Up Close and Personal: George Bruns
Edited by George Edmonston Jr. from a story written by Gordon Growden for the December 1976 edition of the Oregon Stater.
Oregonian George Bruns, one of OSU's most famous music alumni and the composer of the popular song from the 1950s, "The Ballad of Davey Crockett," enrolled in engineering at Oregon State Agricultural College in 1932.
However, in looking back on what we know of his student years, Bruns spent most of his time, both on and off campus, playing music, either tuba in the ROTC band or string bass in the popular Jim Derickx Orchestra.
"That's what I really enjoyed doing," he shared with writer Gordon Growden of the Oregon Stater in a December 1976 feature story on the famous musician's life and career. At the time of Growden's interview, Bruns had just retired as musical director of Walt Disney Productions after 20 years. "I had studied composing a bit when younger," he said. "I was very much influenced by Dent Morey, who is very well known in this Portland area as a master pianist. In fact, anyone who has become accomplished at all on the piano probably has had lessons from him."
After the war, Bruns played around the Northwest with his own band, an early member of which was Doc Severenson of "The Tonight Show." In 1949, however, the Oregon Stater gave up the local music scene for the glamour of Hollywood and Los Angeles. It was his goal to seek a better and more exciting future.
He instantly became lucky. It happened a film company (UPA) needed someone to play jazz tuba for an animated film titled "Little Guy with a Big Horn." Bruns was offered the job, and the cartoon proved to be an immediate success that won awards for its producers and provided George Bruns with a solid reputation in the entertainment industry. He was on his way. Following this, he did the music for 12 films in a row, composing, conducting and occasionally playing.
In 1953, Walt Disney was looking around for someone to do the music for "Sleeping Beauty." Bruns accepted the job and stayed with Disney for good, becoming the musical director of the company with two others, Paul Smith and Ollie Wallace.
As musical director, Bruns did the musical arranging and conducting for all the cartoons that followed "Sleeping Beauty," as well as many television programs, such as "The Mickey Mouse Club," movie shorts and other pictures. When done, he estimated he had worked on more than 200 such projects for Disney.
Some of the more memorable music he did do for Disney includes the love theme from "Robin Hood," the theme music for "Zorro" and the music for the song by which most Oregon State historians know Bruns best, "The Ballad of Davey Crockett."
On writing what today is considered a cultural icon of 1950s America, Bruns told this to writer Growden
"The Crockett thing was rather funny, in that I just sort of dashed it off, and anotherguy threw in some lyrics. We had to have something for the film! Well, the director didn't like it at all, but Walt himself did, and told me to record a 'demo' of it, which I did. He thought it was great and that was that. If Walt liked something, it was in."
Disney's judgement of the song proved solid. The Bruns composition sold 8 million copies.
Bruns remembered Walt Disney as a demanding, though reasonable man who had absolute control over his productions. Practically everything had to have his personal approval, and this was one of the reasons why all Disney films reflected something of the man himself.
"Walt was always very good to me personally," Bruns said. "He pretty much let me go my own way, trusting my own musical sense of what was right. The one thing about him that really impressed me was his fantastic memory for detail."
Of interest to this story is the fact that George Bruns, as a Disney musician, was following in the footsteps of another Oregon Stater turned Disney-legend, in the person of Vance DeBar "Pinto" Colvig, who attended Oregon Agricultural College before World War I and who went on to provide voice talent for many of Disney's most beloved cartoon characters, especially "Goofy." It was Colvig who wrote the song, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf."