Saturday 4 March 2023

Praise For Scott Bradley

Carl Stalling ranks first among cartoon composers for quite a number of fans, partly because of the ubiquity of the Warners animated shorts on TV (at one time) and Stalling’s clever musical puns based on song titles or lyrics.

Other composers have their champions, too. They’re at either end of the spectrum. Gene Rodemich at Van Beuren generally settled for tunes of the early ‘30s solely as mood music, predating the same practice in TV cartoons of the 1950s and onward. Then there was Scott Bradley at MGM, who not only set moods with his own compositions, but scored to the action on the screen.

Bradley had a champion in Bruno David Ussher, the music columnist of the Los Angeles Daily News. He wrote in depth about Bradley in his column of May 27, 1939. By then, Bradley’s tone poem “Cartoonia” had been performed at the Hollywood Playhouse. Richard D. Saunders in the February 1, 1939 edition of the Hollywood Citizen-News called it “an utterly delightful bit of fantasy, deftly scored, and conceived with intriguing whimsicality. The na├»ve theme of the child was charmingly guileless, the “Calico Dragon” was introduced sinuously by the bassoons, the “Fleas” skittered and hopped in the notes of the upper winds, and the prince who came to slay the dragon with a peppermint candy spear was announced in a lilting trumpet fanfare. The “once upon a time” mood was adroitly sustained.

Ussher’s column followed two where he complained about the lack of credits on MGM cartoons. Evidently he chatted with Fred Quimby or maybe Max Maxwell at Metro and was given an interesting explanation you can read below.

MUSIC
By BRUNO DAVID USSHER

SEVERAL days ago I expressed my pleasure over a musically and visually artistic color cartoon made by the MGM cartoon department. I voiced also some surprise that name credits were absent in the title, especially when sight and sound bore such evidence of taste, skill and coordination. I grumbled about it at the studio and found that the powers that be are well swore of the thoughtful, imaginative and self critical work which the men and women with typewriters, music paper, paint brushes, cameras and sound reproducing machines are pooling in a remarkable spirit of veritable art-democracy.
Important as indeed the musical contribution of composer-director Scott Bradley is, his name is kept off the screen, together with those of his meritorious collaborators from the writing, painting, photographic and sound departments, because time in terms of film footage is valued infinitely. A cartoon is a story told in action. Lack of a few seconds of action can rob an otherwise cleverly thought out, well made cartoon of its "punch."
COMPOSER-DIRECTOR SCOTT BRADLEY and his two story writing, action directing colleagues, Hugh Harmon [sic] and Rudolph Ising, have to fill a yearly quota of 15 cartoons. Bradley has been at it five years. No doubt that length of time has given him a special skill for writing epigrammatically pictorial music. In terms of actual quantity, Bradley’s fellow screen composers often have to produce more music in less than three weeks than he has to provide. (A cartoon is accompanied by nine or ten minutes of continuous music.) On the other hand, the cartoon predominantly a thing of action. It consists, on the average, on 15,000 pictures, and while some of these differ from each other but imperceptibly, nevertheless music must fit them with almost microscopic closeness of mood and motion.
In the regular film a composer may write against a scene. In the "acted" film the composer enjoys a good deal of liberty as a musical commentator and he may retrace the course of the film story or anticipate same. In the animated picture or cartoon, the composer makes action aural and illustrates and emphasizes happenings and atmosphere. At least that has been the tradition of the past.
ANYONE thinking that Scott Bradley has time on his hands while having to create only nine or ten minutes of music every two or three weeks is greatly mistaken. The technical process of the cartoon is painstaking in its minute demands. Making a cartoon is a process of checking and double checking. Twenty-four individual pictures (technically known as frames) flash across the screen every second of performance. To these 15,000 frames must be fitted an average of 425-450 measures of music, the difference being determined by how much slow tempo music the cartoon score contains.
"As a rule, cartoons are packed with action. The music moves with the action and literally every note must convey, or at least sustain, the general meaning," Bradley told me. We have broken away from the noisy, slam-bang-craah cartoon film. The raucous film is giving way to a cartoon type which can be no less humorous and entertaining, but which meets also the public craving for things beautiful as imaginative and extravagant of idea and action.”
BRADLEY is dispensing with what might be called crude sound or actual action noise when he can obtain the same auditory effect by means of ingenious orchestration.
"As a matter of fact, good, suggestive Instrumentation can produce sound of an atmospheric imagination stirring effectiveness which the plain imitation of so-called natural sound does not possess. In ‘The Goldfish’ (the preview title was ‘Wonders of the Deep’), the little creature is seen shooting the chutes—(the curved arm of an octopus). Instead of resorting to the old fashioned slide whistle we used a harp glissando with string tremolo. "The sound of the rising bubbles is made by flutes, clarinets, strings tremolando. When ‘Sea Biscuit’ hee haws, violins play intervals of minor seconds instead getting the actual sound of a horse neighing. In other words, I am evolving sound effects out of the music by means of harmonization and orchestration.
Some day I shall induce Scott Bradley to share a few more secrets of his super realism. His method does make cartoons lovelier and musically more fascinating. Of course, it means more work, more ingenuity, on his part. He is now getting ready for a Christmas cartoon with a real, anti-war message. Another production will be a cartoon fantasy on Grey’s "Elegy.” And the Bradley-Harmon-Ising triumvirate is also hatching plans for a full length cartoon feature to be started next year.


