A stormy night in fall with a full moon… and the skeletons in the cemetery come to life! Do you remember the black and white Disney Cartoon Classic, “The Skeleton Dance”? This 1929 short, part of Disney’s Silly Symphony series features dancing skeletons in a graveyard on a dark windy night, set to original music. The concept was developed by and music composed by Carl W. Stalling, whose personal papers are at the American Heritage Center.
These early sketches were located in Box 1, Folder 6, of the Carl W. Stalling Papers, #5725. You might be more familiar with the animated version, though! Do you recognize any of the scenes from the sketches in the cartoon?
Carl W. Stalling was a noted twentieth century American music composer and arranger. He is most noted for his musical scores for the “Looney Tunes,” a popular Warner Brothers animated cartoon series. Stalling composed the scores for more than six hundred Warner Brother cartoons, and among the most recognizable is “What’s Up Doc,” the Bugs Bunny theme song. Stalling also produced musical scores for Walt Disney productions, and he was a silent film piano and organ player. Stalling received a U.S. patent in 1924 for his tick method of recording and depicting motion pictures. This method became a motion picture industry standard.
Stalling met Walt Disney in the 1920s, and later they began working together. After several of the Mickey Mouse themed shorts had been completed, Stalling developed his own musical series for Disney with original music (called the Silly Symphonies) and he said,
I was thinking of inanimate figures, like skeletons, trees, flowers, etc. coming to life and dancing and doing other animated actions fitted to music more or less in a humorous and rhythmic mood……I suggested the first subject, “The Skeleton Dance,” because ever since I was a kid I had wanted to see real skeletons dancing and had always enjoyed seeing skeleton-dancing in vaudeville. As kids, we all like spooky picture and stories, I think.[i]
The Carl W. Stalling Papers contain original music scores and cue sheets done by Stalling for Warner Brothers cartoons and for Walt Disney productions. Also contained in the collection is published music from various composers, much of which is sheet music from the 1920s and 1930s. There are photographs, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s, of celebrities that Stalling associated with, and there are some subject files related to the music industry. A small amount of correspondence and biographical material is also included.
–Ginny Kilander, Reference Department Manager