Saturday, 7 January 2017

Cartoon Composer Scott Bradley

When the MGM cartoon studio closed in 1957, not all the employees followed producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera to their brand-new animation operation. Maybe the most notable of these was musical director Scott Bradley.

Bradley was 65 when Metro shut down and he decided that was a good enough time to call it a career. After all, he had been in music for at least 45 years at that point.

Comparisons between Bradley and his counterpart at Warner Bros. (Schlesinger), Carl Stalling, are inevitable. Both used snippets of popular or public domain songs, sometimes as visual puns (for example, Tom and/or Jerry strolling into a kitchen might be accompanied by “Sing Before Breakfast”). But no one will ever mistake one composer for the other. Stalling never struck me as pretentious. I’m not so sure I can say the same thing about Bradley.

Shawn Roney, in his thesis A Frog, A Cat, A Mouse, A “Deranged Genius” and More: The Story of MGM Cartoons (1998), quoted his interview with Hanna:
I worked close with Scott Bradley because I did all of the timing of the Tom and Jerrys and did a lot of my work on bar sheets, where the actual notes were written down. . . . And he was always very cooperative and — in working closely with him — why, we could almost tell him exactly, or I could tell him exactly, what we had in mind and we wanted and he always seemed to be able to fulfill that. ...
We worked with Scott on a daily basis. He was [a] much older man than we were; and as far [as] having any social life together, we didn’t. But he was certainly a pleasure to work with and a great talent and a lot of fun.
Bradley was born Walter Scott Bradley on November 26, 1891 in Russellville, Arkansas (“but [I am] not an "Arkie" I hasten to add,” he told musicologist and composer Ingolf Dahl in 1949). His father Horace was a judge who moved the family to Wewoka, Indian Territory in 1897. It was a frontier town. In 1902, a crazed woman showed up on the Bradleys’ doorstep threatening to cut off the judge’s head with a knife. Mrs. Bradley took three shots at the woman at close range and missed. When Horace died on a trip to Texas in 1907, a collect telegram was sent to a brother informing him of the death. The charges were refused.

Bradley started making a living playing the piano. The vaudeville newspaper, the New York Clipper, has this entry on February 8, 1913:
PITTSBERG, Kan., Note.—The Deloys (Dainty Dudines) Tabloid Musical Comedy Co., the oldest tabloid company in the middle West, has closed seventeen weeks at the Empress Theatre, Grand Island, Neb., and are playing a stock engagement at the Electric Theatre, Pittsburg, Kan., with Joplin, Mo., to follow. The company, under the direction of Eddie Deloy, is featuring Myrtle Deloy, the ragtime singer, and is contemplating a trip through the Black Hills. Wyoming and Montana, this season. The people with the company are: W. Scott Bradley, musical director; Tolla Deloy, Ray Leslie, Geo. Bierig, Ruby Darby, Hazel Balford, Effie Girtrude, Patsy Jones, Myrtle Deloy and Eddie Deloy.
In September 1916, he was playing piano in Lloyd C. Finlay’s orchestra at the Majestic and Rice theatres in Houston and pounding the organ at the Majestic in 1924. For a time in 1919, he led a six-piece band at the Rialto in Tulsa. It’s interesting to note on one of the bills in Houston was an Aesop Fables cartoon. Bradley could very well have accompanied the silent cartoon with organ music. Bradley told told Dahl he “studied piano, private instruction, organ and harmony with the English organist Horton Corbett,” who was based in Houston.

Music historian Daniel Goldmark reveals in his thesis Happy Harmonies: Music and the Hollywood Animated Cartoon (2001) that Bradley moved to Los Angeles in 1926. City directories of the late ‘20s only list him as a musician, but not where. However, in June 1929 he was hired by KTM radio as its music director and instituted a weekly, hour-long light-opera spot, including vocalists. He left the following January. By May 1930, he was at KNX, and by September he had moved over to KHJ, where he lasted about four months as assistant orchestra leader. (Trade paper Inside Facts of Stage and Screen, Sept. 6, 1930, claimed Bradley had trained under Victor Herbert).

When did he start in cartoons? Roy Prendergast wrote in Film Music: A Neglected Art (1977) that Bradley played "piano in the then tiny Walt Disney Studios. . . Bradley worked for Disney during that short period when 'actual' recording, or recording without benefit of post-production dubbing, was still in use." Goldmark found there was no record of Bradley at Disney, but as you can see above there are gaps in Bradley’s radio career and it could be he worked for Walt then. However, Goldmark discovered 13 ASCAP cue sheets for Ub Iwerks cartoons from 1931 and 1932 with Bradley’s name on them, so he was definitely in animation by then.

