A film by Ron Mann
Introduction (2 minutes)
An orchestra comprised of members from the Henry Mancini Arts Academy performs a medley of the composer’s hallmark tunes: “Peter Gunn,” “Baby Elephant Walk,” “Moon River,” and “The Pink Panther”...
To the slinky, sexy roll of a jazz clarinet, an animated pink panther makes his special brand of mischief...
The opening credits to the ‘50s detective show “Peter Gunn,” a throbbing, saxophone-driven rhumba blends into the Michigan University marching band playing the same tune at halftime of a football game...
A ticking dynamite time bomb is stashed in the trunk of a car in a brawling Mexican border town... the car winds its way through the darkened streets full of debauched late night revelers it is accompanied by a wash of exotic and alluring sounds of brassy jazz and gnarly rock ’n roll, all with their own touch of evil...
A tipsy couple, standing on a bridge, finish off a pint bottle of whiskey as a soft, darkly melodic score colors their romantic flirtation... the woman speaks: “They are not long, the days of wine and roses...” The man throws the empty bottle into the water...
A beautiful woman entertains a ski chalet full of evening revelers singing with a hip-swivelin’ song backed by a small Latin combo and leads them in a hip-swivelin’ cha-cha around the room...
To a wistful harmonica, a taxi pulls up at dawn in front of Tiffany & Co. on New York City’s Fifth Avenue... a slender, elegantly dressed woman emerges, saunters to the shop’s windows and nibbling her croissant and sipping coffee from a paper cup, gazes at the jewelry before strolling home... the image fades to black but the music continues for a moment, lingering and fading into silence...
So many iconic scenes from even more iconic films, all filled with meaning, emotion and nuance. Could the music accenting and defining these images really be from the heart and mind of a single composer?
Before Henry Mancini, films were, with few exceptions, scored with Hollywood orchestral schmaltz based in the tropes of Western Classical symphonic tradition. But it was this humble, soft-spoken artist with an eye for cinematic expression and the ear to draw out its deeper sentiment who revolutionized the sonics and collaborative, inclusive nature of the medium.
Act One: 1924-1945 — A Dream Maker (10 Minutes)
1924: Mancini is born in Cleveland, Ohio, an only child to working-class Italian immigrants.
1928: His family moves to West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, where his father works as steel worker.
Wherever there were communities of Italians in the small towns of America, and especially in western Pennsylvania, they were like modules, cocoons, of the old country. It was as if they had taken bubbles of the Italian culture and floated them across the ocean and put them in the little towns of Pennsylvania, but nothing had changed.
1934: His father takes him to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Crusades which, with its rich Rudolph Kopp score, puts a spell on Henry. His parents want him to be a teacher but he secretly knows music is his calling.
When “The Crusades” was over, I followed my father to the car. I was still fascinated by the movie and the music in it. I had thought that there was a big orchestra behind the screen, but he said this just showed what a little “cafone" (rube) I was. He told me the sound of that orchestra was actually in the movie.
We headed north in the valley along the riverbank toward home. My dad told me I would study hard, go to university, get a degree, become a teacher, and escape the steel mills. But I had already made up my mind I was never going to become a teacher. I didn’t tell him then or for a long time afterward, but I knew what I was going to do when I grew up. I was going to write music for the movies.
1935: At his father’s urging, he learns to play the piccolo, flute and piano, joining his dad in the local “Sons of Italy” community band.
My father had started me on piccolo when I was eight years old. I was too small to handle the larger flute. It was raining one day and we were both quite bored. He told me to go to the closet and take down two instrument cases from the top shelf. He opened the smaller case, put his piccolo together, handed it to me and said, “Blow.” I blew, but no sound came out, just air. Under his tutelage from then on, I blew and blew until I did get a sound, first on the piccolo and then later on the flute. He was determined that I would learn them. Very determined.
1937: Henry begins studying with Max Adkins, conductor of a vaudeville orchestra at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theater. Also teacher of Billy Strayhorn of Duke Ellington fame and Jerry Fielding who carved out a Hollywood career, Adkins emphasizes composition and arranging.
Max had a system for teaching arranging. These arrangements were designed to be played by fifteen, thirteen, or ten, or even four or five players. It was the arranger’s job to create to create flexibility in these charts, to make them playable by any number; they were written in such a manner that parts could be omitted. Studying how those arrangers put all this together was an invaluable experience. Max gave me the parts of a stock arrangement for the individual instruments and had me reconstruct the full score from them. This way I learned what could be taken out of an ensemble while retaining its skeleton. By reconstructing each arrangement line by line, I came to see what was important and what was expendable.
Late ’30s: Henry is captivated by the Swing Jazz epitomized by his heroes, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington. Intrigued as to how music is put together, he begins transcribing sax choruses off jazz records.
In 1936, the Benny Goodman Band became a huge success, launching the Swing Era and I listened to the bands on the radio. I vividly remember Goodman’s “Flat Foot Floogie” and started to be very interest in how that music was made.
We had a windup phonograph with a variable-speed mechanism. When you slowed a record down, of course, it lowered the pitch. The Artie Shaw Band hit a couple of years later, and I began to study its arrangements. All I knew about music paper was that it had notes written on it for you to play. I didn’t know that you could buy blank music paper, so I made my own, laboriously drawing five-line note staves with a pencil and ruler. Then I would write out, note by note, all the Artie Shaw sax choruses in four parts. I would spend days winding that machine up. Since I could hear all the lines in the sax and brass sections, I must have had a pretty good ear.
1939-’43: Henry begins studies at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology Music School then transfers Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Adkins introduces him to Goodman who gives Henry a chance as an arranger but Henry fails the audition.
