Friday, May 30, 2008

The Disney Film Composers (Part 4)

The majority of the 1970’s and 1980’s proved to be difficult years for Disney Animation. The number of animated films produced during these years were less than previous years and none of them lived up to the reputation of classic Disney animated films from the early years. The scores for these films at best had one or two memorable songs and some did not have any songs at all. But things started to change when Michael Eisner came aboard and a second ‘golden age’ of Disney animation was about to take place.

Beginning in 1989 the new generation of Disney animators and storytellers would tell us stories of mermaids, beasts, genies and lion kings. The man who has written the most scores and has been the most successful during this time period is Alan Menken.

Alan Menken was born on July 22, 1949 in New Rochelle, New York. From the time Menken was growing up he was surrounded and interested in music. His family loved the Broadway musical and they would regularly gather around the piano while his father would play the songs of the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. Menken wanted to be a composer but he came from a long line of dentists (fans of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ will see the irony in that) so he thought that was his fate.

Menken enrolled at New York University in 1967 where he took premed courses in order to please his parents. However his true passion and talents soon won out and he earned a degree in music from NYU. Following his graduation he supported himself by writing jingles, accompanying ballet classes and performing his own material in clubs.

Menken attended the Lehman Engel Musical Workshop of BMI, the innovative Manhattan-based program that spawned many gifted lyricists, composers and librettists. It was there that Menken met playwright Howard Ashman and in 1978 they collaborated on a musical version of Kurt Vonnegut’s story ‘God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater’. BMI showcased a number of Menken’s musicals from 1971 to 1985.

In 1982, Menken and Ashman wrote the hit Off-Broadway musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. The show won the Best Musical awards from the New York Drama Critics, the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circles and the London Evening Standard.

In 1989, Menken and Ashman wrote the songs for “The Little Mermaid” and the new ‘golden age’ of Disney films had started. Because of their experience in the theater world, Menken and Ashman wrote songs that help define the characters and move the story along, a first for Disney films. The two wrote the songs for the next two films “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” before Howard Ashman’s untimely death in 1991.

For the rest of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, Menken continued his success with “Pocahontas” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (with Stephen Schwartz), and “Hercules” (with David Zipple). Menken also wrote additional songs for the stage versions of “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and recently, “The Little Mermaid”.

Last year, Menken was reunited with Stephen Schwartz to write the songs for “Enchanted” which earned 3 Academy Award Nominations.

In 2001, Alan Menken was honored when he was inducted into the Disney Legends. Menken will also be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 19, 2008.

The Academy of Motion Picture and Science honored Alan Menken with the following Awards and Nominations:

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”)

The Little Mermaid (1989)
Academy Award Winner (Original Score)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Kiss The Girl”)
Academy Award Winner (Original Song – “Under The Sea”)

Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Academy Award Winner (Original Score)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Be Our Guest”)
Academy Award Winner (Original Song – “Beauty and the Beast”)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Belle”)

Aladdin (1992)
Academy Award Winner (Original Score)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Friend Like Me”)
Academy Award Winner (Original Songs – “A Whole New World”)

Pocahontas (1995)
Academy Award Winner (Original Score)
Academy Award Winner (Original Song – “Colors of the Wind”)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Score)

Hercules (1997)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Go The Distance”)

Enchanted (2007)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “Happy Working Song”)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “So Close”)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “That’s How You Know”)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Disney Film Composers (Part 3)

The 1960’s brought us another decade of classic Disney films and classic Disney music. But what was different about this decade is all the music was composed by the same composers and most arguably the most famous of Disney composers, the Sherman Brothers.


Robert was born on December 19, 1925 and Richard was born on June 12, 1928, both in Manhattan, NY. Both attended Bard College in New York State. Robert was an English major and Richard was a Music Major. After graduation, Robert set out to write the great American Novel while Richard set out to write the great American Musical. Both found themselves going nowhere fast.

One day their father, Al Sherman, who was a well know Tin Pan Alley songwriter challenged them saying, “I bet with all your college education you boys couldn’t write a pop song”. The two responded to the challenge by composing the song “Gold Can Buy Anything But Love” which was recorded by Gene Autry.

They continued to write together for the next 10 years and wrote several songs that became well known hits. They wrote the rock and roll number 1 hit “You’re 16” that was recorded by Johnny Brunett and then later by Ringo Starr. They wrote 36 songs for Annette Funicello including “Tall Paul” and “Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy”, that became big hits for her. The success of these songs caught the eye of Walt Disney who wanted to meet “those guys that are writing clever songs for Annette”.

Richard Sherman recounts their first meeting in the book “Remembering Walt” by Amy Booth Green and Howard E. Green.

