Henry Mancini: The Charm

There have been so many popular film composers, but Henry Mancini’s film and television work seems to rise above many of the rest.  His penchant for melodic material is still obvious today.     

Born in Ohio in 1924, he was introduced to music from his flutist father.  He eventually learned piano and became interested in arranging.  He enrolled at Juilliard in 1942, but he was drafted into the Air Force.  While in the Air Force, Henry met Glenn Miller and in 1946 joined the Glenn Miller/Tex
Beneke band as an arranger and pianist. In 1947, he married Ginny O’Connor (who sang in the band), and eventually left the group to move to Hollywood. 

In 1952, Mancini began work for Universal-International.  He became house arranger and worked on several Abbott and Costello films.  He worked on hundreds of films in this time, mostly uncredited.  With his background of big band arranging, Mancini worked on films like The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and The Benny Goodman Story (1956).  His biggest breakout came from Touch of Evil (1958).  For the Orson Welles directed film, Mancini used many different styles like the blues, rock & roll, and Latin influences.  As he left Universal, a former Universal employee Blake Edwards hired Mancini to compose for his television show Peter Gunn.  The now famous theme is one of Mancini’s most recognizable themes, topping the Billboard chart and receiving Emmy and Grammy nominations.  It is also fun to note that among the great musicians in Mancini’s orchestra for the recording was John Williams on piano (yes, that John Williams). 

Mancini’s success continued into the 1960s with Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).  Mancini collaborated with lyricist Johnny Mercer for the song Moon River.  The song became a hit, with a Mancini song topping the Billboard chart.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s received two Academy Awards, one for Original Score and another for Original Song.  It is fourth on the AFI list of 100 Songs.  The 1962 film Hatari! featured some African instruments into the score, but is mainly known for the breakout hit Baby Elephant Walk.  Mancini and Edward reunited for Days of Wine and Roses (1962), with Mercer and Mancini winning another Best Song Oscar.  1963 saw more hits for Mancini, including one of my favorites Charade and of course The Pink Panther.  The title theme for The Pink Panther has been Mancini’s main achievement and has become one of the most recognizable movie themes. 
His collaboration with Blake Edwards continued with the Pink Panther sequel, A Shot in the Dark (1964) and the madcap film The Great Race (1965).

The 1970s kept Mancini busy with tons of television and film projects.  They include Darling Lili (1970), the MGM musical documentary That’s Entertainment! (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), Silver Streak (1976), The Prisoner of Zenda (1979).  He also worked on three more Pink Panther sequels: The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).  He also worked on the romantic comedy hit 10 directed by Blake Edwards.  Mancini’s work for the Hitchcock film, Frenzy (1972) was rejected and replaced by Ron Goodwin.
By the 1980s Mancini was still one of the most sought after film composers.  He also continued to regularly conduct orchestras around the world.  He wrote film scores like Mommie Dearest in 1981, and 1982’s Victor Victoria won him another Oscar.  Two more Pink Panther films were also released: Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) and Curse of the Pink Panther (1983).  Another hit for him in 1983 was the music for the TV miniseries The Thorn Birds.  He wrote again for TV, this time for the show Newhart.  In 1986, he composed the score (and two songs) for Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective

By the 1990s, Mancini had slowed down his pace of film scoring.  He worked on Ghost Dad (1990), Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992) and his last Pink Panther film (and last film of Blake Edwards) – Son of the Pink Panther (1993).
Mancini died at the age of 70 in 1994 in Los Angeles.  His last work, the stage musical version of Victor Victoria opened in 1995.  The musical was dedicated to the memory of Henry Mancini. 

Henry Mancini has been a staple of the Pops orchestras, but I dislike him labeled as "easy listening".  His innovative use of instruments and arrangements made him a breakout hit.  He was able to write in multiple styles, but still keeping that Mancini charm.  His use of jazz harmonies never stood in the way of his melodic talents. 
His awards are too numerous to list, but he was nominated for 72 Grammys, winning 20.  He won a Golden Globe Award and nominated for 2 Emmys.  He was also nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning 4.   

The Pink Panther Theme (Click here to listen)
Hatari - Baby Elephant Walk (Click here to listen)
Great Mouse Detective (Click here to listen)
The Great Race - Pie in the Face Polka (Click here to listen)
Moon River - Andy Williams and Henry Mancini on piano (Click here to listen)

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  1. Ah, Mancini - The mascot's best friend

  2. You win for the semi-but-technically-not-obscure reference. Good work!

  3. Dreamsville has to be my favorite love song....

  4. I've always wondered if the Peter Gunn theme was inspired by the style of Modern Jazz Quartet, a group I enjoy.