My financial condition would go from fair at the beginning of the month, when my dad sent my allowance, to desperate at the end of the month, when I had a Hershey bar for breakfast, a Hershey bar for breakfast, a Hershey bar for lunch, and a Hershey bar for dinner.
During my days at Juilliard I discovered a room in which I spent a great deal of time. We had a vast selection of music from which to choose. In addition to my large collection of jazz and swing records I had become interested in classical music. Ravel and Debussy had a special impact and influenced me a great deal. I would spend countless hours with their recordings following the scores. I would select a composer, be it Bartok or Mozart, and listen to his music to the virtual exclusion of all others.
I have applied this regimen to the present day with modern composers. In a less pedantic way, I have followed the evolution of popular jazz and rock music. I have found that as a film composer all of this listening has proved to be a good investment. I never know what the next film is going to ask of me.
1944-’45: Mancini’s studies are interrupted by World War II. After a stint in the Army Air Corps and infantry that includes the liberation of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria, he joins the relative safety of an Army band where he befriends the surviving members of the Glenn Miller band who had lost their leader in a war-related plane crash.
One morning our company was sent out on assignment. We weren’t told where we were going. We proceeded east for about fifteen miles and went through a small village. We came upon an expansive meadow of lovely green grass reaching to the top of a nearby hill. Perched on it was a huge gravestone structure. It was the Mauthausen concentration camp. We went in.
The scene inside was unreal, dreamlike. Under American supervision, surviving prisoners wearing stripped uniforms and carrying rifles were escorting squads of SS troopers who were in full uniform. The SS men were carrying shovels and, with the rifles of the prisoners trained on them, were using the shovels to give decent burial to the dead, many of whom had been simply lying there naked in the dirt. The cremation ovens were still warm, with traces of smoke rising from the chimney.
The war in Europe was over on May 8. Our division made its way to Arles in southern France where I made friends with some Army bandsmen stationed there. They were in search of a flute player and, as luck had it, anything I could do they needed. I went to the warrant officer of the band and asked if he could get me transferred. He did, and I joined that band.
Act Two: 1946-1955 — Two Drifters Off to See the World (15 Minutes)
1946: Decommissioned and returning stateside, he scored a gig with the Miller band as their newly-minted arranger and pianist as they carried on under the direction of Tex Beneke.
Glenn Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel on a flight to France in December 1944. The band was now the property of Glenn’s widow, Helen. She decided to assemble a new band around the nucleus of musicians who had been in the Air Force band. The logical one to lead it was Tex Beneke because he was the best known Miller sideman and for his vocals on “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”
1947: While touring with the reconstituted Miller band he crosses paths with Virginia O’Connor, a singer who joins the band, marries “his most severe critic,” and moves to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of writing music for movies.
I think Ginny saw something in me as a musician that I didn’t see in myself. I told her about seeing The Crusades and my dream of writing film scores. She said the place to do that was Hollywood, and the time to do it was now.
1947-51: Marriage, arranging and touring were not enough for the ambitious, ever-curious Mancini who broadened his composition, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration chops in studies with the composers Ernst Krenek and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
We spent a week in Las Vegas on our honeymoon, then took a new, freshly painted, two- bedroom, $90-a-month apartment on Parrish Place in Burbank. We got along well on very little money. We were young and happy and still without serious responsibilities. It was a carefree time. We slept until midday and went to the movies and newsreel theaters in the afternoon. I was studying at Westlake School of Music on my GI bill. I had a bit saved up, and I was writing a little for Tex at $50 a score.
Mancini and Ginny become parents when their son Chris is born. He writes scores for radio’s weekly Family Theater program including an adaptation of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and The F.B.I. in War and Peace, and moonlighting as an arranger for club act performers ranging from Ann Miller to Buddy Rich.
Through Ginny I met Harry Zimmerman, an arranger, conductor, and composer who had several shows on the Mutual Radio Network, one of which was “The Family Theater,” dramatizations of classic books. Harry was the first man to let me compose for the drama. He assigned me to write a radio score for “A Tale of Two Cities.” And I conducted it, by the skin of my teeth; I didn’t know what I was doing.
1952-58: Just as Ginny gives birth to twin girls, Mancini joins the Universal Pictures music department marking the first milepost in his quest to score films.
Ginny and I decided that we wanted four children, and we wanted to have them close together. During a routine checkup when she was seven months pregnant, Ginny was surprised by her doctor and called me from the office. She said, “Henry, you’re not going to believe this, but we’re going to have twins. The girls, Monica Jo and Felice Ann, were born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank five minutes apart on May 4, 1952. After a difficult pregnancy, Ginny had an easy delivery, but her troubles were just starting. She had three babies: Chris toddling and getting into everything, and two in their cribs. I helped her as much as I could, dunking diapers in the toilet and that sort of thing, but she had the burden of it. Ginny said she felt as if she had been turned into a robot that somebody wound up in the morning. Then she would keep running with diapers and bottles until she could collapse in the evening. We decided that three were quite enough. There was no question of her continuing to work. She gave up singing to raise the children.
Universal’s well-oiled, highly organized staff composers are able to score any sort of film in assembly-line fashion. So it was that Mancini’s music came to be heard in more than 150 projects over the next six years in flicks as diverse as Abbot & Costello’s Lost in Alaska, Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Six Bridges to Cross, Summer Love, and, rather perfectly, both The Glenn Miller Story (which garnered his first Academy Award nomination) and The Benny Goodman Story. And he enjoyed his first hit single, “I Won’t Let You Out of My Heart” recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians and he contributed music to Rock, Pretty Baby, one of Hollywood’s first rock musicals. The workmanlike apprenticeship well prepares him to approach every film genre with a keen sensitivity.
