Unless you’re a die-hard country music fan, the chances are that you won’t have heard of Sheb Wooley, unless you remember the US number one ‘Purple Eyed People Eater’ from 1958…
Born over 100 years ago, Wooley went on to have a successful country music career and starred in a number of movies. So, who was Sheb Wooley and why is he relevant to movie lovers? Well, quite simply, he voiced the most iconic scream in movie history.
In 1951, Wooley was an uncredited actor in a film called Distant Drums (starring the late, great Stephen McNalley). In one particular scene, soldiers are wading through a swamp in the Everglades, and one of them (an uncredited Wooley) is bitten and dragged underwater by an alligator.
However, the original Wilhelm Scream in Distant Drums was not its defining moment. That would come two years later in the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River. The sound effect was used for a character named Private Wilhelm who was shot in the leg and let out a distinctive scream.
In 1977, legendary sound designer Ben Burtt used the scream in Star Wars, crediting it as Private Wilhelm, and the rest is history.
The Wilhelm Scream
Burtt used the iconic scream for a scene where Luke Skywalker shoots a Stormtrooper off a ledge, with the effect being used as the Stormtrooper is falling. Over the next decade, Burtt began incorporating the effect into other films he worked on, notably the rest of the subsequent Star Wars films, as well as the Indiana Jones movies.
The Wilhelm Scream became an in-joke with sound designers across the movie world. It has appeared in a number of Disney and Pixar films (Beauty and The Beast was the first animated movie to use it) and TV shows (Lord of The Rings, anyone?) as well as video games including Grand Theft Auto.
For Star Wars fans, The Force Awakens (2015) was the final film to use the scream, but it still appears across the movie world to this day.
Want to hear it for yourself? You’ll never un-hear it again!