Leigh Harline was the youngest of 13 children. His parents, soldier Charles Härlin and his wife, Johanna Matilda, came from the village of Härfsta in Simtuna parish, Sweden. They joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) in 1888 and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1891. In the U.S., they changed their surname to Harline. Born in Salt Lake City, Leigh was baptized as a member of the LDS Church at age eight.
Harline graduated from the University of Utah and studied piano and organ with Mormon Tabernacle Choir conductor J. Spencer Cornwall. In 1928, he moved to California working at radio stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles as a composer, conductor, arranger, instrumentalist, singer, and announcer. In 1931, he provided music for the first transcontinental radio broadcast to originate from the West Coast. He was then hired by Walt Disney where he scored more than 50 tunes, including for the Silly Symphonies cartoon series in the 1930s.
He won the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score and the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "When You Wish Upon a Star," featured in Disney's Pinocchio (1940). The tune later became the theme for Disney's TV series The Wonderful World of Disney.
Together with Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, and Paul J. Smith, Harline was responsible for such Disney film tunes as "I'm Wishing", "Whistle While You Work", "Heigh-Ho", and "Some Day My Prince Will Come", in Disney's first animated feature-length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.
Harline left Disney in 1941 to compose for other studios. His credits include Road to Utopia (1945), Nocturne (1946), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), The Boy with Green Hair (1948), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), Monkey Business (1952), The Desert Rats (1953) Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955), 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956), Ten North Frederick (1958), The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1959), The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).
He died from complications of throat cancer on December 10, 1969, in Long Beach, California, and is buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.
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