The studio needed a song for Annette Funicello to sing in the “The Horseman”. We demonstrated “Strummin’ Song” for Jimmy Johnson and he said, “That’s very nice. Now Walt’s got to hear it.”

“Walt who?” We didn’t dream we’d have to see Walt Disney. As we walked into his office, Walt was sitting behind his desk signing photographs. His opening line to us was, “So are you really brothers?” Then he said, “Let me tell you about this picture” and his started describing “The Parent Trap”!

After a few minutes my brother Bob said, “Mr. Disney. We came to play you a song that we wrote for Annette to sing in “The Horseman”.

“Whoa! Why did you let me go on like this?” he grunted. “Come with me” and we walked into a second office where there was a piano. After I was through singing “Strumming Song” he said “Yeah, that’ll work. Now, look, take this script home, “We Belong Together” (the working title of “The Parent Trap). There are a couple of places for a song. I don’t like this title, maybe you can come up with a better one.”

He basically threw us out of his office and we felt as though we have just been kicked. All he said about our song was “That’ll work?” I mean, what kind of a compliment is that? So we staggered out and Jimmy Johnson was bursting at the seams. “Oh, my God, what a meeting!” he said. “Walt accepted one song and he’s given you a feature. This is unbelievable!” It was unbelievable.


Soon after the brothers were hired as studio staff writers. While at the studios, they composed the songs for the following films: The Parent Trap (1961), The Sword and the Stone (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), The Aristocats (1970), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). In all, the brothers wrote songs for 28 feature films.

They also wrote several songs for the theme parks including Carousel of Progress (“There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”), Journey Into Imagination (“One Little Spark”), It’s a Small World, and the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Of course the biggest success the brothers were involved in was “Mary Poppins”. Richard recounts an early development meeting with Walt in the book “Remembering Walt”.

Walt pulled a book off his shelf and said, “My daughters and wife think this is very good. I read it and think there’s a lot in it. Read this and tell me what you think.” And he handed us this book, “Mary Poppins”.

Bob and I read it twice over a weekend. There was no story line, only a series of incidents. We invented a kind of story line from six of its chapters. Then we called his secretary and asked, “Can we have an hour with Walt?”

At the meeting, we started telling Walt our version of the story and singing song ideas we had developed. He let us free-flow. Walt said, “Let me see your notes.” When we showed him our copy of the book, he looked at the table of contents, which we had marked up and said, “Ha Ha!” Then he took his book off the shelf and showed it to us. He had underlined the exact same six chapters!


After Walt’s death the two left the studios and wrote the score for the 1968 film, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. In 2000 the brothers returned to Disney and wrote the score for “The Tigger Movie”. They were also involved with the stage productions of “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

Disney honored the brothers by inducting them in 1990 as Disney Legends. They also were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Academy of Motion Picture and Science honored the Sherman Brothers with the following Awards and Nominations:

Mary Poppins (1964)
Academy Award Winner (Best Score)
Academy Award Winner (Best Song – “Chim Chim Cher-re”)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Academy Award Nomination (Best Song – “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”)

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Academy Award Nomination (Best Song – “The Age of Not Believing”)
Academy Award Nomination (Best Score)

Tom Sawyer (1973)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song Score)

The Slipper and the Rose – The Story of Cinderella (1977)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song Score)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “The Slipper and the Rose Waltz”)

The Magic of Lassie (1978)
Academy Award Nomination (Original Song – “When You’re Loved”)

Next up, the most successful songwriter of Disney History.


All pictures copywrite Disney/The Songwriter Hall of Fame

The Disney Film Composers (Part 2)

Seven years would pass between Bambi and the next full length animated feature. During the War years, 90% of the Disney Studios were focused on war-related projects. From the mid to late 1940s, the studios produced several short animated subjects in one film including, “Make Mine Music”, “Fun and Fancy Free” and “Melody Time”.

However by 1950 Disney was ready to release the next full length animated feature. “Cinderella” was both a box-office success and critically acclaimed. But for the first time Disney was outside his own musical staff and turned to the pop songwriters of New York’s Tin Pan Alley.

Tin Pan Alley was the nickname given to the street where many publishers worked during the period of 1880 to 1953. During that time a song’s popularity was determined not by the number of records it sold but by the number of sheet music copies it sold. Publishers hired composers and lyricists on a permanent basis to create popular songs.

Walt chose the songwriting team of Mack David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman. Walt was familiar with the song “Chi-Baba Chi-Baba” they had written for Perry Como which became a big hit. The 3 songwriters flew to Hollywood where they spent the next 9 months writing songs for “Cinderella”.