How did he end up at MGM in 1934? Bradley told Mike Barrier and Milt Gray in a 1977 interview that Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising
had a picture they wanted to do at Paramount Studios, and they were looking for someone to do the music. Frank Marsales was working for Rudy and Hugh, but his hand was injured. . . . I was at home and not working at the time, and they called me. I had never met them nor they met me. . . . I knew they were working with a small budget, so instead of charging them $500.00 for the job, I gave them the music for $250.00.
So it was that when Harman and Ising won a distribution deal from MGM in 1934, Bradley composed scores for all their cartoons until shorts department head Fred Quimby dropped the Harman-Ising studio and set up his own on the Metro lot in 1937. Ex Disney musician Bert Lewis won the job as the composer but when Harman and Ising were brought in as staff directors the following year, they made it a condition of employment that Bradley be hired, too. According to Goldmark, MGM dropped Bradley as a contract employee in 1954 and employed him on a freelance basis at just under $1,000 a cartoon through 1957 when the studio closed.

What was Bradley doing when he wasn’t employed on cartoons? In 1933, we find him as the pianist at the Church of the Kingdom on South Figueroa Street. In March 1934, Bradley’s cantata “Thanatopsis” for orchestra and chorus opened the season of the Los Angeles Oratorio Society. Bradley also composed the orchestral suite “Cartoonia,” which told the fairy story a little girl had fabricated for her doll, as well as “Valley of the Poppies,” both which were performed by 1938. He was also honoured in 1941 as one of the first 29 recipients of the National Federation of Music’s awards for advancing the quality of screen music (Carl Stalling won nothing).

We’ve read about Bradley’s relationship with Bill Hanna. Working with Tex Avery, the director of the other MGM cartoon unit, was different. Tex wasn’t subtle. His takes were obvious and so was his music; familiar old song titles were preferable because the audience would be guaranteed to catch the humour or irony in their use. Bradley told Barrier
Tex Avery didn’t like my music. We disagreed a lot on what kind of music was appropriate for his cartoons. His ideas on music were so bad that I had to put a stop to it. In every picture he wanted ‘Home Sweet Home’ and all that corny music.
But about one of Avery’s shorts, Bradley said in 1948
In a recent cartoon, Out-Foxed, I wrote a short four-voiced fugue on ‘3 [British] Grenadiers’ with the little tune ‘Jonny’s Got a Nickel’ serving merrily as the counter subject. Cartoons usually do without fugue, but here it fits the action. Musically spoken, you can get away with almost anything in pictures if the score only captures the ‘feeling’ of the sequence.
Indeed, John H. Winge wrote in the Fall 1948 edition of Sight and Sound, after sniffing at the “hackneyed foxtrots” and “fusillades of the sound effects boys” at unidentified animation studios, that
MGM’s Tom and Jerry series and its cartoons by Tex Avery seem to have high musical ambitions.
Bradley was versatile and comfortable with different types of music. Consider the vibrant New Orleans wails of Dixieland Droopy, the jazzy, bass-lined “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” of Solid Serenade, the melodic urban theme “Manhattan Serenade” in “Mouse in Manhattan” and Franz Liszt’s classical “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” in “The Cat Concerto.” But he seems to have preferred what was considered modern (non-popular) music. Winge stated that “Bradley prefers his unorthodox harmonizations of known little melodies which turn into hilarious sound when synchronized with the proper cartoon action.”

