ANIMATION SPIN
March 1, 2022 posted by Greg Ehrbar

It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Birthday, Winston Sharples!

To those familiar with classic theatrical animation and/or early television cartoons, the music is unmistakable. The jaunty, arm-swinging “going for a stroll” themes. Blaring horns to cue outrageous reactions. Rhythmic, driving arrangements to underscore a progressive gag — a chase, a construction site, or a fleet of ships. And the inevitable interpolation of “It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day,” all coming from that distinctive, reverberant environment where the ceilings were high and the sounds bounced around the walls.

The cartoon music of Winston Sharples (March 1, 1909 – April 3, 1978) registers its signature sound within seconds. While he is not the only composer to create a house sound, few adhered to it as consistently for the same length of time (though he was able to contemporize in the sixties). For those who grew up hearing it in Popeye, Harvey/Famous, King Features, Hal Seegar, and even some Total Television cartoons, it is like audio “comfort food” from bygone days.

Massachusetts-born Sharples started in Vaudeville, playing piano when he was eight. He studied at both Yale and Harvard (take that, Mr. Howell!), and was featured on radio. When he played in Vincent Lopez’s big band, he caught the attention of powerful show business columnist Walter Winchell, whose positive comments could boost a career. In this case, it led to Sharples’ hiring at the Van Beuren Company in New York. Working with composer Gene Rodemich, he scored not only cartoons throughout the thirties, but also live-action sound films including Frank Buck documentaries. They created scores for Chaplin comedies and other silent movies. Steve Stanchfield discussed Sharples’ work in the Van Beuren Rainbow Parade shorts here.

Sharples relocated to Fleischer’s Miami studio, where his orchestrations of Sammy Timberg’s Superman theme eventually became a blueprint for the television and movie versions that followed.

Winston Sharples (right) confers with his violinist.

For Sharples, his “It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day” from 1939’s Gulliver’s Travels, became a success equivalent of sorts to Sammy Lerner’s “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,” as one of the most-interpolated Paramount cartoon melodies, especially after the operation was moved back to New York and he became musical director. Our compadre James Parten contributed a Needle Drop Notes post about the music of Famous here.

Sharples adroitly twisted melodies throughout the parade of cartoon shorts, a skill necessary when working with expected themes like Livingston and Evans’ “Casper, the Friendly Ghost” and Popeye’s song, bending and stretching out a song as far as it needed to go without it becoming tedious. In this post, Steve Stanchfield talks about one of his favorite cartoons (and mine too), 1944’s We’re On Our Way to Rio, in which the wondrous melody is arranged and conducted in several combinations and speeds. The song, “Samba Lele,” was written by Paulo Barbosa and was released by RCA Victor on an album called Carnival in Rio on RCA Victor, performed by Carlos Galhardo.

Despite the hundreds of theatrical shorts and TV cartoons with Winston Sharples scores, or cues from the library accumulated from that music, he made few commercial recordings. Most of the well-known cartoon title songs that found their way to records were produced and arranged by the personnel at the labels that made them. Cartoon soundtracks did not proliferate in the days of theatrical shorts (even Disney did not release official soundtracks for every film).

One of the first actual LP soundtracks to feature Sharples music with credits came rather late in his career with 1959’s Felix the Cat album on Cricket (Pickwick) Records. Four cartoons lifted from Joe Oriolo’s Trans-Lux TV cartoon series were selected for the album with narration by Mason Adams. (Find more about this and other Felix records in this Animation Spin.) A year later, Sharples’s music was used for another, shorter Felix record that accompanied a novel idea called a “Movie Wheel” that rotated a series of pictures while the record played. You can see a video of how Movie Wheels looked in this Animation Spin.

By the time these records were made. Sharples had already begun accumulating a music library of Paramount cartoon cues called Scroll Productions in partnership with Hal Seegar, producer of The Milton the Monster Show, which also featured Sharples themes and music.

Surprisingly, the only “hands-on” record album from Winston Sharples turned out to be Golden Records’ The Mighty Hercules. This is not a soundtrack album, but Sharples wrote all the songs with lyrics by his son, Winston Singleton Sharples, Jr. (1932-2021), who is credited on the LP as “Win Singleton.” The Golden Chorus sings the songs with Jim Timmens and his orchestra, so it does not have the “Sharples sound.” More about this album in this Spin.

When the first few albums of Television’s Greatest Hits were available on Tee Vee Toons Records in the eighties, it marked the first time many Sharples soundtrack themes could be heard on vinyl (and later on CD). With the boom in compact discs came the grand CD package called The Harvey Comics Collectible Box Set, premiering additional soundtrack tunes, which we explored in this Spin. Rhino Records’ Toon Tunes series also captured several themes in these pioneering collections.

