Saturday 30 July 2022

Cooking With Milt Franklyn

No one ever talks much about Milt Franklyn.

Perhaps it’s because Carl Stalling is considered the man who set the musical style for Warner Bros. cartoons and Franklyn simply followed the template when he gradually replaced Stalling in the early ‘50s. When this little article was posted to the GAC Forum years ago, Franklyn didn’t even rate a Wikipedia biography (that was rectified).

While Stalling was a theatre organist in Kansas City in the 1920s, Franklyn fronted his own orchestra on the West Coast. A story in the Fresno Bee of August 7, 1928 claimed he played 17 instruments, including (just like Bugs Bunny) the banjo. It would appear when Norman Spencer and his arranger son were shuffled out the door by Leon Schlesinger in 1936, Stalling was hired, and Franklyn was brought in to score parts. Musical historian Daniel Goldmark noted Stalling “would make notes to his orchestrator, Milt Franklyn, indicating instructions for specific moments, such as ‘trombones here,’ ‘mysterioso effect here,’ and so on. Franklyn would then take the score and orchestrate it, returning it to Stalling, scored for orchestra and (presumably) ready to record.”

Franklyn spent his later years in Long Beach, California, and one of the local papers had a couple of articles about him. The Long Beach Independent of June 30, 1957 gives us a short biography, as well as his recipe for Jambalaya, an unusual dish for someone who grew up in Salt Lake City.

Chef of the Week
Music Man Keeps Milk Man Hours, All for ‘Bugs’

Independent Press-Telegram Home Economics Editor
Sounds ambiguous, nevertheless but he flunked in music, yet music has proven a most successful vocation for him. He’s somewhat of an enigma, too.
Chef of the Week Milt Franklyn starts his day (of his own volition) at 3 a.m. and usually quits at 7 a.m. That's correct . . . 7 a.m. He is music arranger and director for Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Cartoon Division. His interpretive abilities give rhythmical animation to such characters as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, to mention a few.
By the way, (and this is interesting), 16 drawings are needed for every foot of film and an average cartoon short is 500 to 600 feet long. After the picture is finished, he sets the music to it. Franklyn changed his environment, at the age of three, from New York to Salt Lake City. There he finished high school and completed one year at the University of Utah. Two years followed at UC, Berkeley; and he was well into a term at Pennsylvania University when his so-called hitch in World War I was due. After just three months in officer’s naval training school, the Armistice was signed, and he returned to UC.
By this time he and his degrees were completely confused, so he decided to call a halt to his education and begin his business career. It was in the days when bands were “big time” and since he could play every instrument in a band, he joined one in San Francisco. For the next few years he played at such places as the Palace and St. Francis Hotels.
Since that time, his career has been varied and interesting. For two years he was emcee with Fanchon and Marco at Fox West Coast, San Diego; musical director and emcee with Paramount Publix Corp., taking in such cities as Seattle, Toledo, Houston and Denver. His itinerary eventually took him to New York and to Providence, R. I., with Lowe’s circuit.
About this time (the year ‘35 to be exact) stage shows, as such, “blew up,” and he came to Hollywood where he practically starved for a year. In early ‘36, however, he joined Warner Bros, as music arranger, becoming music director in 1953.
A member of ASCAP and of the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences, he also belongs to both the American Society of Music Composers and the American Society of Composers and Authors. Well known for his charitableness,
He’s also supposed to possess the well-known musical temperament. He likes to win at gin rummy—owns a boat—loves to read, garden, fish and travel . . . mostly travel. He has a piano in his study—a pipe organ in his living room—and has mastered them both.
He's a connoisseur of good food, too. . . . and will shop all over town for just the right ingredient. His production today is for Jambalaya.
Take 1 cup of: Cold cooked shrimp or chicken cut in small pieces.
Mix with 1 ½ cups of: Stewed tomatoes and ¾ cup of boiled rice.
Cook all together in a saucepan for a few minutes.
Then add: 2 small, chopped white onions, ¼ chopped green pepper, 2 chopped stalks celery.
Put into a buttered casserole, season with salt and pepper, and cover the top with breadcrumbs. Bake for about one hour.

Here's another piece from the same paper, in the Sunday magazine section, August 15, 1954.

Daffy Duck Dances to His Music
By Vera Williams

YOU KNOW Bugs Bunny, who asks, “What’s up, Doc?”
You know Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the cat, Tweety the bird, Pepe LePew the skunk that speaks with a French accent, and Elmer Fudd, who can’t pronounce his “r’s”?
You know the background music for their antics—imitative, interpretive music that now is lilting, now is mournful, and that sounds like a worm is crawling when a worm in crawling?
Milton J. Franklyn, 5310 El Prado, who with his wife Charlotte moved to Long Beach last November from Lido Isle, writes that music. He not only composes it but he orchestrates it.
Franklyn, musical director of Warner Bros., now is on his 19th year with Warner Bros. and his 599th cartoon. He’ll be doing his 600th cartoon, he thinks, by September.
CURRENTLY, Franklyn is working on “Past Perfumance,” which as you may guess is about the little skunk. Before that was a U. S. Air Force film, “A Hitch in Time.” Just before that was “Stork Naked” and “Baby Buggy Bunny” and before that was “Lighthouse Mouse.” Incidentally, he recently wrote music for the Sloan Foundation film, “By Word of Mouse,” about a foreign mouse that comes to the United States and learns about big stores and automobiles owned even by the workers and freedom to vote. The background music, he says, “sounds something like Austria . . . or Germany . . . or Sweden.”
Franklyn has a piano in his study and an organ in the living room of his home. Unlike many composers, he does not “finger out” his melodies on the piano and then write them. He “thinks” his melodies before he goes to sleep. The next morning, early — 5 a. m. — he gets up to write them down. Later he plays them to see how they sound.
In filming cartoons, he explains, 16 drawing are needed for every foot of film and the average cartoon short is 500 or 600 feet long. The drawings are then colored and the proper backgrounds made. When the picture is finished, the music is set to the picture.
FRANKLYN does all of his work at home, going to the studio only to see the finished picture, or to watch the 30-piece orchestra record his music.
Starting his musical career early, he was leader of the University of California band at Berkeley and played in a San Francisco supper club. For eight years he was master of ceremonies and musical director for Fox, Loew’s and Paramount-Publix theaters.

