Saturday, 25 April 2015

Phil Scheib

If there’s one cartoon music composer who is derided, it’s Phil Scheib, responsible for scoring (and perhaps arranging) the music accompanying Heckle and Jeckle and all your other Terrytoons favourites.

Scheib didn’t have the luxury of a full symphony orchestra, like at Warners or MGM. He had the handicap of not being able to use music outside the public domain because producer Paul Terry wouldn’t pay for it. After a while, his scores started sounding pretty similar. Just as you could bet you’d hear the same splash sound effect that popped up in the last Terry cartoon you watched, you just knew a saxophone would be skipping around the scale during a chase scene.

It might leave you with the impression that Scheib was just another hack, but when Terry kissed off his cartoon studio for millions and CBS brought in Gene Deitch to produce, people (including Deitch) learned otherwise. Terry, Scheib told Deitch, was responsible for lacklustre scores he was forced to write, and proceeded to come up with musical material far more interesting.

Plenty has been written about Carl Stalling, who set the standard for cartoon scores. Scott Bradley has somewhat received his due. But little has been said about many of the others who worked on animated shorts in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. We’ve posted about Van Beuren’s Gene Rodemich here, and now here’s a little biography of Scheib. It came from the Mount Vernon Daily Argus of July 14, 1932. The writer’s crack about Tin Pan Alley shows she was more an aficionado of the classics as, apparently, was Scheib. You see to the right a radio listing for a local radio programme he did on Thursday nights in 1927. It certainly wasn’t dance band music.

Our Famous Neighbors
The three young men who create and produce one of this country's best-loved "talkie" features, all live in Westchester. They are Paul Terry of Larchmont, Frank Moser of Hastings, and Philip Scheib of New Rochelle.
Of the three, "Phil" Scheib contributes the music.
He writes it by a stop-watch; it has to synchronize to a split second with the action of the picture; he writes it by the feet—and knows exactly how many feet of melody must be made to fit an equal number of feet of action. If there is any phase of this modern age which ilustrates [sic] perfectly the way in which music has become the hand-maid of the machine, it is in the production of the music for these "talkie" cartoons. That does not imply that it has also become servile but rather that even the great rattle and glamor of modern mechanics cannot get along without a musical setting and that music is adaptable to and fits in with every new development created by man.
Philip Scheib is not to be confused with one of the modern musical composers from Tin Pan Alley. He is a musician with a thorough and profound knowledge of his subject; he is a composer; and he is convinced that the "talkie" cartoon represents the most perfect coordination of the arts that the world has ever seen. It requires everything—play-writing, dialogue, verse, dancing and music. It is notable that in the 65 original scores he has written for the Terrytunes, there has never been a slip-up of a second in the synchronization of the music with the action.
He is 36 years old and a native of New York City. When he was scarcely more than a boy, he went to Germany to study music and shortly was convinced that his greatest field of usefulness rested in conducting. When he was 17 he received an honorary diploma from the Stern Conservatory of Music in Berlin, and when he came back to this country, the same year, it was as musical director for the famous operetta, "The Chocolate Soldier." For a period of years he directed a chain of ten theaters. He was musical director, also, for Adelaide and Hughes and travelled extensively with them.
The closing of so many theaters, the disbanding of so many orchestras, was one factor in his going into the movies and there he found a work sufficiently fascinating and with an interesting future to have engrossed him for the past several years. He wrote the score and theme song for D. W. Griffith's recent picture. "The Struggle," and holds the position of musical director for Griffith.
He lives at 891 Webster Avenue, New Rochelle, nearly opposite the Nature Woods. His small daughter, Barbara Ann, who has just learned to walk and to talk, gives every evidence of following in her father's foot-steps for she carries a tune with no difficulty at all and can sing through the nursery songs she has picked up from her mother. Barbara Ann is a blonde and pink baby, very much the kind one sees on magazine covers; she inherits her blondeness from her petite mother; her gifts from her father include not only what seems to be an unusual proclivity for things musical, but such a wealth of affection, intelligently controlled, as falls to the lot of few children. Philip Scheib worships his small daughter and thinks it a proud and lovely thing to talk of her. He has a direct and simple manner of speech, entirely disarming, with a quiet dignity that results in a personality the strength of which both men and women recognize. His heart is in his home and in his music and obviously he is making a success of both.


  1. It's always seemed strange that -- as heavy on musicals as 20th Century Fox was during the Golden Age -- Terrytoons never used any of the Fox Fanfare Music-licensed songs for Scheib's scores, which you'd think they could have gotten access to for free, just as the other studios' cartoons did (Being on the east cost might have been a contributing factor. But Paramount had no problem with the Fleischers using the Famous Music library in their cartoons, albeit Winston Sharples used less of Paramount's feature film music by the 1950s).

  2. Because Terry was independent of 20th Century-Fox....and he stressed ECONOMY above all else. And that went for the music department as well. Either Scheib used public domain melodies in his scores, or wrote original tunes and passages.

    1. But Lantz was independent of Universal in the 1940s, and Darrell Calker had access to the Universal music library. Which doesn't mean Fox's policy couldn't have been different, but Lantz had access, Schlesinger had access when he was separate from Warners (though J.L.'s original reason for his cartoon deal with Leon was to peddle Warners' music library), and the Fleischers, even with their finances depending more and more on Paramount, were technically independent in the 1929-41 period.

      So being an independent by itself wasn't an impediment to the releasing studio allowing free use of its music for promotional purposes (though going by the archetypical story of the theater owner who said he put Terrytoons on to clear the seats for the next show, Fox may have thought putting their music into Paul's cartoons might have made the songs less popular).

  3. J.Lee:
    And of course, I'm pretty sure that NO 20th. Century-Fox fanfare and logo EVER opened ANY Terry short....SC

  4. I've never seen anything which shows Lantz had access to any music other than what he bought and paid for. Variety reported a number of times during the 40s of deals he made with the composers themselves to use their music, and for one cartoon only. (Of course, there's the famous story of the song Lee Sweetland-as-Woody sang in "Ski For Two." Lantz thought it was public domain, discovered otherwise too late, and chuckled how he low-balled paying for its use).
    Calker's scores for Lantz at Universal sound no different than his scores for Lantz at UA or his scores for Screen Gems.

    1. I highlighted Lantz's "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" because it was made famous by its inclusion in Universal's 1941 Abbott & Costello Universal movie "Buck Privates", which was recorded by the Andrews Sisters for Decca Records -- not owned by Universal at the time, but with a long, intertwined relationship with the studio (and both companies now are under the same corporate umbrella). It's not an obvious quid pro quo as the use of Warners-owned music was in the Schlesinger cartoons, but it's hard to imagine the suits at Universal would have been unhappy to see their cartoon supplier base a story around a song from their own hit movie.

      Universal decidedly was not a studio known for its musicals, but there does seem to be a natural connection here, even if there wasn't a licensing discount for Walter Lantz. Fox offered far more option for music rights clearance with it musicals of the period, but other than the Shirley Temple-"Good Ship Lollipop" number from 1936, I can't think of any other time Fox and Terrytoons ever acknowledged any sort of possible musical synergy between the cartoons and the feature films.

  5. Then there was the MCA thing with Decca & Universal.....SC

    1. True, but nowadays, Universal Music is under separate ownership (Vivendi) from NBCUniversal (now Comcast property).

  6. I grew up in New Rochelle and the Scheibs were friends of my parents. Phil gave me a ukelele and a couple of TerryTunes LPs. I remember a nice man.