Mack David was born in New York City on July 5th 1912. He originally thought of becoming an attorney, and attended Cornell University and then St. John's University Law School. When his younger brother Hal David was considering careers, Mack advised his brother against becoming a songwriter and urged him to take up a more stable profession. However, he failed to follow his own advice, and instead of following a career in law, Mack David began writing songs on Tin Pan Alley. Throughout his career Mac earned 8 Oscars nominations. He also co-wrote the theme song “This Is It” for the 1960’s TV show “The Bugs Bunny Hour”. Mac died on December 30, 1993 in Ranco Mirage, California.

Al Hoffman was born in Minsk, Russia on September 25, 1902. At the age of 6, Hoffman and his family moved to the United States and settled in Seattle, Washington. After graduating from Franklyn High School in Seattle, Hoffman started his own band and in 1928, moved to New York City to pursue a music career. In New York, Hoffman found work as a drummer in night club bands while he began some of the most prolific collaborations on Tin Pan Alley. He also did work for the Theater in London and New York. Al died on July 21, 1960 in New York City.

Jerry Livingston was born in Denver, Colorado on March 25, 1909. Attending the University of Arizona, Livingston formed his own orchestra and was the first freshman to write the University’s first annual musical. He moved to New York City in 1932 and worked as a pianist in dance orchestras, before organizing his own in 1940. He moved to Hollywood in 1949 writing film scores for various studios and early television series. Jerry died in 1987.

For the next film “Alice in Wonderland”, Walt used the team of David, Hoffman and Livingston for some of the songs but he also brought in another Tin Pan Alley composer, Sammy Fain. David, Hoffman and Livingston wrote the popular “The Unbirthday Song” while Sammy Fain and fellow composer Bob Hillard wrote “I’m Late.”

“Peter Pan” was the next film with Sammy Fain and Sammy Cahn working on most of the songs. Although the songs from the films did not become major hit songs, “The Second Star To The Right” and “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” have become Disney classics.


Sammy Fain was born as Samuel Feinberg in New York City on June 17,1902. While still in school, Fain taught himself to play the piano and began composing popular songs. He sent some of these to publishers, but all were rejected. His first job was as a stockroom boy for Mills Music Publishing and one day his boss caught Fain playing some of his own songs in the audition room. His boss gave him a job as a song plugger which is a person at a publishing house who tried to get record labels or artists to record their songs. Sammy teamed up with lyricist Irving Kahal and the two started working for movie studios writing songs. The duo also wrote songs for Broadway including a song that Tommy Dorsey, The Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby recorded titled “I’ll Be Seeing You”. Sammy also wrote music for the 1977 Disney Feature “The Rescurers”. Sammy Fain died on December 6 1989 in Los Angeles, California.

Sammy Cahn was born in New York on June 18, 1913 into a family of Jewish immigrants from Polish Galicia, and spent his childhood on the Lower East Side. Early on, he learned to play the violin, and from the time he was fourteen he played in local Bar Mitzvah bands. In 1942 Sammy began writing songs with Jules Styne and together they wrote songs for over 19 films. 1957 this team wrote the Broadway hit “High Button Shoes” which gave us our Christmas classic “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”. Sammy was friends with Frank Sinatra who recorded 89 songs written by Sammy including “My Kind of Town”. Sammy died on January 15, 1993 in Los Angeles, California

Next in 1955 Disney released “Lady and the Tramp”. Singer/Actress/Songwriter Peggy Lee was selected to handle the speaking part of Lady. But as she got involved in the storyboard development, she became excited with the many song possibilities within the film. Peggy teamed up with Sonny Burke and together they composed all the songs for the film.

Peggy Lee was born on May 26, 1920 in Jamestown, North Dakota. She had a hard time growing up being the youngest of seven children. She left home at the age of 17 and moved to Los Angeles. She was discovered by Benny Goodman in 1941 singing at a club in Chicago. Her recording career gave her 2 number 1 hits and sold over one million copies. She was most famous for her recording of the song “Fever”. Over her career Peggy was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards. Peggy died on January 21, 2002.

Sonny Burke was born on March 22, 1914 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the 1930s and 1940s he was a big band leader in New York. He also worked as a band arranger for many big bands including Jimmy Dorsey. Sonny was the musical director of Reprise Records and was responsible for many of Frank Sinatra’s albums. He died on May 31, 1980.

All of these composers (with the exception of Sonny Burke) have been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame.

The Academy of Motion Picture and Science honored these composers with the following Awards and Nominations:

Cinderella (1950)
Academy Award Nomination (Best Song – Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo)
Music and Lyrics by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston

Academy Award Nomintaion (Best Score)
Music by Oliver Wallace and Paul J. Smith

Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Academy Award Nomintaion (Best Score)
Music by Oliver Wallace and Paul J. Smith


Next up, the legacy of two brothers.



All photos copywrite Disney/The Songwriters Hall of Fame