Frank Skinner Movie Scores and Audio Recordings Rediscovered

The Music and Performing Arts Library Frank Skinner Movie Scores and Sound Recordings were transferred to the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music on October 11, 2019.  However, the detailed archival arrangement and description work took over a year to complete because of the Covid-19 pandemic and a lack of information on many of the historical sound recordings.  Much of this archival work and the digitization of the recordings was completed last summer, but the Center’s staff lacked comprehensive knowledge about Skinner’s music scores and the movies that he worked on to fill in this missing information.

For those folks who are unfamiliar with this composer, Frank Skinner (1897-1968) was born in Meridosia, Illinois on December 31, 1897. He began his music career playing piano with his brother Carl on several American vaudeville circuits. In the 1930s, he began arranging songs for New York area dance bands. In 1934, he published F. Skinner’s Simplified Method of Modern Arranging, and in 1936, he moved to Hollywood to become a film composer.  His debut came in an arrangement for MGM’s The Great Ziegfield.

The bulk of Skinner’s music career was spent at Universal Studios, where he worked from 1937 until 1966. During this time, he was best known for his horror film music, although he wrote music for several other genres including westerns, historical fiction, and romance films. His most significant film scores were written for Son of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Saboteur, Arabian Nights, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Spring Parade, House of the Seven Gables, Mad About Music, Shenandoah, The Amazing Mrs. Holiday, Written on the Wind, Back Street, Imitation of Life, and Ride to the Hangman’s Tree.  Skinner received five Oscar nominations for best music score in 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943, and 1944, but he never won.

Several weeks ago, the Center received a long email from Stefan Schlegel, a film scholar.  Stefan wrote that he had stumbled onto the Center’s finding aid for the Skinner music scores and audio recordings, and was delighted to be able to listen to many of the digitized audio samples from the collection.  He also provided a detailed list of corrections to some of the movie titles that we had misattributed to these audio recordings.  I explained to him that when the collection of recordings came to the Center there was very little information on them.

Stefan then offered to help identify the music titles on these recordings and the specific movies that they were composed for if we could provide him full copies of these recordings.  We were delighted by his offer, and the information that he provided was rich in detail and has significantly improved the quality of the Frank Skinner collection finding aid.

Among the many scores and audio recordings in this collection is Skinner’s score and several recordings of music that was used for Robert Stevenson’s 1941 movie, Back Street and Henry Koster’s 1940 movie, Spring Parade.  Unfortunately there are few audio recordings of the horror movie scores that Skinner worked on in this collection.  However, the tune Bottleneck that was originally used in Arthur Lubin’s 1940 movie, Black Friday, and again in Leslie Goodwin’s 1943 movie, Gals, Incorporated, is part of the collection.  For those folks who would like to watch the entire 1940 film with Skinner’s music, you can do so with the YouTube movie link below.  Enjoy the show and the wonderful sound track.

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