The fine people of Cinexcellence have toiled countless hours to bring us the most comprehensive compilation of “Wilhelm Screams” to date:
Even if you don’t know it by name, chances are you’ve hear the Wilhelm Scream more than once! A film/television/video game stock sound effect first used in the ’51 Western film Distant Drums (during a fatal alligator attack scene), its use has continued to grow in popularity over time. At this point, the Wilhelm Scream’s got to be of the most persistent in-jokes in pop culture history. We should all buy Ben Burtt a drink; he’s the brilliant sound designer who got into the habit of sneaking Wilhelm into various action flicks he was working on, like Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
The sound is named for Private Wilhelm, a character in The Charge at Feather River, a 1953 western in which the character is shot with an arrow. This was believed to be the third movie to use the sound effect and its first use from the Warner Brothers stock sound library.
Research by Burtt suggests that actor and singer Sheb Wooley, best known for his novelty song “Flying Purple People Eater” in 1958 and as scout Pete Nolan on the television series Rawhide, is likely to have been the voice actor who originally performed the scream. This has been supported by an interview in 2005 with Linda Dotson, Wooley’s widow. Burtt discovered records at Warner Brothers from the editor of Distant Drums including a short list of names of actors scheduled to record lines of dialogue for miscellaneous roles in the movie. Wooley played the uncredited role of Private Jessup in Distant Drums, and was one of the few actors assembled for the recording of additional vocal elements for the film. Wooley performed additional vocal elements, including the screams for a man being bitten by an alligator. Dotson confirmed that it was Wooley’s scream that had been in so many westerns, adding, “He always used to joke about how he was so great about screaming and dying in films.”
In 2010, a Wilhelm Scream App was released on the Apple iPhone. As of 2011, it is still free to download.
Screaming Private Wilhelm from The Charge at Feather River, 1953. (Third known example of the scream’s use, from whence it gets its name.)