GEORGE BRUNS: KEX MUSICAL DIRECTOR & DISNEY COMPOSER

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  • #12054
    Craig_Adams
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    Today July 3, 1914 George Edward Bruns was born in Sandy, Oregon to Augusta Wil (Weyer) and Edward Frederick “Ed” Bruns. George had two younger brothers: Robert Albert and Lester Everett. Two younger sisters: Dorothy Caroline and Virginia Pearl. On August 26, 1911 George’s father Ed had been elected by a large majority, as Sandy’s first Mayor. In the late 1800’s Ed had also built the first lumber mill at Mt. Hood (Brightwood) with a partner. In 1868 George’s grandparents were among the first party of settlers venturing over Sam Barlow Pass. Ed was born in a log cabin on the family homestead at Sandy.

    In 1920 George began taking music lessons becoming proficient on the piano, bass tuba and trombone at age 6. In 7th grade he played the bass tuba so well at Sandy Grade School, he was added to the Sandy High School band while still in grade school. George was unique in having perfect pitch, a rare talent. He could play any of the brass instruments and was state champion on the Euphonium in high school. George worked several summers until 1934 at his dad’s sawmill handling heavy lumber, running the “pony-saw” and would practice on the piano for several hours every evening. In June 1932 George Bruns graduated from Sandy High School where he had also played baseball & football.

    In Fall 1932 he began at Oregon State College where George majored in engineering and math. “I was going to be an engineer. Music was just a hobby” Bruns said. He paid tuition by playing in the ROTC band. In 1935 George joined Jimmie Dierick’s Orchestra, which had formed on the Oregon State campus. He dropped out of college to tour with the band, playing at Rockaway Beach in the summer. By this time George was playing five different instruments and eventually mastered 15, including string bass, which he was as tall (6’4″ 230 pounds) but the slide trombone was his favorite.

    On September 7, 1935 Jimmie Dierick’s Orchestra was on the road performing in Fresno at KMJ Radio. Then back in Portland September 11, 1935 for an appearance at Jantzen Beach ballroom. Again to California by September 28, 1935 for a broadcast on KGO San Francisco. On October 3, 1935 back to Portland for a three day engagement at “McElroy’s Palm Gardens” ballroom at 5th & Main. On October 12, 1935 the group was again in California performing in Los Angeles on KHJ Radio for a month. On December 27, 1935 back in Portland at the Masonic Temple.

    In 1936 Bruns joined Sterling Young & His Orchestra playing in the “Palace Hotel” in San Francisco. George then joined the Paul Pendarvis dance band in 1939 playing the Eastern hotel circuit. In 1940 Bruns went to Hollywood, did recording work, played radio jobs on network shows, then joined Harry Owens & His Orchestra, as chief arranger.

    Also in 1940 George Edward Bruns, 26, married 26 year old Martha M. McBride. One of the “McBride Sisters” famous 1930’s Portland singing trio which included sisters Virginia & Hazel, heard on network radio. Martha would later sing solo, known as band singer “Jean Porter” in George’s Orchestra. Still later Porter would record for Capitol Records, and as Jeanne Gayle she would sing for the Disneyland label.

    On December 30, 1941 George & Martha welcomed their first daughter Barbara Lee Bruns, while living in Los Angeles. In 1942 George Bruns performed with Freddie Keller as the “Trombone Choir” quartet, playing Jantzen Beach ballroom November 7, 1942. During WWII Bruns worked as a shipyard layout man. On June 17 1944 George played with Jack Teagarden at Portland’s “Victory Center.”

    By February 1945 George Bruns was KOIN Assistant Musical Director & arranger for Red Dunning. On September 21, 1945 George Bruns & His Orchestra made their debut at the “Palais Royale” dancing pavilion at 21st & W. Burnside. The orchestra consisted of 12 musicians with singer Jean Porter (George’s wife). On October 1, 1945 George Bruns began as KEX Musical Director. His first job would be forming the KEX Orchestra.

    On June 8, 1946 George Bruns & His Moonlight Rhythm (KEX Orch.) made their debut with vocalist Jean Porter (Mrs. Bruns) at the grand opening of “Midtown Ballroom” at 821 S.W. 4th Ave. The KEX remote was carried live at 10:00pm for a half hour, as well as Thursdays at 11:30pm. On September 21, 1946 George Bruns introduced a new band, then a switch of venues.

    On November 1, 1946 the Multnomah Hotel’s new Rose Bowl room opened (formerly the Arabian Room & later the Supper Club) with George Bruns & His Rose Bowl Orchestra and broadcast on KEX Tuesday thru Saturday’s at 11:30pm. On April 17, 1947 it was advertised as part of the Rose Bowl Orchestra, 19 year old Doc Severinsen (later band leader on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson”); Dick Reed, ballad singer; Sonny Williams; Jean Porter (Mrs. Bruns) night club singer & Johnny Clemmett. On April 26, 1947 the Rose Bowl closed for the season.

