In the 1966 “Pink Panther” cartoon short “Pink, Plunk, Plink,” the limber leopard tries his hand at conducting onstage at the Hollywood Bowl. He selects, in meta fashion, “The Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini. When the band finishes, the cartoon cuts to Mancini himself, in live action, applauding out in the bleachers.
Mancini conducted at the Bowl 29 times before his death in 1994, and “The Pink Panther Theme” became one of his calling cards. How perfect, then, that the 1963 Blake Edwards film that spawned it, “The Pink Panther,” will screen at the Bowl on Wednesday, with Mancini’s swinging score performed live by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra — in a way most have never heard before.
Mancini, Edwards and comic actor Peter Sellers, who created the endearingly inept Inspector Clouseau, were indelibly linked to the farce, which starred David Niven as a jewel thief on the prowl for a diamond known as the Pink Panther because of its color and a catlike blemish. Mancini was nominated for an Oscar and won three Grammys for the score, and the slinky saxophone theme became a staple in hundreds of orchestra concerts he conducted around the world.
“Everybody just lit up when the theme started to play,” said Ginny Mancini, the composer’s wife of 47 years. “He played it worldwide and loved every note.”
The theme also accompanied the film’s nine sequels and two 21st century reboots starring Steve Martin, along with the dozens of “Pink Panther” cartoon shorts.
“That little sucker lives. Ka-ching, ka-ching!” quipped Ginny Mancini.
The music was special to the composer, largely because his relationship with Edwards — 26 films together, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” as well as the TV series “Peter Gunn” — was special.
“They were kindred spirits,” Ginny said. “They were little boys who never grew up, and that comes out in every piece that they did together.”
The Bowl presentation is part of an exploding live-to-picture concert trend, joining the original “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Jaws” in this season’s lineup. (The composer of those three pictures, John Williams, got his start playing piano on Mancini’s scoring sessions.)
But when a movie is 55 years old, the logistics can be tricky.
“The first question is: Where’s the score?” said Robert Thompson, president of the company producing the event, Schirmer Theatrical.
“The second question is a little more technical, especially with older films: Are there separate DME stems?” he said, referring to dialogue, music and effects.
In this case, Mancini family members had no idea where the written score was located. They almost gave up and had someone transcribe it aurally, but then they remembered that the composer — whom they knew as “Hank” — had donated some of his archives to UCLA.
“We kind of became our own Inspector Clouseau,” Thompson said with a laugh. “We went to UCLA and put on the white gloves, and there, sitting among Italian and French Renaissance manuscripts, was the original score. Luckily, it was intact. Hank had taken meticulous notes. There was actually a guidebook to the score itself.”
The second problem was thornier: Music, dialogue and effects were all smooshed into one mono track on the film. That’s when the Culver City company Post Haste Digital came to the rescue with a proprietary service that scrubs music from the soundtrack without losing the other sound elements.
“The Pink Panther — in Concert” premiered in Boca Raton, Fla., in March, appropriately performed by the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, part of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music.
“I will never forget that moment of hearing the score live for the first time in over 50 years, exactly as Hank had notated it,” Thompson said. “It just jumped off of the page. And I realized: I haven’t heard this music before, and neither has anybody else.”
Monica Mancini, the composer’s daughter, had a similar reaction.
“It was like being at a jazz concert,” she said. “The experience of hearing it live is a revelation.”
Monica Mancini sang “Meglio Stasera” (It Had Better Be Tonight), the song that her father wrote with lyricist Johnny Mercer and that Fran Jeffries performed in the film, at the revived score’s premiere. She’ll reprise the role at the Bowl.
The score wasn’t written for traditional symphony orchestra, but rather for Mancini’s big band — replete with five saxophones, four trombones and a rhythm section, plus strings. It’s the only live-to-picture event that’s part of the Bowl’s jazz series.
Movie music is booming in an unprecedented way, with orchestras from Los Angeles to New York selling out “symphonic” screenings. The trend began with Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings” films a decade ago and shows no signs of slowing.
Yet it was really Mancini who first introduced film composers to a wide audience, thanks to his earworm hits (“Moon River”), multiple gold records and appearances to conduct his own music in concert halls. The composers drawing huge crowds to live-to-picture concerts or rock-style shows — Williams, Hans Zimmer or “Game of Thrones” composer Ramin Djawadi — owe some of their fandom to Hank.
Mancini was preparing for what would have been his 30th appearance at the Bowl when he became ill and died. His wife said he would have been thrilled to not only experience this new way of bringing film scores to life but also because “he would have been so happy standing onstage at the Hollywood Bowl, conducting it.”
In his 1989 autobiography, Mancini recounted a memory from 1935. His father took him to see Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Crusades” in Pittsburgh, and 11-year-old Hank marveled at the knights in armor and the horses on the big screen in the first talkie he’d ever seen.
“But what I remember most of all from that day is the music, the sound of a big orchestra. I had never heard anything like it,” Mancini wrote. “I had thought that there was a big orchestra behind the screen.”
His father corrected him, of course — but that was the day Mancini decided he wanted to score films.
“I think it would come full circle for him to see it done this way,” Monica Mancini said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this is how I thought it was done in the first place.’ I think he’d love it.”
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‘The Pink Panther — In Concert’
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday