Carl Stalling

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Carl W. Stalling
Background information
Born (1891-11-10)November 10, 1891
Lexington, Missouri
Died November 29, 1972(1972-11-29) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California
Genres Film score, soundtrack
Occupation(s) Composer, arranger
Instruments Piano, theater organ
Years active 1928–1958
Labels Warner Bros.
Notable instruments
Piano, theater organ

Carl W. Stalling (November 10, 1891 – November 29, 1972) was an American composer and arranger for music in animated films. He is most closely associated with the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts produced by Warner Bros., where he averaged one complete score each week, for 22 years.


Stalling was born to Ernest and Sophia C. Stalling. His parents were from Germany; his father arrived in the United States in 1883. The family settled in Lexington, Missouri where his father was a carpenter. He started playing piano at six. By the age of 12, he was the principal piano accompanist in his hometown's silent movie house. For a short period, he was also the theatre organist at the St. Louis Theatre, which eventually became Powell Symphony Hall.

By his early 20s, he was conducting his own orchestra and improvising on the organ at the Isis Movie Theatre in Kansas City. During that time, he met and befriended a young Walt Disney who was producing animated comedy shorts in Kansas City. Stalling composed several early cartoon scores for Walt Disney, including Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho in 1928 (but not Steamboat Willie, Disney's first released sound short), and even spoke Mickey Mouse's first words in The Karnival Kid in 1929. Early discussions with Disney about whether the animation or the musical score should come first led to Disney creating the Silly Symphonies series of cartoons. These cartoons allowed Stalling to create a score that Disney handed to his animators. While there, Stalling pioneered the use of "bar sheets", which allowed musical rhythms to be sketched out simultaneously with storyboards for the animation.

He left Disney after two years, at the same time as animator Ub Iwerks. Finding few outlets in New York, Stalling rejoined Iwerks at his studio in California, while freelancing for Disney and others. In 1936, when Leon Schlesinger—under contract to produce animated shorts for Warner Bros.—hired Iwerks, Stalling went with him to become a full-time cartoon music composer, with full access to the expansive Warner Bros. catalog and musicians. He remained with Warner Bros. until he retired in 1958. His last cartoon was To Itch His Own, directed by Chuck Jones.

Although Stalling's composing technique followed the conventions of music accompaniment from the silent film era that were based on improvisation and compilation of musical cues from catalogs and cue-sheets, he was also an innovator. Stalling is among the first music directors to extensively use the metronome to time film scores. He was one of three composers, along with Max Steiner and Scott Bradley, credited with the invention of the click track. His stock-in-trade was the "musical pun", where he used references to popular songs, or even classical pieces, to add a dimension of humor to the action on the screen. Working with legendary directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones, he developed the "Looney Tunes" style of very rapid and tightly coordinated musical cues, punctuated with both instrumental and recorded sound effects, and occasionally reaching into full blown musical fantasies such as The Rabbit of Seville and A Corny Concerto.

Stalling was a master at quickly changing musical styles based on the action in the cartoon. His arrangements were complicated and technically demanding. The music itself served both as a background for the cartoon, and provided musical sound effects. The titles of the music often described the action, sometimes forming jokes for those familiar with the tunes.

Stalling made extensive use of the many works of Raymond Scott, whose music was licensed by Warner Bros. in the early 1940s.

Jones and the other Looney Tunes directors sometimes complained about Stalling's proclivity for musical quotation and punning. In an interview, Jones complained:

Stalling's cues are always tied to the story on the screen. For example, he often used "The Lady in Red" and "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" in scenes with attractive women or characters in female drag, and "California, Here I Come" for scenes where characters make hasty departures. Raymond Scott's "In an 18th Century Drawing Room" is usually associated with Granny in the Sylvester and Tweety shorts, and his "Powerhouse" pops up in scenes of machines, factories or mechanical devices. Stalling composed music for the Rossini-derived short The Rabbit of Seville, and linked Smetana's "The Dance of the Comedians" to Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner. Stalling is remembered today for the scores of cartoons that remain popular, and are often remembered for their music. His melodies are heard through most of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, and imitated in new Looney Tunes compilations and features such as Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Film critic Leonard Maltin pointed out that listening to the soundtracks of the Warner cartoons was an important part of his musical education; the use of the full Warner Bros. Orchestra resulted in a richness of sound that is often lacking in more modern cartoons. It is undeniable that Stalling introduced the babyboom generation to classical music and much of the Great American Songbook.[citation needed]

After Stalling retired in 1958, he was succeeded by Milt Franklyn, who had assisted Stalling as an arranger since the late 1930s.


Stalling died on November 29, 1972, near Los Angeles.[2]

Borrowed material[edit]

Stalling did not create these comedic musical associations. Some of these melodies were already animated cartoon clichés when he started using them. For instance, "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2" (in piano scenes) was used in Disney cartoons of the early 1930s before the Looney Tunes started using it.

"Payday", Private Snafu short scored by Stalling in 1944, containing various themes and styles of music.



  1. ^ Chuck Jones: Conversations by Maureen Furniss (2005, University Press of Mississippi)
  2. ^ "Carl Stalling biography". Musician Guide. Retrieved October 30, 2009. 


  • Adamson, Joe (1980) "Chuck Jones Interviewed." in The American Animated Cartoon, edited by Gerald and Danny Peary,. New York: E. P. Dutton. pp. 128–41
  • Goldmark, Daniel (2005) "Carl Stalling and Popular Music in the Warner Bros. Cartoons." Chapter 1, and "Carl Stalling Documents," Appendix 1 of Tunes for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon, University of California Press, Berkeley, ISBN 0-520-23617-3
  • Stalling, Carl W. The Carl W. Stalling Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming
  • Tebbel, John R. (Sept/Oct 1992) "The Looney Tunester" Film Comment, 28.5, pp. 64–66
  • Zorn, John (1990) "Carl Stalling: An Appreciation," Liner Notes for The Carl Stalling Project: Music From Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1936–1958, Warner Bros. Records 26027

External links[edit]