Norman Spencer (composer)

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Norman Spencer served as film score composer and director of music for Leon Schlesinger Productions (a company later known as Warner Bros. Cartoons) during the 1930s.[1]

Director of music[edit]

Spencer served as composer and director of music for Leon Schlesinger Productions from 1933 to 1936, along with fellow composer Bernard Brown, creating film scores for animated short films in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series produced by Leon Schlesinger. His son Norman, Jr. reportedly handled the musical arrangements for both series.[1]

According to an article for The Film Daily published on April 29, 1936, Spencer had just completed a three-year contract for the studio and signed a new three-year contract. However, an article published on August 3 of the same year reported that Spencer had resigned and that Carl Stalling was succeeding him as the studio's music director.[1] As noted by blogger and animation historian "Tralfaz", the articles reveal that Schlesinger had already signed a new contract with Spencer, only to hire his replacement a few months later, following Brown's departure to head the sound department for Universal Studios. The reasons for Spencer's resignation are unknown, though "Tralfaz" speculated that the man could have left on his own volition.[1]

According to a story told by voice actor Mel Blanc during a 1988 interview, Spencer was also the person responsible for hiring voice actors for the studio. Blanc repeatedly requested an audition from the Schlesinger studio, but Spencer kept telling him that the studio had no need for new voice actors. One day in 1936, Blanc returned with another request for an audition and found Spencer missing, as he had fallen ill and Treg Brown (who later replaced Spencer as sound editor) was filling in. At this point, Brown finally gave Blanc his long-awaited audition, and subsequently hired him.[2]


As noted by film scholar Clifford McCarty in the book Film Composers in America: A Filmography, 1911-1970 (2000), determining who was the composer of a film requires more research than consulting the film's screen credits. Screen credits in the era he researched were not intended to inform the public about who were the creative personnel of the films. Screen credits served largely to establish the importance of an individual to the film industry. In silent films, the composers were rarely credited as the film scores accompanying the film could vary from one movie theater to another. In sound film there was only one score, but most American film studio were initially reluctant to procide music credits to anyone except the songwriters. When the studios granted a credit, they would name the music director of the studio. In theory, the music director was responsible for composing, arranging, and conducting of film music. But the director did not have to personally do all these things. It was still usual in the 1930s for the music department head to be credited or awarded instead of the actual composers.[3]

McCarty estimates that screen credits for composers started becoming common c. 1932, though there were earlier exceptions. But there were still varying levels of credits among the various films released. So-called "A pictures" (big-budget films) and middle-range "programmers" were more likely to credit their composers, while B movies rarely included any music credits. In part because they lacked actual music scores or used tracked music provided by supplier companies. At major American studios, credits to composers became customary during the 1940s. But collaborations between composers were still rarely acknowledged and only one composer would receive the credit. Two major exceptions were the films Stagecoach (1939) and Abilene Town (1946), since each credited five composers for the music.[3] There is evidence that some composers would decline offers of screen credits. R. H. Bassett, for example, was a prolific film score composer, but never received a screen credit.[3]

In trying to establish who was the composer of any given film, Clifford McCarty consulted a variety of sources. The two primary sources were the music scores themselves and the music cue sheets. Cue sheets were the legal documents reporting the musical contents of a sound film. They tend to vary on level of detail, but most include the title of cue or name of a musical composition, its composer, and its publisher. They also include information on instrumental and vocal music, background and visual, and their duration measured in minutes and seconds. Their limitations are that they tend not to distinguish between original and preexisting music, and that they credit the original composer and not the one responsible for the adaptation.[4] McCarty also used secondary sources, particularly when the primary sources were long lost or unavailable to him.[4]

Given the above limitations, McCarty lists the following music credits for Norman Spencer:[5]


  • McCarty, Clifford (2000). "Screen credits". Film Composers in America: A Filmography, 1911-1970. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195114737.
  • McCarty, Clifford (2000). "Methodology". Film Composers in America: A Filmography, 1911-1970. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195114737.
  • McCarty, Clifford (2000). "Spencer, Norman". Film Composers in America: A Filmography, 1911-1970. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195114737.
  • Sigall, Martha (2005). "The Boys of Termite Terrace". Living Life Inside the Lines: Tales from the Golden Age of Animation. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781578067497.


  1. ^ a b c d Tralfaz: Cartoons and Tralfazian Stuff (September 5, 2012). "Tex? Tash? I Got Jobs". Blogger. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  2. ^ Sigall (2005), p. 84-86
  3. ^ a b c McCarty (2000), p. 8-9, "Screen Credits"
  4. ^ a b McCarty (2000), p. 9-10, "Methodology"
  5. ^ McCarty (2000), p. 299, "Spencer, Norman"

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