George Bruns (1914-1983)
One of Disney's most successful composers, George Bruns had a varied assortment of contributions to the Mickey Mouse Club. The four-time Oscar nominee not only wrote songs, but performed on the show and helped provide a cast member.
George Edward Bruns was born July 3, 1914, in Sandy, Clackamas County, Oregon. He was the eldest of five children of Edward and Augusta Bruns. Originally a farmer, George's father switched to working at a local sawmill, earning enough money to afford the youngster lessons on the piano at age six, and later, tuba and trombone. As he grew older, George began to study composing with a well-known Oregon pianist named Dent Morey.
George went to Oregon State Agricultural College (later Oregon State University) as an engineering student in 1932, financing his education by joining ROTC, where he played in the band. He dropped out of college at age twenty to play full-time with professional groups. He started with a local outfit, the Jim Dericks Orchestra, playing string bass, then hooked up with Jack Teagarden's band for awhile, then Harry Owens' Hawaiian Band.
When WWII ended, George started playing with the Rose City Stompers and the Castle Jazz Band, then formed his own group, composed largely of ex-servicemen, one of whom was Doc Severenson. The band played gigs all over the Northwest, but was based in Portland, where George held down positions as a musical director at two different radio stations, KOIN and KEX. It was at the latter station that George encountered a young performer just starting out, named Bob Amsberry.
Bruns left Oregon for Los Angeles in 1949. He played tuba and brass instruments for Turk Murphy's Jazz Band, then worked up a nightclub act with his wife, the singer Jeanne Gayle. George got a break playing jazz tuba at UPA for a cartoon short called Little Guy with a Big Horn. The award-winning picture launched him in the film industry, where he composed music for a dozen pictures in the next several years.
George joined Disney in 1953, when he was hired to score the picture Sleeping Beauty. While doing so, he was asked to fill in a three and half minute gap on a multi-part episode of Disneyland with a song. George composed the tune while Tom Blackburn wrote the lyrics to Davy Crockett. The song, and the show, became an overnight success.
When the Mickey Mouse Club started pre-production in the late winter and early spring of 1955, there was a mad scramble to recruit crew and cast for the show. George Bruns remembered his talented young colleague from KEX in Portland, and so invited Bob Amsberry to join the Music Department at the Disney studio. Bob had done a kid's radio show in Portland, and was quickly cast as the third adult leader of the club. So desperate for help were the producers, that George found himself co-writing songs with the studio nurse, Hazel George. Their first and best-known collaboration was Talent Roundup, which also turned out to be one of the first production numbers filmed.
The Humphrey Hop was another of George's first season songs, as was I Want to be a Fireman, which he co-wrote with Danny Alguire and Ed Penner, both members of the in-house Firehouse 5 + 2 jazz band. George didn't appear with the band when the Mouseketeers performed this song during the first season, but after Ed Penner passed away in 1956, George filled his spot on tuba with the band's Guest Star Day gig in the second season. He also co-wrote a second season number called Nineteen Twenty-five, which he wound up performing on trombone for an episode of Wonderful World of Color called "Backstage Party".
Most of George's compositions for the show came in the form of "cues", small bits of music adapted from songs and larger pieces, and used as lead-ins or fade-outs from scenes. Among the cues he wrote were for the I'm No Fool series, the Mickey Mouse Club Newsreel segments, and Fun With Music Day cues. George's wife Jeanne Gayle also has at least one MMC song credit, co-writing Hap Hap Happy Snowman with Tom Adair for The New Adventures of Spin and Marty.
During his twenty years at the studio, George worked on the scores of nearly forty Disney features and shorts, and several television series as well. In one five year period he received three Academy Award nominations, all for scoring Disney films: Sleeping Beauty (1959), Babes in Toyland (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963). George would have one more Oscar nomination, in 1974, for the original song Love from the animated Robin Hood (1973).
After retiring from Disney in 1976, George moved back to Sandy, Oregon. He taught part-time at Lewis and Clark College, while continuing to play and compose music. He recorded at least one album of jazz under his own name during this time, though it wasn't distributed nationally. He died of a heart attack, on May 23, 1983, at a hospital in Portland, Oregon.