William Lava (1911-1971)
Serial Theme Composer
Bill Lava was a veteran film composer, but hadn't yet worked for the small screen when he came to the Disney studio in the early fifties. He composed a number of theme songs and incidental music for the Mickey Mouse Club serials and Disneyland programs, then finished his career doing music for Warner Brothers and United Artists cartoons.
He was born Benjamin Lava in St. Paul, Minnesota, on March 18, 1911, to Abraham Lava and Rosa Chernavsky, Yiddish-speaking immigrants from then Russian Poland. His father was a cotton broker. The family moved to Chicago around 1914, where his younger brother Henry was born. As a young man Benjamin Lava worked as a clerk for the railroad, while taking classes at Northwestern University. He edited the Northwestern Commerce Magazine and helped edit The Purple Parrot, a student newspaper. Benjamin Lava moved to Los Angeles around 1934, becoming William B. Lava in the process.
Lava's first job out West was arranging music for Warner Brothers shorts, for which he received no screen credit. He studied conducting with Albert Coates, then in 1936 began working for second-tier Republic Pictures. He helped arrange bits of stock music for twenty-five Republic films before getting his first screen credit for Santa Fe Stampede
(1938). By then he was married to Leonore Gold, with two daughters arriving before 1940.
He continued working for Republic through 1940 composing and arranging music for dozens of films, but received screen credit for only a handful of pictures. In 1941 he resumed arranging music for Warner Brothers and it's subsidiary First National, while still doing pictures for Republic. He worked on War Department documentaries during WWII, adding Universal to his stable of employers. Despite his popularity with a variety of studios, he still seldom received screen credit for the many pictures he did each year. His most memorable film was To Have and Have Not
(1944), but the vast majority of movies he worked on during the forties and fifties were Grade B westerns, action, and horror flicks.
During the mid-fifties William Lava composed and arranged music for a few films made by long-time Disney associate Larry Lansburgh, including Mystery Lake
(1953), The Littlest Outlaw
(1955), and some nature documentaries. This led to several years of work for the Burbank studio on the Mickey Mouse Club
, while still continuing outside assignments.
William Lava's specialty at the Disney Studio was writing theme and incidental music for the Mickey Mouse Club serials. Given the episodic nature of the medium, his music played an important part in setting the tone for each daily serial. Riding West, the theme he co-wrote for the The Adventures of Spin and Marty with Disney Music Department head Bob Jackman, is perhaps his best-known work for the show. Used for all three seasons with the opening montage of boys riding outside the Triple R gates, it became more readily identifiable with the serial it introduced than any other of his theme songs.
Bob Jackman was his most frequent collaborator at the studio, but he also worked with Bob Amsberry
on the What I Want To Be
theme, and with Stan Jones
for the Warner Brothers television show Cheyenne
. Not all of his work for the
Mickey Mouse Club
was distinctive; the themes for Adventure in Dairyland
and Corky and White Shadow
are blandly similar, and his efforts for some of the minor semi-educational serials also tend to blend into each other.
Perhaps because it was felt his work for the show wasn't representive of his best effort that the later serials went to other composers for their main themes, with William Lava supplying incidental music based on the main theme. Aside from the serials, William Lava's only other music credit for the show was writing the music for the Newsreel
opening and closing, with Gil George
supplying the spoken introductary words.
William Lava continued to do assignments for Zorro and Disneyland episodes after the Mickey Mouse Club ended, but finished up work for Disney in 1960 with another Larry Lansburgh documentary, The Horse with the Flying Tail. Thereafter, he began composing music for the United Artists Pink Panther and Warner Brothers Looney Tune series, doing nearly a hundred cartoons from 1962 through 1970. Perhaps reflecting the informal nature of the medium, he switched to "Bill Lava" for cartoon screen credits. He also composed cues and incidental music for low-budget horror and action films, and live-action television, including Bonanza, Rawhide, Have Gun Will Travel, Twilight Zone, and F Troop.
When the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences rejected all the nominations for Emmy awards for television music in 1967, Bill Lava joined two dozen other composers, including former Disney colleague Franklyn Marks, in resigning from the Academy. Bill has over a thousand credited compositions on ASCAP, the vast majority of which are "cues", short bits of music adapted from longer pieces. His last film assignment was composing for an independent horror film, Dracula vs. Frankenstein
(1971). He died in Sherman Oaks, California on February 20, 1971, at age 59.