The Wilhelm

Friday, December 25, 2009


In a galaxy of Hollywood stars, one cameo player can boast the longest career by far. But chances are you've never seen him and you never will. He's appeared in some of the most popular movies ever, but he isn't an actor, though he was probably created by one. Wilhelm is a sound effect, more specifically a scream. In a piece that has become a favorite from our archives, David Serchuk reports on the Wilhelm.

Comments [20]

TexasRocket from LEO

Just listened. Good piece. Will be listening for the Wilhelm from now on!

Nov. 08 2013 11:12 PM
Dave Cusick from Portland, Oregon

Heard it this weekend on The Hobbit!

Dec. 22 2012 02:10 AM
Ed Hutnik from New Haven,CT

I realize this comment is coming months after the story aired but I wish to go on the record that I thought the Wilhelm was the creation of Mel Blanc, who did most of the vocal shtick for the Warner cartoons. That was my earliest recollection of the Wilhelm. It appeared in a "compilation" cartoon in which there were many vignettes and blackout gags, including a mother playing "This Little Piggy " with her giggling infant who let out a scream followed by "Mother, my corn." I know the the guys at Termite Terrace would use anything for a laugh so it's nice to know it was Sheb Wooley. I heard the Wilhelm used at least once in every episode of "Primevil" the British SF show and I believe I heard it on a public access show called Frightday Night Special" that airs commercials from the 50's and 60's during intermissions. The commercial was for the Sounds of Power toy gun line that featured "realistic" explosions played from a gun butt speaker. Including a ricochet followed by a Wilhelm.

Apr. 19 2010 03:42 PM
John Schettino

Mythbusters use The Wilhelm constantly. It's in many (all? most?) of their "animated" sequences illustrating a myth, where someone takes a fall or is otherwise injured.

I just heard it in "Boomerang Bullet"! a week or so ago.

Classic :D

Jan. 21 2010 12:39 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

As Mel Karmazin, Sirius XM Radio's CEO, when running CBS, said to Google's lead trio after Google proved it could accurately count their advertising views, "Now you're ruined the ******* magic!"

Noting that Sheb Wooley wrote "The Purple People Eater" and I was born purple (a kinked umbilical), he found two ways to terrorize me all though my youth!

Dec. 31 2009 11:30 PM
Jay Satava from United States

I think they are using the "Wilhelm" scream in the game "Falling Balls" . It's available as an Iphone download. Enjoy

Dec. 31 2009 10:27 AM
Eric Winick from Brooklyn

This is by far the most hilarious story to run on ON THE MEDIA. I made a spectacle of myself the other night listening to the podcast on the F train.

Dec. 30 2009 01:39 PM
Norm Herrmann from North Carolina

I just heard the "Wilhelm" while watching Mythbusters.

They were testing a Star Trek-based myth involving the hasty preparation of gunpowder from it's raw materials.

When I heard the scream, it was unmistakable, of course those Mythbuster guys do have a sense of humor. Thanks for repeating the Story originally edited by

Dec. 28 2009 09:40 PM
Bobby Rivers from New York City

What a hoot to hear the Wilhelm Scream feature repeated over Christmas weekend! Anyone, such as I, who grew up watching old movies on local Los Angeles TV during the 1960s, recognizes that sound from westerns, war dramas and sci-fi flicks. George Cukor used it creatively twice as a point-counterpoint to the career journey of Judy Garland's character in A STAR IS BORN. I heard that shriek in the movie I rented and watched Christmas night -- Quentin Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. When it comes to sounds of human agony onscreen, Wilhelm gave us the shriek that is definitely "the scream of the crop." Terrific segment. Thanks for repeating it. Happy New Year!

Dec. 28 2009 04:19 PM
David Serchuk

I wrote this piece some time ago, and thank everyone for their comments. I would also like to thank, perhaps a bit late, Steve Lee, for all his help and with this story. He maintains a site, "Hollywood Lost And Found," that has a lot of great info on The Wilhelm Scream and many other things.