Bradley’s belief in the end of “slam bang” cartoons couldn’t have been more wrong. Just around the corner from this interview, Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry would be created, Bob Clampett would fill his war-time cartoons with crazy (and, at times, violent) action, and Tex Avery would perfect his wild takes.

Ussher devoted part of another column to Bradley, this one published December 2, 1939.

I was gratified to read Virginia Wright's enthusiastic article about MGM’s cartoon short, "Peace on Earth two days ago. It deserves every inch of the two columns she devoted to this simple and yet potent one reel picture. As the Daily News drama editor observed, this "short" carries a deep and timely message and does it with all the charm of producer Hugh Harman's previous creations. I touched on one of them (“The Goldfish”) several months ago because Scott Bradley’s background music impressed me as quite ingenious as well as befitting that beautifully colored, quaintly imaginative "short." All the widely varied sound effects were produced by means of instrumental imitation. Music was put to clever use.
IN "Peace on Earth the only nonmusical sound, apart from dialog, is the crashing of shells. Ones or twice the street carols, when heard in the squirrel home, should sound less loud than outdoors, but that is a small matter.
Bradley’s craftsmanship in musical miniatures is exemplified once more. For instance, he uses nothing but a low viola tremolo over deeply beating kettledrums when the last two men in the world die in battle. As they sink down, even the violas cease and finally even the drums lapse into a silence which grows tense although it lasts but 10 seconds.
No need to mention the fine use of English horns, celeste, trumpet and strings.


It’s been 30 years since a CD of Bradley’s work on six Tex Avery cartoons was released. The irony is Bradley told interviewer Milt Gray in 1979 “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.... I gave in to him for a while, but finally I went down to see Quimby in his office and complained.... And Quimby backed me up.” One wonders if Avery’s penchant for hoary old tunes like “Old Black Joe” or “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” irked a modernistic composer like Bradley (conversely, Carl Stalling told historian Mike Barrier in 1969 “Tex Avery was...great”).

When MGM closed its cartoon studio in 1957, producers/directors Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera set up their own operation. Bradley didn’t go along. He retired. It’s doubtful Hanna and Barbera could have borne the expense of a composer at that time, relying instead on a cue deal with Capitol records.

Bradley died in 1977 at age 85. A plaque over his grave only features the Masonic square and compasses; he was a member of Silver Trowel Lodge No. 415. Nothing reveals the contribution he made to the world of animated cartoons.

7 comments:

  1. There are clips of the BBC Proms concerts of Scott Bradley's music on YouTube. Don't know if there is a CD or Blu-ray of these concerts. https://youtu.be/seka_xO0UwI

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  2. There are limited edition CDs out there (Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery Too! and Tex Avery).

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GrjxtNYhTCc

    https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_mvazk0-LXNdf-5fu9shwFgs1L-QlSHBEA

    https://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwOGN83JZWVX6NMxKV7Qig6Tbv9UALaSH

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  3. Nice article..ol course, Scott also did "studio hits"(like the Judy Garland musicals) and public domain (Emmett's Lullaby n Barney Bear's BAH! WILDERNESS,1943, being among a favorite of both him and me..)

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    1. You're quite right, Steve. Bradley engaged in musical quotes (Sing Before Breakfast, The Trolley Song and a few others) but certainly never to the extent that Stalling did.

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    2. Hans Christian Brando4 March 2023 at 16:50

      But Stalling didn't have "Over the Rainbow" to put in his cartoons.

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  4. Has Scott Bradley ever commented on his work for the non-Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons at MGM? (i.e. Barney Bear, Ol' Doc Donkey, etc.)

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  5. Miklos Rozsa, in his memoir "Double Life," told an anecdote about Bradley delivering a lecture to a college class about the importance of music in film; he brought two prints of a Tom & Jerry cartoon, one without his score, the other with it. Bradley ran the music-less print first and the class laughed uproariously at it. Then he ran the print with the music, and was chagrined that the class didn't laugh as much the second time around.

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