Universal Pictures was an old-line movie company when I went to work there. I once referred to the music department at Universal as a salt mine. But it was a good salt mine, and younger composers in film today do not have access to that kind of on-the-job training. Being on staff there I was called upon to do everything. I mean, everything. Whenever they needed a piece of source music, music that comes from a source in the picture, such as a band, a jukebox, or a radio, they would call me in. I would do an arrangement on something that was in the Universal library, or I would write a new piece for a jazz band or a Latin band or whatever. I guess in every business you have to learn the routine—in film scoring, the cliches—before you can begin to find your way.
One of the last films Mancini scored for Universal is a breakthrough both for film sound and cinema itself: Orson Welles’ late noir classic, Touch of Evil starring the director as a corrupt cop, Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. In the film’s famous opening three-and-a-half minute uncut long shot, Mancini’s ambient, raucous source music emanating from the seedy border town streets through which the action transpires and works as a perfect, chaotic set-up to the unfolding, menacing drama. Along with Mancini’s feverish percussion and horn-driven Latin themes lacing the nightmarish plot, his old player-piano waltz colors the brothel scenes with an air of tawdry decadence.
I was assigned to “Touch of Evil,” which Orson Welles was going to direct. Welles’ description of the music as he wanted it was exactly what I was already planning to do. He wanted no scoring as such—that is to say, underscore, the disembodied music that comes from nowhere behind a scene to enhance or establish mood. All the music had to be what we call source cues. All art is based on convention. In real life people do not stop in the middle of a sentence and express their deepest emotions by singing. We all know that in real life when boy meets girl, an invisible string section does not begin to play softly from the sky. Yet we accept this convention on the stage and in our movies. Source music, on the other hand, is actually part of the story, music the characters can hear if they pay attention to it.
Orson Welles had a perception of everything in the film, including the music. He knew. He truly understood film scoring. And since he was making a grimly realistic film, I think he reasoned that he even the music had to be rooted in reality. And that meant it all had to come from the story itself; it would have to be source cues.
There would be a lot of music in the picture, most of it with a big band Latin sound in a Stan Kenton vein so I hired a band with Shelly Manne on drums and a big brass section.
The powers that be got their hands on the picture, and they cut it down, taking some great stuff out of it. I don’t think Welles ever heard the music I wrote. He didn’t stick around for the recording sessions and I have been told that he refused even to look at the picture because of his anger at what the studio had done to it. Some of it has been restored and it has become a bit of a cult picture. But the public has never seen the powerful movie that I saw when I scored it. It was a pity, but a pity all too common in Hollywood.
“Touch of Evil” was one of the best things I did in that period of my life. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
1959: A chance meeting outside the Universal barbershop with budding B-movie producer- director Blake Edwards proves to be fateful for both men. Edwards’ new television show, Peter Gunn, an edgy crime show centered around the exploits of a hep cat P.I., needs a distinctive score to enhance its mood and suspense and he invites Mancini to compose one. Mancini’s hummable, danceable and undulating theme in which a guitar and a piano play in unison is an immediate hit with the show’s national audience and becomes an evergreen staple by garage rock bands and high school and college marching bands. And recorded as Music From Peter Gunn, it also gives him his first Grammy for Best Album and Best Arrangement and an Emmy nomination. It also firmly establishes Mancini as a major composer for the genre. “Never has so much been made of so little,” is Mancini’s typically modest disclaimer.
I had worked with Blake Edwards on three pictures. Blake perceived the character of Peter Gunn as being very different from the old style of movie private eye—Same Spade or Philip Marlowe type, the ruffled figure with the beat-up fedora. Peter Gunn was always well dressed; you almost never saw him without a jacket and tie.
The idea of using jazz in the “Gunn” score was never even discussed. It was implicit in the story. It was the time of so-called West Coast jazz, Shelly Manne, the Candoli brothers, and Shorty Rogers, among others. And that was the sound that came to me, the walking bass and drums. The “Peter Gunn” title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz. I used guitar and piano in unison, playing what is known in music as an ostinato, which means obstinate. It was sustained throughout the piece, giving it a sinister effect, with some frightened saxophone sounds and some shouting bass. It was unusual enough for movie-score albums to be released. Certainly no one thought of putting the music of a dramatic television show out on record. RCA had pressed only eight thousand copies of the album. And suddenly all hell broke loose. Within a week they had sold those eight thousand albums. The album promptly became number 1 on the Billboard chart and held that position for ten weeks. Suddenly out of nowhere, I was a successful recording artist. Almost overnight “Peter Gunn” put me in the public eye.
1960: In his use of Latin jazz for Edwards’ next TV series, Mr. Lucky, Mancini crafts an even more daring score, amplifying the sounds of a small jazz combo with lush use of strings and organ, an effort that wins two more Grammys.
It was with these scores that Mancini was taking the first steps towards replacing the use of symphonic arrangement with elements of jazz, Tin Pan Alley and popular music.
Act Three: 1961-1967 — Crossin’ In Style Someday (45 Minutes)
1961: Edwards moves back into film and Mancini is right there with him. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted from Truman Capote’s novella staring Audrey Hepburn as the naïve, eccentric New York City socialite Holly Golightly, features Mancini’s languid “Moon River” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, himself a Tin Pan Alley refugee and “American Songbook” icon. The harmonica and chorus-driven song accompanies the movie’s memorable opening sequence and, laced through the narrative, not only garners two Oscars (Best Original Score and Best Original Song) but has been deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and remains among the medium’s most memorable.
