had wanted to score cartoons differently from the way Disney intended to do the Mickey Mouse cartoons, so Disney let Stalling work with Ub Iwerks to create The Skeleton Dance, which was released in 1929. Stalling was also called in to do the voice of Mickey Mouse as well, on certain occasions -- Wild Waves being one such example.

    Stalling left Disney in 1930 to work at the new studio set up by Iwerks to produce cartoons for distribution by MGM. He did, however, manage to sit in on piano for the breakthrough Disney short The Three Little Pigs. Stalling would stay with the Iwerks studio until 1936, when the studio folded.

    Fellow Kansas City native and Iwerks veteran J.B. “Bugs” Hardaway got Stalling the position as musical director at Schlesinger’s studio. Stalling was the successor to Norman Spencer, the man whose dubious legacy is having repeatedly turned down Mel Blanc’s offers to provide voices for the studio’s characters.

    Stalling noted that one great advantage he had at Warner Brothers was the ability to use popular songs from the studio’s library. He did claim that 80-90% of his music was original, and the figure can be considered roughly accurate if you consider the ways in which Stalling twisted, bent and mixed musical scores to get the necessary effects. Treg Brown, the sound effects maestro, was a close colleague. He and Stalling literally worked next to each other over the years to put together the music and effects tracks.

    Stalling is known to have done at least some of the music for one feature, the Jack Benny film The Horn Blows at Midnight.

    A serious accident in 1950 left Carl Stalling needing a brain operation. During his extended absence from the Studio, his arranger Milt Franklyn filled in for him, along with Eugune Poddany. In 1958, Franklyn succeeded Stalling as music director, following the latter’s retirement.

    Stalling is directly referenced in only one Warner Brothers cartoon: The Old Grey Hare (Clampett, 1944). Under the headline regarding the replacement of television by Smellovision can be read the phrase “Carl Stalling Sez It’ll Never Work!”

    Stalling is known to have granted only one interview, and it is from this that much of the information in this entry is taken. It can be found in Funnyworld #13.

    In Funnyworld #12, Robert Clampett makes the remarkable statement that it was Stalling who suggested the pairing of Sylvester and Tweety in what would eventually become the Oscar-winning Tweetie Pie (Freleng, 1947), on which Clampett had done the initial work.

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