In the Aliquippa High School year book of 1942 there was an entry that spoke of one of the students that attended the school, it read:
“ A true music lover, collects records, and has also written a handful of beautiful themes and compositions. He wishes to continue his music studies and eventually to have his own orchestra”. The student that this refers to is the acclaimed but sadly late Henry Mancini who’s melodies, themes and songs have now become part of the musical establishment and are looked upon by many aspiring young composers as classics. Mancini was born in Little Italy, which was a neighbourhood located in Cleveland. The young Mancini was brought up in West Aliquippa near the steel town of Pittsburgh. His parents were immigrants and moved to the United States from the Abruzzo region of Italy. It was Mancini’s Father Quinto who was a steelworker that encouraged his son to become involved in music and also made him have Piccolo lessons from the age of just eight. From the age of twelve Mancini also began to take lessons for piano and after graduating from High School he attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York, these studies were cut short because Mancini was drafted into the army mid way through 1943 where he initially served as an infantryman, later in 1944 he transferred to the Army Band and was also present at the liberation of the Mauthausen Gusen concentration camp which was located in the south of Germany. After being demobbed Mancini returned to his music and became a pianist and arranger for the newly re-formed GLENN MILLER BAND.
The rest as they say is history, Mancini went onto become one of the worlds most prolific and respected composers of music for film and television. Working on numerous box office hits during the late 1950,s through to the 1970,s. His career for film music composition however began in 1952 when he was signed up by Universal Pictures and contributed music for some of that studios movies that have since attained something of a cult or classic status. IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, TARANTULA, THIS ISLAND EARTH and THE GLENN MILLER STORY. After working for Universal Mancini decided to strike out on his own as an independent composer and soon penned a theme for a television series that endures to this day, PETER GUNN was the first time that the composer worked with filmmaker Blake Edwards and as we all are aware it was not the last time that this creative duo collaborated.
They worked together for the following thirty five years and in that time Mancini scored thirty movies for the Producer/director, THE PINK PANTHER, THE GREAT RACE, 10, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR,THE PARTY, VICTOR VICTORIA and most notably BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S which included the evergreen classic song MOON RIVER and THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES which also included a haunting song and melancholy theme that began with a faraway sounding horn which for me established straight away a feeling or atmosphere of loneliness, which related to the movies main characters, lyrics of course were courtesy of Mancini’s long time collaborator and friend Johnny Mercer. The composer also collaborated with a number of A listed directors such as HOWARD HAWKS, STANLEY KRAMER, GEORGE ROY HILL, NORMAN JEWISON, MARTIN RITT, VITTORIO DE SICA and STANLEY DONEN to name but a handful.
Sadly his music for Alfred Hitchcock’s FRENZY in 1972 was rejected by the director and replaced with a soundtrack written by British composer Ron Goodwin. Mancini was as busy working on projects for the small screen and was a master at creating highly infectious opening themes for TV productions establishing the theme in an instant or so it seemed. MR. LUCKY, THE THORN BIRDS, NBC MYSTERY MOVIE, WHATS HAPPENING, TIC TAC DOUGH, NEWHART, REMINGTON STEELE, HOTEL, CADES COUNTY and RIPLEYS BELIEVE IT OR NOT.
Mancini also became particularly active in the genre of easy listening music and released over 60 albums on the RCA label which included big band sounds, standard instrumentals, Latin flavoured collections, film themes and arrangements of pop songs all of which were etched and infused with that unmistakeable Mancini touch. I remember buying a number of these compilations, LOVE STORY AND OTHER THEMES, for example which included the themes from movies written by Mancini and other composers such as Francis Lai, Stelvio Cipriani and Nino Rota. Although we associate Mancini with light and romantic or melancholy music for film, the composer also wrote his fair share of dramatic and powerful pieces for the cinema, these include CHARADE (which many consider to be a light sounding score, when in fact it is highly dramatic apart from its rather sugary sounding song),
LIFEFORCE, WAIT UNTILL DARK, THE NIGHT VISITOR, the excellent THE MOLLY MAGUIRES and the equally as riveting THE HAWAIIANS (MASTER OF THE ISLANDS). One of my favourite scores by Henry Mancini is THE GREAT RACE as I think this showcases perfectly the versatility of the composer, he was able to adapt his style and composing skills to almost every situation and scenario and this was shown to the full in THE GREAT RACE.
The score also produced another great Mancini/Mercer song THE SWEETHEART TREE, which when I saw the film in the cinema even encouraged the audience to sing along with the words displayed on screen, as well as madcap chase music, romantic themes and grand fanfares and regal and luxurious sounding waltzes.
It’s a pity that a more fuller soundtrack album was not released, the score was initially issued on RCA VICTOR on a long playing record, then years later it received a CD release, and in 2001 as part of Mancini soundtracks collection was paired with THE PARTY another Blake Edwards movie on one compact disc. THE GREAT RACE is also one of my favourite movies, ok yes I know I am easy to please I hear you say, but it just appealed to my sense of humour and even now I find myself giggling when I think of the erroneous but hap- hazard and disaster laden Professor Fate played by Jack Lemmon with his much slapped and kicked assistant Max portrayed brilliantly by Peter Falk. Who’s chaotic slapstick was underlined by the masterful scoring of Henry Mancini as in PUSH THE BUTTON MAX. The Mancini soundtrack collection also included pairings of classics such as HATARI and HIGH TIME, CHARADE and EXPERIMENT IN TERROR and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and ARABESQUE.
Mancini was also regarded as an easy listening artist, which was probably why he was so successful because his music from film crossed over to fans of this genre of music and vice versa, because film music collectors would very often go out and buy the latest Mancini album even if it was not film music related.
His music for SANTA CLAUS THE MOVIE was greeted with mixed feelings, but since its original release has become a must have Mancini score for collectors. Mancini passed away in LA on June 14th 1994 after suffering from pancreatic cancer, his music is played daily on TV radio stations and in homes all around the world and for me he is the ultimate composer, conductor, arranger and entertainer.
He is still sorely missed.