Blake was preparing to move from television into movies. He was already talking of doing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and told me he wanted me for the score. I was getting other film offers, and my price was going up. The producers felt that because the story had a New York location they should hire a Broadway composer to write the song that the script called for—a scene where Holly Golightly goes out on the fire escape with her guitar and sings. I would do the score, with someone else doing the song. So I said to Blake, “Give me a shot. Let me at least try something from that scene.” Blake took it up with the producers who relented and agreed to let me try it.
That song was one of the toughest I have ever had to write. It took me a month to think it through. What kind of song would this girl sing? What kind of melody was required? Should it be a jazz-flavored ballad? Would it be a blues? One night at home, I was relaxing after dinner. I went out to my studio off the garage, sat down at the piano (still rented), and al of a sudden I played the first three notes of a tune. It sounded attractive. I built the melody in a range of an octave and one. It was simple and completely diatonic: in the key of C, you can play it entirely on the white keys. It came quickly. It had taken me one month and half an hour to write that melody.
1962: With a nimble, stylistic shift that would define his hallmark flexibility, “Baby Elephant Walk,” Mancini’s playful and kooky boogie-woogie is a highlight of Hatari! (Howard Hawks’ romantic African adventure about a crew of professional big game catchers) starring John Wayne, gestures to the continent’s traditional musical sensibilities and instrumentation in garnering a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement. Hawks had shared his collection of indigenous African instruments he had collected during the film’s shoot in Kenya and their sounds are a partial inspiration for Mancini’s Hatari! score.
I got a call from Paramount. I was hot over there because “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was their picture. I was asked to come in to look at a picture that already had music by another composer that they didn’t think worked for the picture. The film was “Hatari!” it offered an opportunity to score a big-scope film of a kind I hadn’t done up to that point. I saw it as a way to open up and broaden my image., In the story there were three baby elephants who had taken to the girl played by Elsa Martinelli because she was the only one who had been able to figure out how to feed the little creatures.
Elephants like to wallow in the cool mud, and they love the water. Elsa took the elephants to a watering hole to bathe them. They filled their trunks and squirted each other and Elsa. It simply happened and Howard shot it. So I looked at the scene several times and still thought it was wonderful. As the little elephants went down to the water, there was a shot of them from behind. Their little backsides were definitely in rhythm with something. I thought, Yeah, they’re walking eight to the bar like boogie-woogie. I wrote “Baby Elephant Walk” as a result. A good theme— like the “Pink Panther” or “Baby Elephant Walk”—can work all the way through the picture, which is what I did with them. So, for me, a good melody is not just a pretty tune.
Mancini’s sparse, modest score for Edwards’ next film, Days of Wine and Roses, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as a couple in a downward alcoholic spiral, stresses the characters’ tortured, lonely relationship and the title song (marked by a solitary French horn and again including Mercer’s lyrics), is awarded a Best Song Oscar.
The film was a departure for Blake. This was a deep drama about a husband and wife who became alcoholics.
The title determined the melody. I went to the piano and started on middle C and went up to A, “The days...” The first phrase fell right into place. That theme was written in about half an hour. It just came, it rolled out.
Soundtrack albums of the Mancini-scored films and television shows enjoy spectacular sales and the music industry takes notice as he begins cutting LPs based on both his scores and new original jazz and pop compositions. Their popularity spurs him into his his first, fitful and not altogether successful national concert appearances.
We played the Seattle Opera House for a week. On the first night, it was as if I was in a fog; I felt as if I didn’t have any legs. I had absolutely no stage presence. That was something I would I would have to learn, have to build. I went onstage like a sleepwalker and—zap!—gave the downbeat. The engagement was very successful. By the end of it, I was thinking, Hey, like this, I like presenting the music directly to the people.
1963: The Pink Panther, Edwards’ landmark sight-gag diamond heist caper comedy starring David Niven, Robert Wagner, and Peter Sellers as the bumbling, oddball Inspector Clouseau introduces Mancini’s sneaky, soon-to-be forever ubiquitous jazz-pop theme (both sophisticated and fun) which never overkills the humor and wins four Grammys and an Oscar nomination.
I was quite familiar with the script and saw the David Niven character, the phantom jewel thief, as an interesting character to score. He was suave and sophisticated, with a lot of class. There were a number of scenes in which David would be slinking around on tippy-toes. I started to write a theme for him—one of the few times I wrote a theme before seeing the actual picture, That music was designed as the phantom-thief music, not to be the Pink Panther theme. I realized that the theme I had written was perfect for the opening credits and the cartoon of the little Pink Panther character. I used it for both.
Charade, a Hitchcockian romantic thriller starring Hepburn and Cary Grant, is Mancini’s first collaboration with director Stanley Donen. The score—moving between jazz idioms, dissonant modernism and a tasty array of bistro dance pieces, a string quartet, merry-go-round tunes, and Parisian can-cans—provide colorful transitions from scene-to-scene. And the title theme (to which Mercer set another song-poem) earns a Best Song Oscar nomination.
Stanley wanted me to write the music in London, so I went off not knowing what I was facing. It seemed like a big commitment. I had had some success, but I didn’t have a real body of work. I was then only thirty-nine. I was set up in a penthouse suite in the Mayfair Hotel, where I rented a piano and went to work. I stayed for about two months to write the score for “Charade,” developing a main-theme melody that I turned over to Johnny Mercer, who wrote yet another of his superb abstract lyrics for it.
1964: A Shot in the Dark, Edwards’ screwball Pink Panther follow-up, includes a mysterious Mancini theme complete with an antique pump organ he had seen in a London shop window which adds a perfect pinch of intrigue to the Peter Sellers/Clouseau physical-comedic vehicle.
