Richard Stone, 47; composed cartoon themes
By Rusty Pray, Inquirer Staff Writer
Richard Stone, 47, an Emmy Award-winning composer who created context, provided texture and generated laughs with his musical scores for cartoon television shows, died Friday of pancreatic cancer at his home in West Hills, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles.
Mr. Stone, who was diagnosed with cancer in November 1999, grew up in Rydal and graduated from Abington High School in 1971. He had lived in the Los Angeles area since 1980.
An animation composer for Warner Bros., he won seven Emmy Awards, including two daytime Emmy Awards for his theme music for Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs and Freakazoid. He won five others for music direction and composition on Animaniacs and Histeria!
He also composed for Pinky and the Brain, Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, and Road Rovers, in addition to live-action films and television shows.
Those within the industry considered Mr. Stone a worthy successor to Carl Stalling, whose memorable scores accompanied many of the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons from 1936 to 1958.
"I think the hallmark of Warner Bros. cartoons is a certain kind of sarcasm and sly humor," said Steve Bernstein, a Warner Bros. composer who worked with Mr. Stone. "You know, if there was a bucket of glue on the screen, the music was 'The Old Gray Mare Just Ain't What She Used to Be.' Carl Stalling created that language, and Richard was a master at speaking it."
Mr. Stone worked in the same sound studio and played the same studio Steinway Stalling once used.
He really liked his work.
"It's wonderful," he said of serving as supervising composer for Animaniacs in a 1993 interview in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I grew up watching classic Looney Tunes. They were always a big part of my life, and now to stand there on that stage and to conduct that orchestra is almost a religious experience for me. This is the zenith, the high point of my career."
New scores were written for every show. They were performed by a 30-piece orchestra made up of studio musicians. In the Stalling tradition, Mr. Stone would quote from melodies in the public domain such as "I've Been Working on the Railroad" and classical pieces to create scores that were intricately synchronized to the animation and peppered with musical puns.
"We'll go from Wagner to bluegrass in the same five seconds," he said in a 1998 interview in Daily Variety, the entertainment trade publication. "If you see a boulder fall on somebody, it's a lot funnier if there's a piano glissando and a big timpani hit."
Relatives said that Mr. Stone, who studied cello as a boy, was shy when he wasn't holding a baton. He could be obsessive about his work, which included film scores for such movies as Pumpkinhead and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat.
Still, he had a dry wit. His brother David said that Mr. Stone once interviewed television chef Graham Kerr for a school project. He asked him whether his nickname, the "Galloping Gourmet," had anything to do with prunes.
After moving to California, Mr. Stone, who held a bachelor's degree from Indiana University, worked for several years as a music editor for such composers as Georges Delerue, who composed the score for Platoon, and Maurice Jarre, who scored Witness.
In addition to his brother, Mr. Stone is survived by sons Richard and Michael; his mother, Janet; and a sister. Two former wives, Cathy Sumner and Claudia Greenspoon, also survive.
Plans for a memorial service were incomplete. Burial was private. No local services are planned.
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