Mason City, Iowa’s most famous son had an illustrious career long before he worked with Chaplin. , studied composition with Mortimer Wilson and conducting with Henry Hadley at the Institute of Musical Art in New York, known today as the Juilliard School of Music. To help meet expenses, he played in the orchestras of the Rivoli and Rialto theaters under the direction of Hugo Riesenfeld. At age 10, Willson became only the second player ever to be hired by John Philip Sousa without an audition. Three years later, he joined the New York Philharmonic in 1925, playing under Arturo Toscanini. Willson’s first film scoring gigs were for two B films at Tiffany-Stahl Productions—Peacock Alley and what he called “a horrible thing” titled The Lost Zeppelin. In 1932 Willson became the music director for NBC’s Western Division and produced as many as 17 radio programs a week for the next 10 years. Chaplin contacted Willson to help with the score for THE GREAT DICTATOR after hearing his second symphony, Missions of California, which premiered in April 1940 with and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
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