04 February, 2009
Henry Mancini was an Academy Award winning Italian-American composer, conductor and arranger. He is remembered particularly for being a composer of film and television scores. Mancini also won a record number of Grammy awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. His best-known works are the jazz-idiom theme to The Pink Panther film series ("The Pink Panther Theme") and "Moon River".
Mancini was born Enrico Nicola Mancini in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the steel town of West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. His parents emigrated from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Mancini's father, Quinto, was a steelworker, who made his only child begin flute lessons at the age of eight. When Mancini was 12 years old, he began piano lessons. Quinto and Henry played flute together in the Aliquippa Italian immigrant band, "Sons of Italy". After high school, Mancini attended the renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York. In 1943, after roughly one year at Juilliard, his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the army. In 1945, he participated in the liberation of a South German concentration camp.
Upon discharge, Mancini entered the music industry. In 1946, he became a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Tex Beneke. After World War II, Mancini broadened his composition, counterpoint, harmony and orchestration skills during studies with two acclaimed "serious" concert hall composers, Ernst Krenek and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
In 1952, Mancini joined the Universal Pictures music department. During the next six years, he contributed music to over 100 movies, most notably The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, This Island Earth, The Glenn Miller Story (for which he received his first Academy Award nomination), The Benny Goodman Story and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Mancini left Universal-International to work as an independent composer/arranger in 1958. Soon after, he scored the television series Peter Gunn for writer/producer Blake Edwards, the genesis of a relationship which lasted over 35 years and produced nearly 30 films. Together with Alex North, Elmer Bernstein, Leith Stevens and Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini was one of the pioneers who introduced jazz music into the late romantic orchestral film and TV scores prevalent at the time.
Mancini's scores for Blake Edwards included Breakfast at Tiffany's (with the standard, "Moon River"), and with "Days of Wine and Roses," "Experiment in Terror," The Pink Panther, (and all of its sequels, such as "A Shot in the Dark"), The Great Race, The Party, "Victor/Victoria". Another director with a longstanding partnership with Mancini was Stanley Donen (Charade, Arabesque, Two for the Road). Mancini also composed for Howard Hawks (Man's Favorite Sport, Hatari! — which included the well-known "Baby Elephant Walk"), Martin Ritt (The Molly Maguires), Vittorio de Sica (Sunflower), Norman Jewison (Gaily Gaily), Paul Newman (Sometimes a Great Notion, The Glass Menagerie), Stanley Kramer's (Oklahoma Crude), George Roy Hill (The Great Waldo Pepper), Arthur Hiller (Silver Streak), and Ted Kotcheff (Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), and others. Mancini's score for the Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy (1972), was rejected and replaced by Ron Goodwin's work.
Mancini scored many TV movies, including The Thorn Birds and The Shadow Box. He wrote his share of television themes, including Mr. Lucky (starring John Vivyan and Ross Martin), NBC News Election Night Coverage, NBC Mystery Movie, What's Happening!!, Newhart, Remington Steele, Tic Tac Dough (1990 version) and Hotel. Mancini also composed the "Viewer Mail" theme for Late Night with David Letterman.
Mancini recorded over 90 albums, in styles ranging from big band to classical to pop. Eight of these albums were certified gold by The Recording Industry Association of America. He had a 20 year contract with RCA Records, resulting in 60 commercial record albums that made him a household name composer of easy listening music.
Mancini's range also extended to orchestral and ethnic scores (Lifeforce, The Great Mouse Detective, Sunflower, "Tom and Jerry: The Movie", Molly Maguires, The Hawaiians), and darker themes ("Experiment In Terror," "The White Dawn," "Wait Until Dark," "The Night Visitor").
Mancini was also a concert performer, conducting over fifty engagements per year, resulting in over 600 symphony performances during his lifetime. Among the symphony orchestras he conducted are the London Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He appeared in 1966, 1980 and 1984 in command performances for the British Royal Family. He also toured several times with Johnny Mathis and with Andy Williams, who had sung many of Mancini's songs.
Mancini had experience with acting and voice roles. In 1994 he made a one-off cameo appearance in the first season of the sitcom series Frasier, as a call-in patient to Dr. Frasier Crane's radio show. Mancini voiced the character Al, who speaks with a melancholy drawl and hates the sound of his own voice, in the episode "Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast?" Mancini also had an uncredited performance as a pianist in the 1967 movie Gunn, the movie version of the series Peter Gunn, the score of which was originally composed by Mancini himself.
Mancini died at the age of 70 in Beverly Hills/Los Angeles, California of pancreatic cancer.