|William Lava smiles with pride, having learned his music is in an Ed Wood movie.|
Ed Wood never had the luxury of working with a composer on his films. From one end of his directing career to the other, he had to rely on so-called stock or library music, occasionally to great effect. Who can forget Trevor Duncan's bombastic "Grip of the Law," which plays during the opening credits of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957)? Or Hoyt Curtin's queasy, discordant music heard throughout Jail Bait (1954)? Today, though, I'd like to turn your attention to a bit of stock music that Ed used not once but twice: "Presenting the Doctor" aka "Secret of the Silent Hills" by William Lava (1911-1971).
|The end of the line for Looney Tunes.|
If you know William Lava's name at all, you're probably a fan of classic cartoons. Bill is best known as the composer for Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes series from 1962 to 1969. Unfortunately, these were the dying days for that franchise, so William Lava's name is on a lot of uninspired, cheaply-made cartoons. If you've ever suffered through a lackluster Cool Cat or Bunny & Claude short, you were listening to Bill's music.
Cartoon historians tend to take a dim view of William Lava, comparing him unfavorably to his predecessors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, and dismissing his music as "mechanical." It's important to remember, though, that Bill was working under relatively spartan conditions during his Looney Tunes tenure. Theatrical cartoons were less in demand in the 1960s, largely thanks to television, and their budgets shrank accordingly. Sometimes, these cartoons would even be scored with stock cues that Bill had composed previously. The original Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series finally petered out with the abysmal Injun Trouble (1969), and Bill himself passed on two years later at the age of only 59.
It was an ignoble end to a surprisingly varied and interesting career that merits further attention. What can you say about a man who co-wrote the theme for F-Troop (1965-67) and composed the score for Al Adamson's notorious Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)? He was no slacker, that's for sure. A Minnesota native, Bill Lava arrived in Hollywood in 1936 and soon embarked upon a career writing music for radio, film, and (eventually) television that would keep him busy for the rest of his life. Until he became associated with animation, laboring on both Looney Tunes and Pink Panther, Bill was never confined to one genre. In his early days, he scored comedies, dramas, Westerns, and more.
In 1940, Bill wrote the music for RKO's The Courageous Dr. Christian, the first entry in a five-film series starring Jean Hersholt (yes, the namesake of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award) as a crusading doctor. Over the opening credits of this medical melodrama, we hear a lush, orchestral theme known as "Presenting the Doctor."
In 1951, Ed Wood brazenly purloined "Presenting the Doctor" and used it as the theme song for his soapy made-for-TV short, The Sun Was Setting. The film credits no composer, certainly not Bill Lava, but Eddie gave himself a credit for "Music Arrangement," suggesting perhaps that he personally selected this bit of stock music. He must have been especially pleased with this choice, because he re-recycled "Presenting the Doctor" as the theme to his debut feature, Glen or Glenda (1953). Decades later, Howard Shore cleverly quoted "Presenting the Doctor" in his score for the biopic Ed Wood (1994). If you own the soundtrack album (and you should), you can hear the Glenda theme in the tracks "Ed and Kathy" and "Ed Takes Control."