1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Sunday, 30 December 2012

They died in 1942 -- 6: Frank Churchill

At the halfway stage of the 1709 Blog's pen-portraits of twelve notable creators whose works fall out of copyright in life-plus-70 countries in the coming year, guest contributor Miriam Levenson offers this short sketch of Frank Churchill, who wrote some of the most irritatingly catchy music ever to grace a Disney cartoon film:
Frank Churchill (1901-1942)

"Heigh-ho, heigh-ho! It's home from work we go!"
Frank Churchill’s musical career began at the age of 15, when he worked as a cinema pianist. After dropping out of medical school to pursue his passion for music, Churchill continued to work as a pianist for a Los Angeles radio station before joining Disney in 1930. Many of Churchill’s animated shorts were a huge success, with his song 'Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?', from The Three Little Pigs, becoming a particular favourite. His first full-length film soundtrack was for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, which included popular numbers 'Whistle While you Work', ‘Heigh-Ho’, and 'Some Day My Prince Will Come'. The sound-track was such a success that Churchill was appointed supervisor of music at Disney. Churchill continued to work on film scores over the next few years, writing some of the music for Peter Pan, Bambi, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad and Bambi. In 1942, Churchill was awarded an Oscar in the category of ‘Scoring of a Musical Picture’ for his role in co-writing the music for Dumbo with Ned Washington.

Frank Churchill committed suicide in May 1942, and was found at the piano with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had been suffering from depression and alcoholism following the deaths of two close friends earlier that year. Churchill received a number of posthumous Oscar nominations soon after his death for songs in Bambi and Dumbo, his last pictures.

1 comment:

Andy J said...

Many thanks for your profiles, Miriam. Although you don't claim that it is the case with Frank Churchill, the premise for this series is that the applicable copyright term is the author's year of death plus 70 years. However as most 1709 readers will know this simple formula can't always be applied in the US to works made there.
Assuming that Disney registered the copyright in Frank's work and renewed the registration before the first period had elapsed, his works would have had a maximum term of 56 years from the creation date. So apart from his earliest works (1930-1932) his work would still have been in copyright in 1988 when the Copyright Term Extension Act provided that all such existing works would remain in copyright until 2019. The fact that this Act is also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act gives a clue to the likelihood that the Disney Corporation did in fact observe the registration formalities, although this was not always the case (vide the Steamboat Willie case). And of course for present day employees of Disney, their work receives protection for the shorter of either 120 years from creation or 95 years from first publication, thanks to the 1976 Copyright Act.