Peter was one of the most mercurial characters I have ever met. I kept hearing about clashes between him and Blake, but I witnessed very little of this firsthand. I think two less talented people would have called it a day, but they both realized they were onto something interesting and important, something you can’t buy in this business: the welding of two separate talents to create a third historic personality. And I think Clouseau is a historic character.
1965: Edwards’ The Great Race, an elaborate, big budget knockabout turn-of-the century road flick farce starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Natalie Wood, and a fleet of early roadsters is sustained by Mancini’s colorful score, never afraid to draw attention to itself. Its numerous, musically varied set pieces with individual melodies (one of which, “The Sweetheart Tree,” receives an Oscar nomination), occupy nearly half the film as Mancini transforms Edwards’ pratfall comedy into a pastiche operetta.
Blake’s script was marvelous. Partly, I think, because he has family roots going back to that era of the silents, Blake has an enormous knowledge of the great comedians of that era, early comic Buster Keaton, Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy and the classic slapstick director Mack Sennett. He had absorbed their work and now in his script had been able to create something of his own with roots and style in the early days of film. Blake is, I think, the most successful of the directors influenced by early film, and “The Great Race” was to be done as an homage to those people. It was like keeping something precious alive. In physical comedy he has few peers.
1966: Arabesque, another darker Donen thriller involving an assassination plot against a Mideast sheik set in a gloomy London and starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, is ornamented with Mancini’s gripping saber dance opening music and a succession of alluring Scheherazade-like melodies cued through the film that suggest the Arab musical scale as if blown through a snake charmer’s reed pan pipe.
1967: Two for the Road, among Donen’s most daring pictures starring Hepburn and Albert Finney as an ultrachic British couple whose marriage is portrayed through deftly-edited energetic intercut vignettes and overlapping, fencing dialogue which chart their relationship in three distinct, jumbled, phases: bohemian romance, marital bliss and crisis. Donen’s rejection of Mancini’s first offering shocks the composer who gets back on his feet to produce a score that he and Ginny long cherish as their favorite. Mancini’s lateral, eight-bar road song (colored by the sound of a French accordion and Stephane Grappelli’s poignant jazz violin) correspond to the turning car wheels in the animated title sequence collage is a deeply personal, substantive expression of longing and resolution that bind the theme to the characters, punctuate the narrative and ultimately tie the charming, autumnal story fragments together. And it is here that Mancini commences what would prove to be a long collaboration with Leslie Bricusse another A-list lyricist.
“Two for the Road” was a unique picture, far ahead of its time. The style, the way of telling the story was very unusual for 1967. The story kept going back in forth in time. I said, “Stanley, I can’t make head or tail of this.” Stanley said, “When you see it on the screen it will be much more obvious—the change of clothes, the change of cars.” It received excellent reviews, but it was just not a box office hit.
I was searching for a sound for that picture. I wrote a melody as a theme, but Stanley wasn’t taken by it. It didn’t have many notes to it (although neither did “Moon River”). But I sat down and came up with another theme, which had a moving figure in the counterline. I wanted to get something touching.
Hepburn lobbies her husband, producer Mel Ferrer, to hire Mancini for her next film, Wait Until Dark, a thriller about a blind woman terrorized in her Greenwich Village basement apartment by a trio of drug thugs. Mancini’s ingenious score accentuates both the heroine’s hypersensitive hearing that compensates for her sightlessness and Alan Arkin’s ruthless, schizoid villain with deft, artistic slight-of-hand. Utilizing two pianos—one tuned correctly and another not—an off- kilter, aural vertigo effect is achieved that at once raises the drama’s anxiety but reflects the essence of each main character. The setting’s inherent claustrophobia is given further Mancini treatment with minimalist musical accents (and instrumentation utilizing everything from a synthesizer and Japanese flute to a lone human whistler) that becomes the film’s sonic unconscious in recreating the blind woman’s dark, uncertain world.
Because of the sinister characters in the story, I thought I needed something a little unsettling. I went over to Warner Bros., where they had matched twin Baldwin pianos, one tuned at 440, the other tuned a quarter-tone flat. If you played a chord on one piano and the same chord on the other, the difference in pitch would be very disturbing. It was an experimental device, but I got proof even before we were far very far into the first recording session that it was effective. My pianists on that picture were Pearl Kauffman and Jimmy Rowles, both excellent artists. After we had made three or four takes on the main title, Pearl looked up and said, “Hank, can we please, take a break? This is making me ill!”
These early and mid-1960s films are but a few of the most notable for which Mancini provided his musical signatue. Assignments on such movies as High Time, The Great Imposter, Experiment in Terror, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, Dear Heart, Man’s Favorite Sport, Moment to Moment, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, and Gunn had allowed his muse to continue to blow sweet nothings into his ears as he took dictation in the form of musical notation.
But overseeing the recording of film scores, fulfilling his RCA record deal produce annual LPs (Our Man in Hollywood, Uniquely Mancini, Mancini Plays Mancini, Theme Scene, etc.) and increased national concert appearances combine with the high profile, social demands of celebrity diminish his ability to be as present for his family as he wishes even though he composes in a studio in their new, plush home. Ginny, herself occupied with spot singing engagements and local, civic responsibilities, shepherds the family’s day-to-day needs but their son Chris’ rebellious nature and his parents’ missteps in dealing with it, strain the not atypical matters. And, along with playing the role of down-to-earth hostess, she navigates the Hollywood party circuit for her husband to be seen as he transitions from working musician to the ranks of the famous without losing his humble center. Finally, the death of Mancini’s father with whom he has maintained an aloof and tense relationship, force the artist to draw on the very marrow of his own life experience in moving forward with channeling his creative spirit to even greater human depths.