Winston, Jr. worked with his father as the musical director on The Mighty Hercules and later at their New York post-production facility, Synchrosound. Win taught film production and history at Lehman College and Howard University and co-wrote A Primer for Film-Making (which was one of your author’s college textbooks). He was also an archivist at the AFI in Washington, where he donated his father’s entire theatrical, television and live-action music library (including about 190 Paramount cartoon scores).

More detail about Winston Sharples, Sr.’s career is contained in the Library of Congress account of Sharples’ career can be found on this page.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Samba Lele” from “We’re On Our Way To Rio”


This combines all the instances of the song within the short, presenting all the ways Sharples arranged “Samba Lele” for the Popeye Cartoon, the score for which Steve Stanchfield lists as one of the top ten best.

17 Comments

  • The Library of Congress appears to have conflated the two Winston Sharpleses. According to his 2021 obituary in the New York Times, it was Win Jr. who attended Harvard, Carnegie Tech and Yale Drama. His father had already embarked on a successful musical career by the time of his graduation from high school in 1925 and seems not to have pursued higher education. Be that as it may, the Trans-Lux Felix and Mighty Hercules series were among the very first cartoons I ever saw as a preschooler watching my grandfather’s black-and-white RCA set, and so the music of both father and son made a powerful impression on me from a very early age.

    Once again I find myself distracted by a minor detail. At the end of the LOC’s catalog of the Winston Sharples Collection is a listing for a manuscript copy of “L’embarquement pour Cythere” for two pianos by the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963). This charming little waltz, less than three minutes long and inspired by a famous painting of the same title by Jean-Antoine Watteau, is part of the musical score that Poulenc composed for the 1951 comedy film “Le voyage en Amerique”. How it got into the Sharples Collection is anybody’s guess. Poulenc’s music has often been unfairly dismissed as trivial and lacking depth, despite its cheerful effervescence. I wonder if maybe Sharples sensed in him a kindred spirit.

    Poulenc, incidentally, composed the little piano piece that one of the murderers compulsively plays in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Rope”. It’s the first of his three “Mouvements perpetuels”, which Poulenc composed when he was only nineteen.

    • There was a Win Sharples who used to write for car magazines. I wondered if he were kin to the cartoon musician. Anyone know if he was Win Jr?

      • That was Win Jr. He had been a sports reporter in his youth, and he later owned a business that restored and sold Morgan sports cars.

  • Great column, Greg.

    I’m a frequent critic of Famous cartoons, esp from the 50s (yes, there is a fat handful of genuinely good titles therein), but the one constant that kept me from changing the channel as a kid was the work of Winston Sharples. Even then, I made a mental note of his name in the credits, as I did with Carl Stalling. His scores salvaged a great many otherwise dull cartoons.

    I won’t pretend that IAHHHD is a favorite song of mine (I’m more of a Frank Zappa kinda guy, haha), but it is irresistible when Popeye sings it in a toon’s opening moment. “Rio” and “Samba” are immortal.

  • Winston Sharples! Those horns! Those strings! the orchestra made many a childhood happy for Paramount cartoon fans everywhere.

    I don’t think the Paramount cartoons would have been wonderful without Sharples’ music (and the tunes in some of Pal’s Puppetoons). While some of the Rainbow Parade tunes can be charming, it’s Paramount Pictures is where Sharples truly “shined”!

    Hey did everyone noticed Paramount’s now the name for Viacom? Now’s the time to make in-house cartoon shorts, Paramount Animation! Tickets will go high. Step up to your game and stop doing horror movies!

  • I love the work that Winston Sharples did throughout his career but my fondness is for his 50’s and 60’s work. He maintained a high standard of composition, even as budgets got tighter and instrumentation got thinner. He did have some interesting experiments later on, such as his score for Ralph Bakshi’s “The Mini Squirts”, one of the last scores he did, entirely on a theatre organ. His score for “The Trip” was the source for many cues later heard in Batfink cartoons, using a seven piece combo: rhythm section (piano, drums, guitar and bass) and three horns (trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax/fute/piccolo). Shamus Culhane and Howard Beckerman made the bold creative decision to tell that soundtrack story entirely with Sharples’ music; no voices or sound effects are heard. I wish more of his clean tracks were out there.

    • hello David,
      My late father, Milton Holland, was a studio percussionist in Hollywood from the late 40s through the mid 80s. There’s an ABC television movie of the week promo or something close to that name that features Milt playing Tablas with a rapidfire montage of movie stars and movie scenes I believe followed by stringing the horn stabs or something like that. Are you familiar with the idea that Winston might have composed that piece? I’m trying to get information about the producer of that piece is it was very unusual and somewhat oven card for its time is tabla had not been used on main stream American media by that time. Therefore this means it was one of the first widely watched and listened to pieces of Tabla music. (Milton’s teacher was the great tabla master Pandit Chatur Lal.). Thanks for any information either way.

