From the Archives: Henry Mancini, Composer of Elegant Music, Dies

Henry Mancini at his home in Holmby Hills.
(Robert Durell/Los Angeles Times)

Henry Mancini, the prolific and innovative composer, arranger and conductor who gave the world memorable, elegant music for its movies ranging from the "Pink Panther" comedies and cartoons to the classic about alcoholism, "Days of Wine and Roses," died Tuesday. He was 70.

Mancini, whose birthday was celebrated by 4,000 admirers at a benefit concert April 19, died at his home of the pancreatic and liver cancer that was diagnosed less than four months ago. His wife, Ginny, was with him.

Mancini's music earned him an extraordinary collection of awards as well as universal popularity. He was nominated for Grammys 72 times and won 20, and was nominated for Academy Awards 18 times, collecting four Oscars for the songs "Moon River" and "Days of Wine and Roses" and the scores of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Victor/Victoria."

Mancini recorded more than 90 albums, garnering eight gold records. He also had two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe Award. In April, he was awarded the Lifetime Grammy Achievement Award.

Flowers were placed on Mancini's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Tuesday, shortly after his publicist, Linda Dozoretz, announced that he had died.

Despite his illness, Mancini had continued to work on a Broadway version of "Victor/Victoria," a film that starred Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. Dozoretz said Mancini had completed more than 25 new songs for the musical, which is scheduled to open this fall.

Mancini retained his characteristic stamina and wit at the birthday bash where he was serenaded by opera star Luciano Pavarotti and applauded by many of the people who performed the music he wrote, including Miss Andrews, Andy Williams and John Williams.

When UCLA Chancellor Charles Young presented Mancini with the university's medal in recognition of his work for young people and music education, the composer quipped: "I was kind of hoping for a diploma."

"Your name has become synonymous with 20th-Century music, and it is already clear that your legacy will live on for generations to come," President Clinton said in saluting him at the tribute.

Times jazz critic Leonard Feather said Tuesday that in evaluating Mancini's legendary contributions to Hollywood: "He really turned around the tradition of writing movie music, moving from strictly classical themes to unprecedented contemporary music. He was very much respected and admired by his peers."

Mancini's creation of unorthodox instrumentation and unusual rhythms delighted him as well as his fans.

"I just . . . enjoyed the hell out of it," he told The Times in April. "And I still do. I just love what I do."

Although he wrote classic songs such as "Moon River" and "Charade," Mancini never considered himself a songwriter.

"I don't know if I've ever written a song that wasn't on assignment," he said in February. "All the things that were successful were title or love themes from films. . . . I was always trying to be a quote, unquote, film composer."

No one ever doubted his success from the time he first set foot in Universal Studios in 1952.

" 'Here kid, here's the picture. We need music; put it here, here, here, here and here. Do it.' That's what they said," he recalled with a chuckle. "Then, as you get more successful, they get more kind to you."

Within a decade, Mancini hit his stride, successively churning out "Breakfast at Tiffany's," which earned his first Oscar, "Experiment in Terror," "Days of Wine and Roses," "Charade" and a string of "Pink Panther" films.

"It was just a roll," he recalled, "a burst of energy."

Asked recently what he considered his most memorable music, Mancini said in terms of popularity it was the theme for the television series "Peter Gunn."

"But as far as emotionally and artistically," he said, "I think it was the score I did for Orson Welles' 'Touch of Evil.' If you listen to that score you'll hear a lot of things that finally developed further in film music. . . . Welles didn't want the ordinary kind of thing."

The master musician cited melody as the key to what fans came to call the Mancini Magic.

"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," he said. "So, for me, a good melody is not just a pretty tune."

Born in Cleveland, Mancini was brought up in Aliquippa, Pa., where his father was a steelworker who spent his leisure time playing the flute in the local Sons of Italy band. The boy preferred football to music, but was persuaded by his father to learn the piccolo, flute and piano.

"He held a club over my head—well, not literally," Mancini said. "But if I didn't practice, I got hit." Music won out over sports when the young Mancini discovered jazz. He joined the school band and outside dance bands and began arranging, studying with the conductor of a Pittsburgh orchestra. Mancini was captivated by the way music was put together, he said years later, "since I was 13 years old, copying sax choruses off Artie Shaw records and not knowing what the hell I was doing." The teen-ager idolized Glenn Miller, big-band leader and master of swing music.

In 1937, Mancini won the first of his myriad awards when he became first flutist of the Pennsylvania All-State Band.

When he graduated from high school in 1942, his yearbook described him as "a true music lover, (who) collects records, plays in the band, and has even composed several beautiful selections. He wishes to continue his study of music and to have an orchestra of his own some day."

More than living up to that prediction, Mancini studied classical music at the Carnegie Institute of Technology Music School and at the Juilliard School of Music. He arranged music for big bands when he served in the Army Air Corps and infantry during World War II.

After the war, Mancini arranged music and played piano for Glenn Miller's band, which was reorganized under Tex Beneke. There he was attracted by a backup singer in Mel Torme's "Mel Tones," Virginia O'Connor. He married her in 1947, and she became, by her own description, "Hank's most severe critic."