Act Four: 1968-1978 — Wider Than a Mile (15 Minutes)
Though his days of impacting popular culture’s zeitgeist are, arguably, behind him, Mancini’s artistic evolution enters a new phase of experimentation as he forges alliances with directors, themselves expanding cinema’s stylistic and narrative boundaries. Thus, Mancini welcomes a wide variety of international, ethnic, historical, and topical projects requiring all manner of music. And, along with fulfilling his annual three album recording deal commitments, he tentatively steps back into live performance.
1968: Mancini’s next project with Edwards is The Party, an elongated Sellers’ driven sight gag satirizing Hollywood’s shallow pomposity that includes some tasty BeBop and mock rock music reinforcing the antic comedy.
1969: Mancini’s arrangement of Nina Rota’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” that accompanied Franco Zefferelli’s cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Richard Nixon invited Ginny and me to the White House for a dinner to honor the Apollo 11 astronauts. It was the years my record of Nina Rota’s “Love These from Romeo and Juliet” became number 1 on all the charts. It was rare for a tune like that to break through the solid wall of rock and roll in the radio industry. It turned out that the record was a favorite of Nixon’s daughter, Julie, who had just been married to David Eisenhower. I was asked to play the piano, which I did for about fifteen minutes.
Mancini is invited to prepare an inaugural concert program for the Philadelphia Orchestra Pops that includes his reflective Beaver Valley ’37, a symphonic pastiche of the “Sons of Italy” tarantella, steel mill grit and innocent waltz evoking his boyhood memories.
1970: His last film with Edwards for awhile, Darling Lili, stars Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson in a WWI romantic spy thriller cum musical, includes the Oscar nominated chilling waltz “Whistling Away the Dark” complete with a Mercer lyric. But Mancini is unwittingly caught in the middle of Edwards’ studio battles resulting in a rift between the two that is long to mend.
The Molly Maguires, hardboiled director Martin Ritt’s grim portrayal of the 1876 Irish-American Pennsylvania coal strike starring Sean Connery, is further darkened by Mancini’s brooding score that draws on the era’s community-specific folk music in illuminating the downtrodden coal miner’s reality of smokestacks, slag heaps, gray earth, soiled laborers, mine shafts, and eternally gray sunrises.
It was an interesting picture, and I wrote the music. I enjoyed that film because it permitted me to write purely dramatic music rather than a song score.
Mancini’s first international collaboration is with one of the medium’s legends, neo-realist director Vittorio de Sica. Sunflower, starring Marcello Mastroianni and its producer Carlos Ponti’s wife, Sophia Loren, a forced period drama of a woman scorned fending for herself and set against wartime Italian and Russian backdrops, is memorable for two things: the director and producer’s feud and Mancini’s Oscar nominated score that brings regionally-sensitive musical color to the rare de Sica dud.
The only problem I had was the conflict between Ponti and de Sica, which nobody had warned me about. I went into a spotting session with the two of them, both of whom spoke English fairly well, fortunately, We began to discuss the music, and I suddenly realized I was caught in the middle of an argument that had been going on since the picture started. They obviously had been having at each other, for various artistic and procedural reasons, fighting the good Italian fight. There was no shouting, but the gestures were sarcastic and very eloquent. I soon got the point. I was trying to find the appropriate dramatic places for music, and they were going at each other with me as the battleground.
Continuing to engage clients on his own and bringing an embrace of global music to his aural palette, Mancini is hired by producer-director Walter Mirisch to score The Hawaiians, a sequel to Hawaii, both adapted from novelist James Michener’s sprawling history of the islands’ tortured colonization. With no authentic indigenous music to draw on, Mancini twines the Polynesian, Javanese, Guinean, Chinese, and Japanese music and rhythms already fused and associated with what was characterized as “Hawaiian” in his primary theme for the film and some of its smaller, scene-setting ensemble passages augmenting its multi-layered story.
1970: Mancini’s first of several collaborations with Paul Newman is Sometimes A Great Notion, an adaptation of Ken Kesey’s Faulknerian novel about a maverick Oregon logging family starring Henry Fonda, Lee Remick and the blue-eyed actor/director. Mancini’s score includes an Oscar-nominated song (“All His Children”) and follows Newman’s directions to resemble the brand of commercial pop-country music blaring from pick-up truck radios across the land and shimmers with wailing, whining country music arranged for steel guitar, harmonica, electric organ, tenor sax, trumpets, and down-home country fiddling.
I had known Paul for several years when I got a call offering me the job. Paul had found that there was a lot of country and western music on the radio and jukeboxes, so that was the kind of score I wrote—a good deal of Cajun and country guitars. It worked out well. I used the country feeling against the larger orchestral dramatic material.
1971: Mancini takes on his most experimental challenge with Scandinavian director Laslo Benedek's psycho-drama The Night Visitor. Disturbingly neurotic, Mancini’s monochromatic, restrictive score without themes, recorded with a relatively small, eighteen instrument orchestra, allows just enough shading to propel the stark tale of revenge starring Swedish favorites, Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman. Rarely has the sound of frigid winter so blanketed a film score.
1973: In a rare turn to documentary, Mancini contributes scores to three parts of Visions of Eight, an unusual assignment in which eight internationally-renowned filmmakers crafted short films about the terrorist-afflicted 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. Most notable of these is Claude Lelouch’s section, The Losers, where Mancini’s downcast tones bring the agony of defeat for an array of boxers, bikers, horsemen, swimmers, and wrestlers pinned to the mat into sharp relief.