And since this piece ran it's been determined that, yes, Sheb Wooley was almost certainly the voice of The Wilhelm. Interesting side note: when I first started reporting the piece I had no idea who voiced anything, or if there was any larger story. I called Ben Bert and after several tries got him on the phone. I asked him if he had ever heard of anything called The Wilhelm. He immediately said no and hung up.

Anyway, I am glad you guys liked it. Much like The Wilhelm itself this piece seems to be my claim for radio immortality, reverberating years after I originally wrote it. It's neat to expose the public to something that has so much interest years later. And I must add my own personal favorite use of The Scream: It's in "The Star Wars Christmas Special," when Han Solo forces a bad guy to take a massive fall via a really lame and corny head fake, then ... The Scream! It made that whole terrible special worthwhile. Almost.

David Serchuk

Dec. 27 2009 09:52 PM
Rick Mitchell from Los Angeles, CA.90036-4822

Ben Burtt has since determined that it was Sheb Wooley who did the "Wilhelm". Woolley appeared in a number of Fifties westerns including JOHNNY GUITAR but is best remembered for authoring and performing the late Fifties novelty song "The Purple People Eater".

Rick Mitchell
Film Editor/Film Historian

Dec. 27 2009 08:19 PM
craig lammes

I cannot believe this piece exists. When I was in the theater watching the first Lord of the Rings movie, I noticed a particular death scream and thought: "Say, isn't that the same scream the falling Nazi made in Raiders of the Lost Arc??" Couldn't have been. Then I noticed it again -- when an elf fell to his death in the second LOTR film. I became obsessed. And to be honest, I thought I had become a freak: had NOONE else noticed this?? Had I entered some elite film nerd-dom in which there was no turning back??? Since then I have noticed Wilhelm dutifully pop up all over the place, and a self-satisfied smile would creep on my face... but who else would care? I find this strangely validating... thanks, OTM. Thanks.

Dec. 27 2009 08:15 PM
B Miller

According to Internet Movie Database, Ralph Brooks played Pvt. Wilhelm.
WILHELM SCREAM: A scream used for the character Pvt. Wilhelm (recorded originally for Distant Drums (1951)) has since been reused in many films, including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. (Distant Drums)
...the most likely suspect: Sheb Wooley. Sheb 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. ...

Dec. 27 2009 04:50 PM
Niels from Denmark

The Wilhelm is used in Inglorious Bastards. A film (Nations Pride) is shown at the cinema. The Wilhelm comes from a falling soldier — within the film shown.

Dec. 27 2009 08:17 AM
blackbelt_jones from ny/usa

There's a whole lot of great material on the Wilhelm Scream on youtube, including nearly all of the of the scenes that were discussed in this story, and a whole lot more, including scenes from Family Guy, Spaceballs, Lethal Weapon 4, Toy Story etc.

Dec. 27 2009 04:18 AM
Jim Fertile from Seattle, WA

Harlan Ellison has a fantastic short story about something similar, except it's a laugh track, one captured from the protagonist's beloved late aunt; and that the continued use of the laugh in really bad television shows keeps her soul trapped in a sort of Hell.

Dec. 27 2009 03:15 AM
blackbelt_jones from ny/usa

This is indeed a favorite. This story was featured the first time I heard on the media, and it's hugely responsible for getting me hooked. Thanks!

Dec. 26 2009 08:41 PM
Abby Diamond from Grants Pass, Oregon

I download quite a bit of podcasts from iTunes, and one podcast in paticular is called The FuMP (The Funny Music Project). There is still on their website, a song called "That Calls for a Wilhelm Scream" by Possible Oscar. With that song was a photo of a man on a horse with an arrow in his leg.

Dec. 26 2009 03:09 PM
Clopha Deshotel from Bridgeport CT

It is good to now know the name of this scream. A couple of community college students where I work (in downtown Bridgeport CT) want to put several such screams - The Wilhelm - into a movie they are making about the local aquaculture high school. They somehow discovered that Milwaukee has built, or is building, a high-rise fish farm right downtown. Jumping off the top of such a building, well of course, calls for "The Wilhelm."

Dec. 26 2009 07:12 AM
Erich Riesenberg

Is this scream the same scream used repeatedly in various movies?

I will have to read the transcript to make it clear.

Dec. 25 2009 06:58 PM

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