by Rachel Newstead
Music, under the leadership of a superb musical director, can become as much a part of an animation studio’s house style as its character designs and layouts. This is particularly true when one musician stays for decades, as Scott Bradley, Carl Stalling, and Winston Sharples did. Some (like Stalling) are so good, we fans often forget anyone had come before (“Norman Spencer?? Who’s he?”) and try our level best to forget anyone who came after (pity poor Bill Lava).
To a certain extent, the Walter Lantz studio also fell victim to this thinking. On the rare occasion one hears “Walter Lantz” and “music” in the same sentence, it’s usually to praise the fiery, brassy swing of Darrell Calker. Calker did contribute much to the style and mood of the early Wooody Woodpecker and Andy Panda cartoons, and one can’t imagine the Swing Symphonies without his involvement. Calker, however, was just one of many.
In the previous decade, Lantz experimented with several people, trying to get the right sound. Frank Churchill from Disney, Frank Marsales from Harman-Ising/Schlesinger, Nathaniel Shilkre, and even onetime animator Victor McLeod each had his turn at the podium. However, one man would leave his imprint as deeply on the Lantz cartoons of the thirties as Calker would in the forties: James Dietrich.
You’re no doubt wondering what in heaven’s name this has to do with Avery; in the case of today’s cartoon, a great deal. Avery’s gags shone when combined with the right musical score, and in She Done Him Right, Dietrich’s music made the glow even brighter. Continue reading