1974: With The White Dawn Mancini concludes his international experimental phase. This unusual, subdued 19th-century adventure about three whale men (Warren Oates, Timothy Bottoms and Lou Gossett) stranded in the Arctic finds Mancini once more inspired by indigenous instruments and music. Director Phillip Kaufman’s gift of Eskimo-carved pipes, animal skin drums and the recording of an old Inuit woman’s chant are all Mancini needs to catalyze a score in which the thin line between life and death is prescribed by the setting’s unforgiving yet near- mystical environment. Paradoxically, several cues from the score will be—with Mancini’s permission—pilfered for the sublime John Glenn Earth orbit scene in The Right Stuff a decade hence.
I was concerned about what to with Eskimo music. I found that about all they had in the way of music was the human voice (which is, of course, the first instrument) and some strange drums made of hoops stretched with walrus or seal bladders. “The White Dawn” was a film composer’s dream because there were so many open spaces, with no sound but the wind. There was little dialogue, no cars crashing or people slamming doors to get in the way of the music.
Mancini suffers his greatest disappointment: his score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy is rejected by the auteur director though back room studio politics may have played a role in the final decision.
Many of the best composers in this business have had scores rejected and tossed out. It happened to me when I worked on “Frenzy.” We scored “Frenzy” in London, and Hitchcock was there throughout the recording session, which I found disconcerting. It was not so much a matter of his being there as that he didn’t say much when we were doing it. He sat through every piece and nodded approval, and finally, when he was alone in the dubbing room, he decided that it didn’t work. His reason for thinking so, I was told, was that the score was macabre, which puzzled me because it was a film with many macabre things in it. It wasn’t an easy decision to accept, and it was crushing when it happened, but I thereupon joined a very exclusive club, the composers-with-scores-dumped club.
1975: Mancini re-embraces Americana with a vengeance and a splash of panache with a duo of period-piece film scores: The Great Waldo Pepper (starring Newman about early biplane aviation barnstormers) and W.C. Fields and Me (with Rod Steiger playing the lead in a biopic of the irascible comedian).
1976-1983: Whether it is changing tastes in Hollywood’s office suites or increasing openness among TV execs to present more innovative fare is hard to say, but offers giving Mancini greater flexibility and possibility begin to come from those purveyors of the “cool medium.” One quirky, compelling idea is for hosting The Mancini Generation, a colossal, multi-episode commitment with music material drawn from his entire catalogue. Anticipating reality TV by two generations, unique to each episode is a sequence of a college film student’s participation in taking a noted Mancini cut and conceiving, shooting and editing an experimental film based on the music and broadcast on the program.
“The Mancini Generation” shows were good and were well received. I had a superb band with a large string section. We taped twenty-eight shows, shot on location at places such as Disneyland and Lion Country Safari. When, as happened on occasion, the budget precluded strings, we used the big band. I went through every big band arrangement I had in my library. In a way, those shows heralded MTV. I gave scholarships to film schools throughout the country. Students would pick a recording of mine and shoot film to it, then submit it, and the winning entry each week would be presented on the show.
Through this period, Mancini becomes increasingly involved with getting Chris, now in his twenties and himself possessed of no small musical talent, in the music business even enlisting his son in assisting him in composing opening themes for a few TV series including one based on H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.
TV continues to seek the Mancini touch. A fife-and-drum minuteman march accompanies NBC’s 1976 presidential election year coverage and his urgent logo theme introduces their nightly news broadcast. And, within a decade, Mancini ditties accompany the “Viewer Mail” and other segments for the network’s Late Night with David Letterman and cannot be overlooked in his musical mark continued embedding in popular culture.
With a nod to the wide-spread popularization of African-American popular music, Mancini’s funk/disco-infused theme graces the black family sitcom What’s Happening! Alternately, his bluesy torch song theme colors The Blue Knight chronicling the adventures of a world-weary, middle-aged beat cop. His lofty theme for The Moneychangers sets a stately tone for the mini- series starring Kirk Douglas dealing with elite, unscrupulous banking industry power brokers. And the delicate, aloof scoring for the Paul Newman-directed chamber drama The Shadow Box hues the lives of three aging couples facing mortality head-on.
Throughout his heyday and on top of his myriad contributions to more than 100 films and/or television shows, Mancini’s devotion to cementing himself as an astute recording artist never flags, recording over 90 albums ranging from big band to light classical to pop. Mancini believes that music is not simply to be listened to and a reason why his records succeed better than those of other film composers lies in his exacting standards. Eight of these albums are certified gold (over a half million in sales) by the Recording Industry Association of America, making him a household name.
And if “Easy Listening” is usually a kiss of death for music snobs, Mancini’s songs become teflon staples of a mind-binding variety of recording artists in versions so wildly stylistic different from one another that it can make even the most unrepentant hipster take a listen, including: Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Paul Anka, Pat Boone, Anita Bryant, Eydie Gorme & Steve Lawrence, Trini Lopez, Johnny Mathis, Jerry Vale, Ray Conniff, Quincy Jones, the Lennon Sisters, The Lettermen, Herb Alpert, Sarah Vaughn, Shelly Manne, James Moody, Percy Faith, Andre Kostelanetz, Liberace, Tony Bennett, Julie London, Wayne Newton, Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Orchestra, Peggy Lee, and Lawrence Welk. Even Bob Dylan covers “Moon River” in some 1990 concerts and the Grateful Dead are inspired by Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” theme for their own psychedelic composition, “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks).”
The popularity of his albums spurs his draw as a concert performer. Much sought after for concerts, the affable maestro makes some 50 annual appearances the world over. Among the groups he conducts are the London Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. And he appears in command performances before Britain's Royal Family in 1966, 1980 and 1984.
Chris marries and becomes a father. But because Henry and Ginny want too give their son and his wife more space to grow his own career, they take their grandson in under their own roof and, with the help of a caregiver, provide a less hectic home for the baby.