      • Hi Rob, hope you see this. I’m familiar with your father’s work, and you should be very proud. I’m also familiar with tabla music through my brother-in-law, who is a hand drummer, though his main focus is African and Afro-Latin. There is an ABC Movie of the Week promo from 1969 on YouTube that matches your description, and I can say with some confidence that Winston Sharples had nothing to do with it. Sharples spent his entire career on the East Coast and retired when Paramount closed its animation division in 1967. I’m sure the tabla solo was something your father came up with, as no Hollywood composer of the time would have been at all conversant with tabla technique. The only other music in the promo is the Movie of the Week theme, an orchestral arrangement of the Burt Bacharach song “Nikki”.

  • I feel like Sharples doesn’t get enough praise for his scores at Van Beuren. I tend to favor those over his Famous scores, though I do enjoy them (particularly from the forties).

  • I attended Prof.Winston Sharples,Jr.’s movie history classes at Lehman Collage in The Bronx,NYC years ago..(I basically sat in on those classes..I wasn’t a student)he didn’t show any of the cartoons that his father composed songs for..only a musical score that his dad created for one of Charlie Chaplin’s silent films”The Adventurer”.

  • Popeye’s theme was not written by Sammy Timberg, but a different Sammy (Lerner).

  • 3/22/22
    RobGems68 wrote:
    Winston Sharples’ music scores were as memorable as Scott Bradley’s & Carl Stalling’s. They also could be a bit repetitious at times when the budgets were cut short during the 1950’s,but still charming. One musical cue I’ve always wondered was by a title I could never guess: the musical piece (a chase theme) appeared constantly in Joe Oriolo’s “Felix The Cat ” series from 1958, and it appeared in a couple of the Paramount theatrical shorts from 1958-60, most notably in the Herman & Katnip cartoon “Felinious Assault”. It starts after Katnip yells at his kitten nephew, “You’re not supposed to make friends with mice , you chase them like this!”, and the chase cue starts. While it’s not a great cartoon, it was still a childhood memory seeing it in the 1970’s on Channel 50 in Detroit. Did the chase music have a title? I’d like to know. Also, his music cues on “Batfink” were also memorable. He even got to do the Screen Gems “S From Hell” music at the end (the alternate “horn fanfare”/”Short Circuit Case” fanfare) that was different than the usual synth music played by Eric Siday (it’s been confirmed by a YouTube blogger named “Classic TV Fan”.) Screen Gems only used this rare fanfare of Sharples on on these “Batfink” episodes, and re-runs of the first season of “I Dream Of Jeannie” in 1971, after NBC cancelled the show, and “Jeannie” entered syndication. (in Detroit/Windsor, Channel 9, then a CKLW station showed it during the 1970’s. By the 1980’s re-runs were shown on another Detroit station (Channel 20-formely WXON, now known as a My-TV syndicated station.)

    • The Library of Congress lists a particell to “Felineous Assault” as part of its Winston Sharples Collection. A particell or particella (i.e., “short score”) is a sort of preliminary draft of a composition written on four or fewer staves, with notes regarding orchestration and other details. If the chase cue in question has a title, it would be written on the particell. The material in the Sharples Collection is worth studying in detail, and I’m sure an enterprising graduate student could wring a Master’s thesis out of it.

  • I have a feeling that photograph in the studio was taken when they were recording “Symphony in Spinach”, and Sharples is advising the violin soloist how to play Bluto’s virtuoso riff on “I’m in the Mood for Love”. “I know you don’t normally play tremolo in the lower half of the bow, but you’re supposed to be tickling Olive under her chin.” “Oh, am I?”

  • I wish that the new restored versions of Chaplin’s classic comedies for Mutual could have included the scores done by Winston Sharples and Gene Rodemich (?). The problem, of course, is how to “synch” up these 1930s scores to the more complete silent prints. The films I was able to see during the “Nostalgia craze” in the late ’60s and early ’70s, were sound prints made by Van Beuren in the ’30s at the sound speed of 24 fps and I know some title cards (maybe even some footage) was removed for the reissues. Too bad some music editor couldn’t find a way to “remix” the ’30s music tracks by Sharples and Co. as an alternative to the Carl Davis – and other composers) scores for these Chaplin Mutuals. There are lots of Chaplin fans who prefer these jazzier 1930s scores!

  • Nice to see this article!

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