    On May 27, 1947 George Bruns & His Orchestra began playing for week at Jantzen Beach ballroom to record breaking crowds. Bruns would return September 13th for a week and in December thru February. On May 28, 1947 it was reported George Bruns was also a song writer and had written his well known (to audiences) theme song “Rainbow River” published by Bregman, Vocco & Coon, Inc. of New York. On October 1, 1947 Multnomah Hotel’s Rose Bowl room reopened and KEX 30 minutes broadcasts continued Tuesday thru Fridays at 11:30pm and Saturdays at 9:30pm until November 12, 1947.

    On February 9, 1948 KEX debuted the program “Women Shouldn’t Listen” weekday mornings at 9:15am. The 15 minute show began as a contest about contests. Talent on the show to inspire contestants, was hosted by Jesse Leonard (later KEX PM & ND) with George Bruns, bass violinist, vibraharp. On April 8, 1948 KEX increased power from 5,000 watts to 50,000 watts directional. The celebration heard at 6:30pm with dignitaries, also featured the music of George Bruns. On June 11, 1948 the last “Women Shouldn’t Listen” program aired on KEX.

    On August 25, 1948 KEX stars at the Multnomah County Fair and George Bruns entertained at 12 Noon and then back on September 9th & 11th at 10:00pm for dances. On June 9, 1949 George & his band returned to Jantzen Beach ballroom to June 17th and back August 25th thru the August 31, 1949. In July 1949 George performed on trombone with the Castle Jazz Band, led by banjoist Monte Ballou, at the “Club Hy-Mac” 417 S.W. 3rd Ave.

    In September 1949 it’s my assumption Bruns left Portland for Los Angeles, where there were more opportunities. He did studio work, performing and recorded with trombonist Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band. After leaving Turk, Bruns stayed in Southern California, working at night clubs with wife, vocalist Jean Porter. In 1952 he was hired by UPA Studios, a Hollywood animation studio, as composer for cartoons such as “Captains Outrageous”, “Fudget’s Budget”, “Gerald McBoing Boing” cartoons & “Little Boy With A Big Horn.” This award-winning short launched his career. Over the next few years Bruns composed music for a dozen motion pictures.

    In 1953 Walt Disney was trying to produce “Sleeping Beauty.” Walt had heard George’s cartoon compositions and asked him if he could adapt Tchaikovsky’s ballet suite for the Disney animated motion picture. “I can write it,” replied Bruns. “I’ve been rewriting him for my own songs for years.” George was hired as an arranger to compose the score. “Sleeping Beauty” took years to produce, complicating matters, a musicians’ strike in Hollywood forced Disney to have the score recorded in Germany, using the Berlin Symphony. Bruns also took time out to work on other Disney projects. “Sleeping Beauty” was finally released in 1959.

    In October 1954 George was asked to attend a Disney story conference for a multi-part TV mini series the studio was shooting. Walt gave George instructions for a song they needed to fill for a 3.5-minute gap. The next morning Bruns sat down at his piano at 7 o’clock and walked away two hours later with the completed music recorded. When Walt heard the song he approved enthusiastically around 12 noon.

    Next, lyricist & writer Thomas W. Blackburn was brought in to capture a frontier legend in lyrics. George & Tom came up with what would become a landmark song: “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” first heard December 15, 1954 as part of the four rotating “Disneyland” presentations, telecast: “Frontierland. Tall tales and true from the legendary past.” This week: “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter.” In Portland, viewers of this first episode saw it on a four day delay December 19, 1954 at 5:00pm over KOIN-TV.

    Back in those days it wasn’t unusual to find several versions of the same song on the music charts at once. A sizable amount of the song writers were not professional performers. They would shop their songs around to the record labels hoping their music would be recorded, becoming hits. This wasn’t the case for “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” The Frontierland presentation and song captured the imagination of youngsters across the Nation.

    It was a huge ABC-TV hit for the struggling network and Disney had more Davy Crockett presentations coming in 1955, guaranteeing continued fandom. The record labels smelled a hit and came running to Disney and to get their recorded version out first, for the best chance their performer would become the recognized standard hit version. Not to mention Disney could not keep “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” exclusive for their own record label because Disney had no record label in 1954. So the Gold (Record) Rush was on!

    Disney had created a “Crockett craze.” It was immensely popular among youngsters. More than 100 varieties of merchandise was produced, from coonskin caps to entire outfits, dolls, shirts and buckskins, eagerly snapped up by school children in a Davy deluge that hit the major department stores. Then the ballad made its way across the Atlantic Ocean.