While Stalling had the full Warner Bros. orchestra at his disposal, Bradley was limited to 19 or 20 pieces. Winge explained:
Bradley had to re-consider it as a large chamber group: he treated the wood-winds individually, the strings as a quintet and the piano as a solo instrument instead of as a filler. But this approach demanded multiple counterpoint and unconventional harmonic devices. The kind of fast a-rhythmic stories used in cartoons did not lend itself to a steady rhythmic pattern or to long-winded melodic lines. Bradley senses here a strong affinity between the structure of the cartoon and modern music. All this led him away from the beaten path. First, he used Stravinsky’s well-known Petrouchka chord as a shock denoting Jerry Mouse’s horrified gasp. This harmonic innovation ranks—in Bradley’s words—with Wagner’s harmonization of the chromatic scale in Die Walkuere. Rimsky-Korsakoff used the basic progression as a modulation, i.e., C-major to F-major, but Stravinsky combined the two, sounding them simultaneously in various inversions in close and open harmony. This device is the basis of most contemporary harmony, save Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone System. For years, Bradley has been using it, too, as probably the only composer in his field. “The Twelve-Tone System,” he says “provides the ‘out-of-this-world’ progressions so necessary to under-write the fantastic and incredible situations which present-day cartoons contain.”
For an analytic appraisal of Bradley’s cartoon work, you can do no better than to read Chapter 2 of Goldmark’s Tunes for ’Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon (2005). Suffice it to say, to my layman’s ears, Bradley’s scores suited what was on the screen and provided some laughs on their own. That’s the only thing that really matters.

Bradley died April 27, 1977 at his home in Chatsworth, California at the age of 85. He was buried by his brothers of Silver Trowel Masonic Lodge No. 415.


  1. Miklos Rozsa, in his memoir "Double Life," related with considerable amusement an anecdote about Scott Bradley. He was addressing a film school class (at UCLA, I think), about the role that music played in enhancing a film, bringing two prints of the latest Tom & Jerry cartoon, one without his score, the other with. Bradley first ran the music-less version, and the class laughed uproariously. But when he followed with the scored version, he found to his chagrin the students weren't laughing as much.

  2. Be sure to check out YouTube for the BBC Proms from 2013, when the John Wilson Orchestra plays a medly of Scott Bradley's Tom & Jerry music, its one of the most wonderful things ever! I also understand that the sheet music for it had to be painstakingly reconstructed working backwards from the soundtracks.

    1. WOW! Forget James Brown, those violinists are the hardest working folks in showbiz!

  3. I once took an adult Intro to Music course at Lehman College in the Bronx. When the professor played a Schoenberg piece to introduce 12-tone progressions, a Jamaican woman sitting to my right just repeated under her breath : "Tom and Jerry, Tom and Jerry..."

  4. Bradley's music did seem to change a bit even in the H-B Tom & Jerry shorts as the 1940s moved into the 50s, where the longer more melodic underscores were replaced by music that more comically mimicked the action on screen. Not quite as encompassing as what Stalling was doing over at Warners, but playful little things you wouldn't have heard in an early-to-mid 40s MGM cartoon score.

  5. Tex Avery didn't like Bradley'music? For shame, Doc! My favorite Avery / Bradley is "Little Johnny Jet" - right after papa B-29 says "let's get 'em, son!" Bradley gives us Yankee Doodle, Three Cheers For The Red White and Blue, and Dixie all together in under 12 seconds, AND works in Rock-A-Bye Baby dozens of times!

  6. I vote for "The Bodyguard" (Tom and Jerry) as my favorite Scott Bradley score, especially the poignant use of "You're A Sweetheart" during the bubble gum chewing sequence.

  7. I think Bradley was a more interesting composer than Stalling from a technical point of view. Bradley could really work with motifs and develop them, intertwining and juxtaposing themes in a classical way, while Stalling was more of a cut-and-paste-composer.

    Yet, I think Bradley's dive into dodecaphony is a trifle overrated: yes, he used a twelve-tone-row in two cartoons, but this row is never developed or reversed or anything. So, Bradley clearly did not use any of Arnold Schoenberg's composition theories.

    My favorite score are probably the early 'The Night Before Christmas' or 'Sufferin' Cats', in which both Tom and Jerry have recognizable themes, developed into a marvelously intricate score.

  8. Tom & Jerry's "The Flying Cat" was always a favorite of mine! Used the theme from a ballet.

  9. Hello, I am fascinated about Scott Bradley and I am working on an essay about him, his life and his contribution to Hollywood music. I think he was one of the most important composers of the golden age of cartoons, but it's too bad that his work is so underrated nowadays, not even known too much. I believe Carl Stalling has surpassed him somehow in the eyes of the eyes of audiences and music enthusiasts, but it's somehow unfair, because both where great musicians, talented and most complex in cartoon compositions.

    The internet doesn't provide me with enough info, this article is the only one here that is somehow detailed, but not enough, I am sure there is more info out there, more pictures, descendants, connections etc. Can someone here provide me with any more info on his life, photos, stories, the way he worked in music, people with whom he worked at MGM. It would help me a lot in my researches.
    Great article, btw, most elaborate on the internet.