In 1939, Ned Washington first inspired dreamers with his evocative lyrics for the song “When You Wish Upon a Star,” which he co-wrote with fellow Legend and composer Leigh Harline. The beloved ballad, first introduced by Jiminy Cricket in the animated feature Pinocchio, remains the signature song of The Walt Disney Company today.
Ned was passionate about putting words to music and, subsequently, garnered three Academy Awards®, two of which were for his work on Pinocchio, including Best Song (“When You Wish Upon a Star”) and Best Music and Original Score.
As animator and Disney Legend Frank Thomas recalled, during the film’s production “Ned would sit facing Walt, knee-to-knee, and while Leigh (Harline) played a song they’d developed on the piano, Ned would slap Walt’s knee and say ‘Oh, you’re gonna’ love this…’ and ‘Oh, listen to this, Walt…” He was very enthusiastic to the point Walt finally said, ‘For crying out loud Ned, let me listen to the song!’”
Born August 15, 1901, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Ned was the only one of nine children who did not study music. Rather, he wrote poems, some of which was published in local newspapers and magazines.
At 21, he moved to New York to break into show business, booking acts in vaudeville theaters and emceeing shows.
He wrote songs in his spare time and, in 1928, famed Broadway producer Earl Carroll used one of Ned’s creations in his popular stage revue Vanities. A year later, Warner Brothers hired him to write lyrics for talking pictures; these would include the popular song “Singing in the Bathtub,” featured in the all-star flick Show of Shows.
In 1932, bandleader Tommy Dorsey adopted Ned’s “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” as his signature tune and, in 1933, Ned collaborated with crooner Bing Crosby writing lyrics for the love song “A Ghost of a Chance.”
Ned arrived at Disney in 1938 and received Oscar® nods for “Baby Mine,” featured in Dumbo, and for the title song of Saludos Amigos. Ned also wrote lyrics for “I’m a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow,” featured in the “Mickey and the Beanstalk” sequence of Fun and Fancy Free.
During his 40-plus year career, he wrote music with famed composers including Victor Young (“Stella by Starlight” for The Uninvited in 1944) at studios ranging from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to Paramount. Other popular standards by Ned include “Nearness of You” with Hoagy Carmichael, and “Someday I’ll Meet You Again” with Max Steiner.
His unique flair for penning motion picture title songs—he wrote 40 in all–led to High Noon, starring Gary Cooper; it earned Ned his third Academy Award. Another them, for The High and the Mighty starring John Wayne, won him another of 12 total Oscar nominations. In between motion pictures he wrote for radio and stage, and, crossing over into early television, created theme songs for such series as Rawhide.
Ned Washington passed away on December 20, 1976, in Beverly Hills, California.