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Although the music of Scott Bradley has been heard by millions of listeners worldwide through his work in MGM's popular Tom & Jerry and Tex Avery-directed cartoon series, very little is known about the man or his life. Born in Arkansas, Bradley is known to have studied music at the conservatory level, but does not show up in film credits until 1928, when he is credited for synchronizing early talkies at the Fox studio. Bradley spent some time at the Disney studio, where he first met Carl Stalling and worked with animators Hugh Harman, Rudolph Ising, and Ub Iwerks. When Iwerks left Disney in 1930 to form his own studio, both Bradley and Stalling followed as musical directors on Iwerks' Flip the Frog cartoon series. These were distributed by MGM, and the studio was seldom satisfied with the Iwerks studio's product, so in 1934 MGM hired Harman and Ising away from Warner Bros. to create their own animation department, with Bradley joining shortly thereafter. From that point until MGM closed its cartoon department, Scott Bradley acted as its principal musical director, scoring more than 250 cartoons, many featuring the cat-and-mouse team of Tom & Jerry as well as Droopy, Screwy Squirrel, and others.
Although they were friends and worked together at Disney, Bradley's style of cartoon scoring was radically different from Stalling's. Innovative as it was, Carl Stalling's work was intuitive and derived from his long experience providing live music for silent movie accompaniments, whereas Bradley was familiar with advanced compositional techniques and studied with Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA in the 1930s. Bored with composing tracks based on public domain and studio music department-owned tunes, Bradley asked department head Fred Quimby if he could employ more advanced kinds of musical settings in the MGM cartoons and, in a rare moment of forward thinking, Quimby agreed. From that point, the tone of Bradley's scores became louder, more violent, and more directly married to the action, in keeping with the frenetic pace employed by director Tex Avery, who arrived at MGM in 1942. Bradley also managed to work in some techniques learned with Schoenberg, utilizing 12-tone rows to follow small characters skittering around or giant, shrieking chords to cover exaggerated reactions. Bradley's scores are also jazzier than Stalling's and often utilize Dixieland-styled voicings in the brass; certainly no other music director could handled Avery's Dixieland Droopy (1954) as well as Bradley did. Bradley also developed ways to compose certain cues ahead of time through working closely with the animation directors; the standard at other studios was for the music to be written once the cartoon was completely animated, and Bradley's methods helped to save time.
MGM decided to close its theatrical cartoon department in 1958 and Bradley's most frequent collaborators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, went on to form their own animation studio, making cartoons for television. Bradley, already past retirement age at 67, decided to go on the studio pension plan. Scott Bradley retired to Chatsworth, CA, where he died at age 85 in 1977, and overall his contribution to cartoon scoring has been little recognized. However, when asked in an interview if he was aware of the music in "classic" Hollywood cartoons, European avant-garde composer Luc Ferrari stated that he was, but that he preferred the music of Scott Bradley to that of Stalling.