    On February 26, 1955 the first version of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” recorded by Bill Hayes debuted on Billboard’s Best Seller chart and quickly was followed by Fess Parker hitting the Best Seller chart March 12th. Tennessee Ernie Ford was next on March 19th, Walter Schumann on April 9th and Mac Wiseman on May 28th. Bill Hayes hit #1 March 26th and stayed on top of the chart for five weeks, selling close to two Million copies. Fess Parker’s version went to #5 selling close to a Million copies. Tennessee Ernie Ford hit #5 on the Best Seller chart and #4 on Billboard’s (C&W) Best Seller chart. Walter Schumann’s version hit #14 and Mac Wiseman climbed to #10 on the (CW) Played by Jockeys chart. Over ten million copies were sold all together.

    On May 25, 1955 “Davy Crockett, King of The Wild Frontier” was released in theaters. This film was an edited compilation of the first three stores seen on the “Disneyland” TV series: “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter” “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress” & “Davy Crockett At The Alamo.” Of course “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was featured throughout. By November 1, 1955 there really was a variety of 45rpm performers to choose from when shopping for “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Checkout this list of national record label releases:

    Steve Allen – Coral 9-61368 [TV Host]
    Jack Andrews – Hollywood Recording Guild (Children’s) 2001
    Loren Blake – Sparkle 12101
    James Brown – M-G-M K11941 [TV’s Rip Masters, Rin Tin Tin]
    Jimmy Caro – Rinx 146
    Gabe Drake – Cricket (Children’s) C-51
    Rusty Draper – Mercury 70555-X45 / Mercury Playcraft MP-27
    Tennessee Ernie Ford – Capitol F3058 / (Children’s series) CASF-3229 [TV Host]
    Forty-Niners – Columbia (Junior series) J4-752
    Bill Hart – Record Guild of America 5-356
    Bill Hayes – Cadence 1256 / (Children’s series) CCS #1
    Hits A Poppin – Parade 7810
    Burl Ives – Decca 9-29423 / (Children’s series) 9-88184 [Movie-TV Star]
    Norm Johnson – Roller Tone RT-1504
    Fess Parker – Columbia 4-40449 / (Children’s series) J4-242 [TV’s Davy Crockett]
    Rhythmaires – Tops R-254
    Jack Richards – Broadway 296
    Bill Ruff – Gateway 1111
    M. Salinas – Russell 152
    Sandpipers – Golden (Children’s) D-197
    Walter Schumann – RCA Victor 47-6041
    Tommy Scott – Prom 1109
    Sons of The Pioneers – RCA Victor 47-6055 / RCA Victor Bluebird Children’s WBY-25
    Tex Stewart – Bell 1091
    Mac Wiseman – Dot 45-1240

    Parody versions of the balled were also issued in 1955:

    “Ballad of Ole Svenson” by: Yogi Yorgesson – Capitol F3089
    “Duvid Crockett” by: Mickey Katz – Capitol F3144
    “Pancho Lopez” by: Lalo Guerrero – Real 1301
    “The Ballad of Davy Crew-cut” by: Homer & Jethro – RCA Victor 47-6178

    Later “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” record issues:

    Louis Armstrong – Vista F-471
    Fess Parker – Vista F-426 [TV’s Davy Crockett]
    Karen Pendleton & Cubby O’Brien – Disneyland F-112 [Mouseketeers]
    Wellingtons – Disneyland DL-557 [Davy Crockett mini-series singers]

    Back in Portland, Bob Amsberry, a fellow KEX alumni, who had worked with George Bruns, was looking at Disney as a possibility for work. “Uncle” Bob’s popular “The Squirrel Cage” children’s program had been cancelled after a six year run. Amsberry called George. Meanwhile Bruns had been assigned by Disney to write songs for an upcoming weekday children’s show the studio was preparing. George recommended Bob to Disney when they began a talent search for “The Mickey Mouse Club” and Bob became part of the classic children’s show, thanks to George.

    In early 1957 George Bruns wrote his second hit song with lyrics by Norman Foster, for a forthcoming Disney television series. On October 10, 1957 TV viewers first heard the theme from “Zorro.” Seen in Portland at 8:00pm on KGW-TV. On May 19, 1958 the theme from “Zorro” hit Billboard’s Top 100 chart and climbing to #17. Other versions of Zorro followed as record companies wanted to get a piece of the action. Here is the complete discography:

    Henry Calvin – Disneyland F62 [Sgt. Garcia from Zorro]
    Chordettes – Cadence 1349
    Charles McCullough – Dooto 462
    Vocal Group – Disneyland F105 [Thurl Ravenscroft]
    Fred Waring – Capitol F3993

    During his tenure with Disney Studios, Bruns continued to play dixieland jazz, leading his Wonderland Jazz Band on two recording sessions, and playing and recording occasionally with the Disney “house” band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two. On April 26, 1958 George & Martha welcomed their second daughter Gigi Alicia Bruns. In March 1959 George Bruns had his very first 45 rpm record released, titled: “Paul Bunyon” on the Disneyland label F119. By this time George Bruns had become Disney Musical Director.

