William Lava

William "Bill" Lava
Birth name William B. Lava
Born (1911-03-18)March 18, 1911
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
Died February 20, 1971(1971-02-20) (aged 59)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres film score
Occupation(s) Composer
Years active 1936–1971

William "Bill" B. Lava (March 18, 1911 – February 20, 1971) was a composer and arranger who composed and conducted music for many feature films as well as that for the Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated cartoons from 1962 to 1969, replacing the deceased Milt Franklyn, making him the last composer and arranger in the classic era of Warner Bros. Cartoons.

Lava's music was markedly different from that of Franklyn and previous composer Carl Stalling, with a tendency towards atonality. A sense of tension is often created in Lava's scores using sequences based on the notes of the diminished seventh chord.

Lava also composed and sang the theme to the TV western series Cheyenne and composed the original theme from Gunsmoke.


Lava was educated at Von Humboldt Grammar School and Lane Tech High School in Chicago, then attended Northwestern University where his major was journalism. He studied conducting with Dr. Albert Coates in Los Angeles. Lava also wrote short stories for various magazines and was the editor of Northwestern Commerce Magazine and associate editor of Purple Parrot..[1]

Arriving in Hollywood in 1936, Lava arranged for musical radio programs, then scored a number of serials such as Zorro's Fighting Legion and motion pictures, such as The Painted Stallion; A Boy and His Dog; Embraceable You; Dangerously They Live; The Hidden Hand; I Won't Play; Star in the Night and Hitler Lives. He was also responsible for scores for the Warner Bros.' Joe McDoakes short subjects and Republic serials. Among his compositions during this era were The Moonrise Song (It Just Dawned On Me).

Walt Disney Productions hired Lava in the mid-1950s, where he wrote or co-wrote the incidental music for Zorro and the Spin and Marty and Hardy Boys segments of The Mickey Mouse Club. While he was later known for cartoon music, Lava did not write any of it for Disney, though he is credited with the score for 1955's TV segment The Story of the Silly Symphony.[2]

On his arrival at the Warner Bros.' cartoon studio, Lava's first assignment was the Tweety Looney Tune The Jet Cage. Franklyn scored the first two minutes (and received credit for the score) while Lava completed the cartoon. Franklyn used strings and flutes in his portion, arranged similarly to his other cartoons, while Lava's sounds more mechanical and less orchestrated, with a xylophone at one point. His first credited cartoon is Good Noose, also released in 1962. Although Lava's previous work also sounded mechanical, it was greatly enhanced by the studio orchestra; however, at the time of his arrival the studio reduced and later dismantled its full-time orchestra. Without a music budget that he was used to, Lava was forced to work with a much smaller orchestra to record his scores.


Lava was responsible for many scores, including scores in thirteen 1965 and 1966 Road Runner cartoons subcontracted by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises to Format Films.[3] The budgets for these cartoons were even tighter still, meaning that only the first three of the thirteen (The Wild Chase, Rushing Roulette and Run, Run, Sweet Road Runner) had real scored music. The other 10 used a set of generic musical cues (from Tired and Feathered to Clippety Clobbered), which did not follow the action closely as in other Warner Brothers productions. His first WB short scored (partially) was The Jet Cage, where Milt Franklyn died in the middle of scoring. The first one he fully scored was the Daffy short, Good Noose.

He also composed music for 19 of the 124 Pink Panther cartoons (USA, 1964, animation), always based on Henry Mancini's original theme, adapting it to closely follow character action. Walter Greene scored the nineteenth cartoon, Pink, Plunk, Plink, however Lava scored the following one, Smile Pretty, Say Pink. Greene scored all the following shorts until Therapeutic Pink, with Steve DePatie scoring all the rest. Starting with Pink Posies and ending with Therapeutic Pink, both Greene's and Lava's music were utilized in the cartoons.

Lava co-wrote the theme (with Irving Taylor) and most of the incidental music for the TV series F Troop. Lava also composed the silent-film music for the "bookend" sequences at the beginning and end of the 1961 Twilight Zone episode "Once Upon a Time".

Lava was also employed as Music Supervisor with David Rose in a couple of seasons of Bonanza.

Although Lava's feature film work was not as prolific, he composed the scores to movies such as Chamber of Horrors (1966), Chubasco (1977), In Enemy Country (1968), Assignment to Kill (1968), The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969) and Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971).

Personal life

A staunch anti-communist, Lava became known as an outspoken critic of the Cuban Revolution. He spoke in favor of direct military action against the Castro regime, continuing to protest in this manner from 1959 until his death.


  1. "The Ascap Biographical Dictionary Of Composers Authors And Publishers Second Edition". Archive.org. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  2. "WebVoyage Titles". Cocatalog.loc.gov. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
  3. "DePatie-Freleng WB Cartoons". Davemackey.com. Retrieved 2012-02-27.
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