On June 29 2023, an Imgur account shared a news screenshot, asserting that the famous audio snippet known in popular culture as the “Wilhelm scream” was found “in an archive” in California:
Alongside a post titled “Poor Wilhelm,” the user’s screenshot appeared to depict an old, labeled film canister. Text on both portions read:
[Image] AFS 2184 05 WILHELM: man eaten by alligators, short screams … 6X. Lite optical noise … Warner Brothers.
[Headline and subheading] An iconic Hollywood sound effect called the Wilhelm scream was uncovered in an archive
The original recording of Hollywood’s worst-kept secret — a sound effect used when characters meet a grisly end called the Wilhelm scream — has been found. Movie insiders share their thoughts. Jamie Yuccas reports from Los Angeles.
In 1951, the Wilhelm scream was first used as a sound effect in the Florida western film Distant Drums, in which a soldier lets out a loud cry while being dragged underwater by an alligator[.] In 1953, the scream was used in the film The Charge at Feather River, featuring the character Private Wilhelm who lets out the scream when he is struck by an arrow[.]
In the 1970s, sound designer Ben Burtt nicknamed the sound “Wilhelm scream” when he noticed the effect was used in numerous films. The scream was most likely voiced by actor Sheb Wooley, who Burtt discovered on a Warner Brothers call sheet for Distant Drums.
The Kennedy Center hosted an entry of examples of its use in film. Backstage.com’s “The Wilhelm Scream: The History of Film’s Most Popular Sound Effect” indicated the effect was used in over 400 films, and explained:
The Wilhelm Scream was first used in 1951 in a Warner Bros. film called “Distant Drums.” It appears in a sequence where a man is bitten by an alligator and—you guessed it—screams.
According to Steve Lee, sound archivist and founder of film archive Hollywood Lost and Found, the sound effect next showed up in the 1952 Western “Springfield Rifle.” In the scream’s third known appearance, it is used for a character in 1953’s “The Charge at Feather River” named Private Wilhelm who is shot by an arrow. For the next two decades, the Wilhelm Scream continued to pop up in all different kinds of Warner Bros. productions, including science-fiction creature feature “Them!,” John Ford’s Western “Sergeant Rutledge,” and John Wayne’s war drama “The Green Berets.” (You can even hear it in the background of a scene in 1954’s “A Star Is Born,” starring Judy Garland.)
But the sound effect didn’t become a widespread “in joke” until the late 1970s, largely thanks to a USC film student and his friend—Ben Burtt and Richard L. Anderson—who discovered it while sifting through a Warner Bros. sound archive. They dubbed the sound the Wilhelm Scream—since, according to Burtt, they “had no other way to identify” the vaguely titled file—and used it liberally in their projects.
On Imgur, the original poster included a link to a June 28 2023 CBSNews.com video; the screenshot showed the only text on the page. An attached clip introduced viewers to the scream and the segment included commentary from sound designer Mark Mangini.
On Google News, a search for “Wilhelm scream” auto-populated “Wilhelm scream found” and “Wilhelm scream CBS News,” indicating users were looking for additional information outside of the video. Google News returned two articles for “Wilhelm scream found,” both published in April 2023.
On April 10 2023, gaming site Kotaku’s “The Original Take Of The ‘Wilhelm Scream’ Has Been Found” reported:
… Anyway! Enough of the history lesson. We’re here because [in March 2023] a series of old recordings from USC’s archives were uploaded to the internet, and among them was a nice, clean version of the entire take that the Wilhelm Scream originates from, during which you can hear Wooley’s alternate renditions of his death cry before they settle on the version we’re all familiar with today …
Kotaku cited Paste.com’s April 10 2023 article, which explained who “found” the Wilhelm scream:
The person we have to thank for the discovery is veteran audio engineer Craig Smith, a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, who works as the Academic Sound Coordinator at the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of the Arts, following a career in Hollywood cinematic sound. He published the new recording of the Wilhelm Scream session via a post on The Freesound Blog, as part of preservation he had been doing on a vast library of tapes that had been sitting at USC Cinema for several decades since the early 1990s. Those tapes, in turn, were copies of the original sound effects library of small Hollywood company Sunset Editorial, which was active in Hollywood from roughly 1964-1987, specializing mostly in TV sound effects. It’s not entirely clear why this copy of the original recording session for the iconic Wilhelm Scream was in their possession, but it’s fascinating to hear the actor make multiple passes on a sound fitting the description of “man getting bit by an alligator.”
Both sites linked to a March 10 2023 blog post by Smith about finding and restoring the Wilhelm scream. Smith described the process of receiving and restoring audio clips, including the infamous scream:
The good news is that this is an incredibly diverse and rich collection. The bad news is that a lot of these analog 35mm mag elements were copies of copies of copies. So they had a fair amount of noise and distortion. Because of this, I did much more restoration on these sounds than usual. I used iZotope’s RX 10 software. Most sounds cleaned up nicely, but I did eliminate about 20% of them.
On June 28 2023, CBS News reported the “Wilhelm scream” had been “found” (or “uncovered.”) That segment primarily addressed the origin and prevalence of the sound effect. In April 2023, several entertainment sites reported that the Wilhelm scream had been located and restored, based on a March 10 2023 blog post by sound engineer Craig Smith.