Part Five: Chasing After Our Rainbow’s End — 1979-1994 (10 minutes)
Mancini and Edwards make amends, successfully reboot the Pink Panther series and go on to make a string of well-received box office hits including 10 (the Dudley Moore, Bo Derek middle aged angst comedy), Victor/Victoria (with Julie Andrews, Robert Preston and James Garner in the ultimate gender-bending farce that wins Mancini his final Best Score Oscar) and S.O.B. (another Andrews vehicle satirically chastising Hollywood cut-throat superficiality).
I then worked with Blake and Julie on a film I thought was one of the most perfect pictures I’d ever done. “Victor/Victoria” encompassed everything I was trained to do. It had to do with songwriting, it had to do with scoring, it had to with he visual music on the screen. Every scene in that picture followed logically from the one before it; everything was perfectly choreographed. There are very few pictures I’ve done that I have the patience to sit down and watch but “Victor/ Victoria” is one that can watch again. There is something about that picture that gives me pleasure to this day.
The TV production that makes the biggest popular splash is The Thorn Birds, a half-soap opera, half-Greek tragedy miniseries dramatizing 19th century Australian ranch life starring Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Chamberlain. Mancini’s two hours of music gesturing square dance two- steps help propel the serial to a ratings bonanza in receiving an Emmy Award nomination.
Ever the workman, Mancini reels out scores for a panoply of admired and/or forgotten projects during this stretch that call for a dizzying array of music—Silver Streak, House Calls, Angela, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?, The Prisoner of Zenda, Nightwing, Little Miss Marker, A Change of Seasons, Back Roads, Mommie Dearest, Second Thoughts, and The Man Who Loved Women to name some.
Despite the maturation of Mancini’s scores and his ability to sensitively heighten both narrative and character with humor and pathos, the lower profile nature of most of these films is, perhaps, a reflection of his diminishing stature in the eyes of the mega-budget extravaganzas. Where once Mancini was scoring those gigs, the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas projects are being nabbed by the next generation of film music maestros with John Williams leading the new vanguard.
Still, Mancini’s later projects continue to demonstrate an ever-blossoming artist even as the fare he is offered diminish in popular or critical impact. Perhaps the last of his finest works is for Paul Newman’s 1987 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie starring Newman’s wife Joanne Woodward and an emerging John Malkovich. Here Mancini’s desultory parlor- tinged score captures the restricted circumstances of the landmark play’s entrapped characters.
There is one especially touching scene in “The Glass Menagerie.” I was in the studio conducting, and Paul was in the booth, behind the glass; my back was to him. In that scene Joanne is talking to the gentlemen caller and how things used to be in the South with the jonquils in a softer time. It’s very poignant, one of the best scenes Tennessee Williams wrote in the play. The music at this point was very sensitive, ending with just solo cello and piano, fading off into infinity. It was so quiet. No one said a word. I turned around and looked at Paul. It was the first time he had seen the scene scored, and he was sitting there like a little kid with tears coming from his eyes. I think it was one of my best scores and he didn’t complain once about those damn strings.
Fate is always lurking and reveals itself with a cold hand. A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and swift decline result in the passing of a transformative figure in the arts and sciences of cinema. By all accounts Mancini faced his mortality with the grace and bravery he approached his life. With a calm realism he wrote letters to his dearest friends with a simple message: “I’ve had a wonderful life.”
Rather fittingly, it was The Son of the Pink Panther (with Roberto Benigni playing the Clouseau role) that would be Mancini’s final project.
Yet, the Henry Mancini legacy has never dimmed.
The Henry Mancini Institute, an academy for young music professionals, is founded in 1996 and though it is not able to sustain itself, the American Society of Composers (ASCAP) inaugurates a still-thriving “Henry Mancini Music Scholarship” has been awarded annually since 2001. While still alive, Henry created a scholarship at UCLA and the bulk of his library and works are archived in the music library at UCLA.
I remember how insecure and uncertain my life was when I went to New York and enrolled at Juilliard, I began to set up scholarships, I established two at UCLA—the first a film music scholarship and, in tandem with that a student composer could draw on to record a score for a student film. I funded a composition scholarship at Juilliard and an endowment at the University of Southern California to buy the necessities for a running a music department—band instruments, music stands, lighting—and set up a scholarship for the American Federation of Musicians Congress of Strings, which nurtures young string players from all over the country.
The Henry Mancini Arts Academy opens in 2005 as a division of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. The Center is located in Midland, Pennsylvania, minutes away from Mancini's hometown of Aliquippa. The Henry Mancini Arts Academy is an evening-and-weekend performing arts program for children from pre-K to grade 12, with some classes also available for adults. The program includes dance, voice, musical theater, and instrumental lessons. How enticing it is to think that one day some of the recipients of the arts education provided by the Mancini Arts Academy will themselves reinvent their medium.
Sometimes I have to stop and think about the people who helped put Ginny and me. We’ve worked hard, but it wouldn’t be have happened except for certain special people. I’ve thought about the old Loew’s Penn, where I saw “The Crusades,” and the Stanley Theatre, where I studied with Max. What would have happened to me had I not met Glenn Miller that day? What would have happened if Shorty Rogers hadn’t insisted that I make the “Peter Gunn" album? If Jerry Perenchino hadn’t come up with that idea about my doing concerts? If I hadn’t needed a haircut and bumped into Blake Edwards? I’ve thought a lot about that haircut.
An orchestra comprised of members from the Henry Mancini Arts Academy performs a medley of the composer’s hallmark tunes: “Peter Gunn,” “The Pink Panther,” “Baby Elephant Walk,” and “Moon River.”