Scott Bradley (1891-1977)
Scott Bradley was born in Russellville, Arkansas 26 November 1891 in Arkansas.
He died at the age of 85 in Chatsworth, California on 27th April 1977
In 1934, MGM decided that they had to get into the growing cartoon business but they weren't brave enough to create their own unit. Instead, they bought in cartoons from the Hugh Harman/Rudolf Ising company (the name of the company, Harman-Ising, was a deliberate pun). Scott Bradley worked for Harman-Ising, having previously been at Disney, alongside Carl Stalling who later went to Warner Brothers and worked on 600 of the famous Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
So, when MGM decided to create their own in-house cartoon unit in 1938, it was natural that they bought in most of the people from the Harman-Ising stable and Bradley became a full time MGM employee.
Cartoon music was, in the mid 1930s, still pretty much a collection of popular songs linked together with the occasional musical effect supporting the action. It wasn't until the late '30s that the music started to tell the story more than the sound effects did. Roy Prendergast in his book Film Music, a neglected art (1992) tells the story of how Bradley was dissatisfied with a simple collage of popular tunes. He approached Fred Quimby and asked if he could develop a new style of musical writing that closely mimicked what was going on on the screen. Quimby agreed to this and also said that he was prepared for Bradley to compose some music before the animation was done, instead of being done afterwards, as was normally the case.
So Bradley started to develop a musical language that became very closely associated with particular actions, characters and emotions. By the early 1950s, Bradley's music was so well developed that he could write large sections of a cartoon without any conventional music, simply weaving together his collection of musical metaphors.
As an example, look at the opening of The Two Mouseketeers (1952). This cartoon was a parody on recent films (The Three Musketeers (1948), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) and Scaramouche (1950)) and starts with a heroic song "Soldiers of Fortune are we", taken from the MGM musical Girl of the Golden West (1938). However, when Tuffy runs into the back of Jerry, the song stops and there follows a little pantomime played out to Bradley's musical language. The contrast between the highly tuneful "Soldiers of Fortune" and the musical punctuations is brilliant and all the more noticeable.
Bradley was a very talented composer and not simply of the musical fragment. He was able to parody and adapt other works as well. Perhaps the best example of this is in Cat Concerto (1947), where he rescores Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody for Tom who plays a rather haughty concert pianist. The early cadenza, when Jerry is rolled up and down inside the piano shows Bradley's own crazy humour and the repeated note when Jerry is bounced up and down several times is not as it was in Liszt's original. Bradley knew that he would have to put in extra notes to get the full comedy from the scene.
It is testament to Bradley's work that he was there with Tom and Jerry right from the very first cartoon to the end of the Hanna-Barbera studio period. When MGM decided that they didn't want to make cartoons any more, Bradley retired. In any case, his style of perfect writing and use of the 20-piece orchestra would not have survived in the budget constrained years that Gene Deitch and Chuck Jones had to oversee. It wasn't just the animation that suffered when the budgets were cut back, the music did too.
It is probably true that Scott Bradley is one of the most listened to composers ever. He was also one of a handful of composers who have been able to create their own musical style, yet his name is not well known. Next time you have a few moments, pick out a few videos from your collection and see how Bradley's style changed over the years. You won't be disappointed.