    In 1960 George composed the theme for “The Absent-Minded Professor.” By this time Bruns family was living in Woodland Hills, Calif. On March 23, 1961 George’s father Ed Bruns died at age 86 in Sandy. On February 7, 1962 George & Martha welcomed their first son Oswald S. “Ozzie” Bruns. In 1962 he composed the theme for “Son of Flubber.” In 1963 George met his future second wife Dorothy Harris in Los Angeles.

    On April 10, 1965 George Edward Bruns, 50, married 38 year old Dorothy Col Harris and they lived in the San Fernando Valley. On December 3, 1965 George & Dorothy welcomed their first daughter Dorothy Augusta “Gussie” Bruns.

    In 1966 Bruns wrote the song “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” (which he co-wrote with Xavier Atencio), used in the Disney theme park attraction “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the movies based on that ride and composed the score for “The Jungle Book.” In 1967 George wrote the sprightly theme song featured in the Herbie “The Love Bug” series of movies. On December 31, 1967 it was announced George Bruns was a stockholder and on the Board of Directors of “Pixieland”, a $2 Million dollar coastal amusement park planned by Jerry Parks (Pixie Kitchen, restaurateur). Pixieland would be located at Otis Junction, three miles North of Lincoln City. Parks admitted Pixieland was influenced by Disneyland.

    By May 1968 Bruns announced he had written sheet music for a “Pixieland” song that would be released on record in Summer 1969 to coincide with the opening of Pixieland. The song was a modernization of the song “Dixieland.” On June 1, 1968 George announced in a phone conversation from his Woodland Hills home in Los Angeles, he had a dream that someday he would build a ranch on the 35 acres he owned, three miles East of Sandy and bring his family to live. He figured 95% of the music composition work he did with Disney could be done in his own home. On June 28, 1969 Pixieland was opened with a dedication from Governor Tom McCall.

    On June 2, 1971 it was announced George Bruns would be moving back to Sandy. On February 9, 1972 George’s mother Augusta Bruns died at age 91 in Sandy. In 1973 Bruns composed the score for “Herbie Rides Again.” On August 11, 1973 George was Grand Marshal of the Sandy 100th Anniversary Parade.

    In December 1973 George’s five bedroom, ranch-style home was finished with a beautiful view of Mt. Hood, a few miles above Sandy on Music Camp Road (Route 2, Box 995). George continued working for Disney, commuting by air from Sandy to Burbank, taking more than an hour and a half. He traveled to the studios about once a month, sometimes for a day, other times for a week. “There’s no set time for me to work—I have deadlines, but I can name my own working hours.” Bruns said. “Composing is fun—every picture is different and you never learn it all.” Bruns composed, orchestrated and conducted music but rarely wrote lyrics.

    In 1974 George Bruns retired as Disney’s Musical Director, although he continued to work on Disney projects. He taught part-time at Lewis & Clark College and continued to play and compose music, including recording at least one locally distributed album of jazz. For several years he played trombone with a Dixieland group at many Sandy Mountain Festivals, as well as guest conductor for the Oregon Symphony but, plagued with diabetes, he was slowing down.

    By November 1979 George was in the middle of building a new home at Mt. Hood Golf Course. On July 9, 1981 George Bruns was Grand Marshal of the Sandy Mountain Days Parade. On May 23, 1983 George Bruns died of a heart attack at age 68. On May 27, 1983 a memorial service was held at 3:00pm at Chapel of The Hills near Wemme.

    Bruns spent nearly 20 years at the Walt Disney Studios, working on the scores of nearly 40 films and several TV series and specials. He received an Academy Award nomination for his scores for “Sleeping Beauty” in 1959, “Babes in Toyland” in 1961 and “The Sword in the Stonez” in 1963 and another nomination for the song “Love” from Robin Hood in 1973. In 2001 George Bruns was named a Disney Legend.

    Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this biography more complete.

    References: Billboard magazine, The Fresno Bee, IMDb, Hometown Sandy Oregon book, Joel Whitburn books, The Modesto Bee, The Oregonian, The San Bernardino County Sun, Wikipedia.

    #12075
    semoochie
    Participant

    Is there anything further on Martha McBride aka Jean Porter? They had another child and suddenly, he married someone else. I can’t find anything about her but there’s a much younger Hollywood actress named Jean Porter who is presently 92.

    #12080
    Craig_Adams
    Participant

    She later recorded and sang as Jeanne Gayle for the Disneyland label. After the marriage breakup I lost track of her.

    #12087
    semoochie
    Participant

    Thank you. If that’s the case, nice company, Les Baxter, Bob Crosby. http://www.rocky-52.net/chanteursg/gayle_jeanne.htm

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