Here's the final entry in our Milt Franklyn trilogy (well, if Bugs, Daffy and Elmer can have one...). It's an Oakland Tribune story dated June 20, 1929 and gives a bit of insight into how he ran his orchestra, the Merrymakers. Judging by newspapers, he was moved from between San Mateo, Palo Alto, San Jose and Fresno, then settled for a bit in Oakland in January 1929.

Geo. Munson, Saxophonist, With Milt Franklyn, Does It

Another hole-in-one has come in to the fold of The TRIBUNE Hole-In-One club in the person of George Munson, saxophone player with Milt Franklyn’s band. Munson qualified for the club on the ninth hole of the Lake Chabot course using a mashie. Milt Franklyn, director of the Grand-Lake theater band known as the merrymakers, told of the interest he takes in having each of his bandsmen proficient in some line of athletics. Franklyn went on to state “I find that a musician who gets up and plays eighteen holes of golf in the morning or takes a long swim or plays baseball with the kids in the park, or tennis, comes to the theater with his mind much clearer, and his pep on the stage is much livlier, and his tones more true and clear than the musician who stays in bed until noon. I insist that my men devote so much time per day to practice, but I am much more severe with the ones who fail to make the proper outdoor exercise.”
Milt Franklyn has almost every form of sport represented in his band. George Munson and Bob Kimic, saxophone and trumpet players, shoot a 70 on the golf course. Eddie Forrest, the drummer is a former professional ball player. “Red” Gilliam, trumpet, is a boxer and has appeared several times professionally, Rene Del Mas, saxophone, is a swimmer of note, Pic Smith is the horseshoe pitching champion of Grand avenue and Franklyn himself was state junior tennis champion of Utah for six years in addition to being a member of the University of California [remainder of story was somehow not published].

The first cartoon with Franklyn’s name on it is Bugs and Thugs (released in 1954). He died of a heart attack during the scoring of The Jet Cage (released in 1962) and Bill Lava finished it. He was 64. Carl Stalling outlived him by ten years.


  1. Funny, We caught “ Bugs and Thugs “ tonight ( 8-1-22 ) on “ Boomerang “. The next three cartoons were scored by Franklyn. Carl Stalling was one of a kind, no questioning that. But, Milt was able in his own way to keep that crazy train on the tracks. Bill Lava was heard all over Warners Brothers during the fifties and sixties. Maverick, Cheyenne, Sugar Foot, and of course F-Troop, just to mention a few. His cues were also heard at Universal during their “ second Cycle “ of horror films in the 1940s, and Universal-International’s Sci-Fi films. I think that was Lava’s forte. His scoring during the waning days of Warner’s cartoon unit, to me, always seemed out of place. But then, the cartoons, story lines and all, were running out of steam.

  2. So Lava did F Troop. (Might have known that already. Figures, since his rendition of Yankee Doodle on "Mad as a Mars Hare" resembles the F Troop theme a bit.
    To me, Eugene Poddany, who also worked under Stalling, would have been the next to continue the legacy after Franklyn, but he didn't rise to the position until Jones had taken him to MGM. (And so the Tom & Jerry's they did have a "Looney Toonis" look and sound to them).

    1. Poddany was gone by then. When John Sutherland needed a musical director, Poddany was hired. Off-hand, I don't know what he was doing in 1962.
      I didn't mention it in the post, but Daniel Goldmark has theorised the Seely scores may have been an attempt by Warners to get rid of its musical department and save money. I'm not sure if that's true; Warners was still using its orchestra for features as far as I know, so there would be little savings as Franklyn had it record cartoon scores at the tail end of a session for features.

  3. "The first cartoon with Franklyn’s name on it is Bugs and Thugs (released in 1954)."

    For the sake of accuracy, Franklyn's name started appearing as early as 1951, on those five shorts that Eugene Poddany scored, and then he also got screen credit in 1953 alongside Stalling for Much Ado About Nutting, Going! Going! Gosh!, Zipping Along, and probably some others I'm forgetting, But I get what you were saying, Bugs and Thugs was his first credit as sole composer.

    I've said before, Milt Franklyn is one of my favorite cartoon composers of all time. It's a shame he only had eight years of solo scores.

  4. Yes, Ian, you're correct. My wording could have been more specific but that's what I was getting at.