After he moved on to Hollywood and the Universal International composing staff in 1952, Mancini contributed scores to more than 100 films in six years.

Idolizing Miller, Mancini was the obvious choice to compose the score for "The Glenn Miller Story" in 1954. He earned his first Academy Award nomination and the praise of critics for music that contributed to the film's success.

In 1958, Mancini walked out of the Universal barbershop and chanced to meet producer-director Blake Edwards, who would become his friend through more than 30 years and 25 films. Edwards asked if he would be interested in scoring a new television mystery show, and the resulting distinctive score for "Peter Gunn" provided Mancini's big break. His hummable theme showed a national audience that music could enhance mood, suspense and action, and that Mancini was adept at creating it.

"That use of the jazz idiom, applied dramatically to the story," Mancini said in 1964, "put music on everybody's mind as far as television was concerned."

Recorded as "Music From Peter Gunn," it also gave him his first Grammys, for best album and best arrangement of the year, and an Emmy nomination as best musical score for television.

He got even more inventive for Blake's TV series "Mr. Lucky," amplifying the sounds of a small jazz combo with lush use of strings and organ. The effort won two more Grammys.

Mancini continued to experiment with revolutionary instrumentation and dissonant sounds, using bass flutes, harmonicas, untuned pianos, calliopes, and little-known Arabic and Japanese instruments. He used the harmonica to remarkable advantage in lacing the theme of "Moon River" through the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

One reason Mancini's records succeeded better than those of other film composers was that he refused to release a movie soundtrack, believing the music was not meant to simply be listened to. Instead, he rearranged the score to emphasize major themes and recorded it in a fully equipped sound studio. That care on "Moon River" alone won him five Grammys to add to the Oscar.

Although Mancini seemed to prefer films over television, he continued to compose for the small screen, including themes for the series "Newhart" and "Remington Steele," the mini-series "The Thorn Birds" and even a few ditties for the old NBC "Late Night With David Letterman."

Mancini's most recent albums were "Mancini: Top Hat (Music From the Films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers)" and "Henry Mancini: As Time Goes By," including 15 classic love songs from movies performed by the Mancini Pops Orchestra.

His most recent film score was for Turner Broadcasting's animated "Tom and Jerry—The Movie" released last year. He had written his autobiography, "Did they Mention the Music?"

Much sought after for concerts, the affable maestro made about 50 appearances a year around the world. Among the groups he conducted were the London Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He appeared in command performances before Britain's royal family in 1966, 1980 and 1984.

Mancini frequently encouraged young composers and established scholarships and fellowships for their musical education. His recent birthday tribute raised $2 million for the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts and Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

Known for his common sense as well as his talent, Mancini also wrote a textbook, "Sounds and Scores—A Practical Guide to Professional Orchestration," explaining melody, instrumentation to obtain specific sound effects and orchestral structure.

Four universities saluted his accomplishments and his devotion to education with honorary doctoral degrees—Duquesne University and Washington and Jefferson College, both in Pennsylvania, Mt. St. Mary's College in Maryland, and CalArts in Valencia. In addition to the UCLA Medal that he received in April, Mancini also accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles High School for the Arts from Gov. Pete Wilson.

Proud of his Italian-American heritage, Mancini served as grand marshal of New York City's Columbus Day Parade in 1985 and received a leadership award from the parade sponsor, the Columbus Citizen's Foundation.

In addition to his wife, Mancini is survived by twin daughters, Monica and Felice; a son, Chris, and three grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Young Musicians Foundation Scholarship Fund, 195 S. Beverly Drive, Suite 414, Beverly Hills, Calif.

No services have been planned at this time.

Here are some highlights of the career of composer and arranger Henry Mancini, who died of cancer Tuesday.


The Glenn Miller Story, 1954

The Benny Goodman Story, 1956

Touch of Evil, 1958

Moon River, 1961 (from "Breakfast at Tiffany's")

Days of Wine and Roses, 1962

Baby Elephant Walk, 1962 (from "Hatari")

Charade, 1963

The Pink Panther, 1964

Dear Heart, 1965

Moment to Moment, 1965

Sweetheart Tree, 1965 (from "The Great Race")

Arabesque, 1966

Wait Until Dark, 1967

Whistling Away the Dark, 1970 (from "Darling Lili")

Love Story (theme), 1971

The Great Waldo Pepper, 1975

Victor/Victoria, 1982

That's Life, 1986


Peter Gunn, 1958

Mr. Lucky, 1959

The Richard Boone Show, 1963

Newhart, 1982

The Thorn Birds, 1983


From the Archives: Ella Fitzgerald, Jazz's First Lady of Song, Dies

From the Archives: Perry Como, Soothing Pop Crooner, Dies at 88

From the Archives: Eartha Kitt dies at 81; TV's Catwoman, sultry singer of 'Santa Baby'

From the Archives: Frank Sinatra, Premier Vocalist of His Time, Dies at 82

From the Archives: Jazz Great Thelonious Monk Dies