Will Friedwald on Henry Mancini

Streamed under the aegis of Harvey Granat’s Songs & Stories – 92nd Street Y Special Guests: The composer’s daughter, Monica Mancini and Vocalist, Christine Andreas

Today’s event opens with an instrumental medley clip from The Andy Williams Show with composer Henry Mancini conducting. “It’s all about the numbers.” Host Will Friedwald notes, “18 Academy Award nominations, four wins; a Golden Globe, 20 Grammys and a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Henry Nicola Mancini (1924-1994) was born in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. At eight, he began learning the piccolo. Flute and piano followed. As a child under the spell of Rudolph Kopp’s score of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Crusades, Henry fixed on movie scoring. He studied piano and orchestral arrangement at Carnegie Mellon and Julliard. “Most film composers had classical aspirations. Many were European or studied in Europe,” Friedwald says. “Not Henry.”

At 18, Mancini enlisted. Through a set of fortunate circumstances, he’d written  an arrangement for and met Glenn Miller, then also a soldier. The popular musician helped him get positions in various service bands. His war was not all music, however. Mancini helped liberate an Austrian Concentration Camp. Miller’s plane disappeared while flying over the English Channel.

Henry Mancini in the Army

When the war was over, Tex Beneke reformed The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Mancini started arranging for them. It was here he met wife-to-be Virginia “Ginny” O’Connor, lead singer with the Mel-Tones. Friedwald refers to a lovely story of their courtship in his subject’s autobiography, Did They Mention the Music? “Ginny knew his heart was in the movies, so encouraged him to risk moving to California to get a job in what her husband would call  `the salt mines.’”

“Mancini’s first film score was for Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. You could say he was the Welles of movie music. He thought of whole new ways to use music, including injecting jazz. You can almost date film music before and after him. Andre Previn, who was younger, said the only time jazz was used was when someone was stealing a car.”

He spent six years at Universal Studios scoring over 100 films, including Creature From the Black Lagoon. Ironically it was The Glenn Miller Story and The Benny Goodman Story that spotlit him… Meeting Blake Edwards in a barber shop led to creating music for the film Darling Lili starring Edwards wife, Julie Andrews. (Title song with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.)

Friedwald points out that three vocalists carried Mancini’s flame: Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, and Johnny Mathis. We see a television clip of Andrews in her twirling, chiffon prime singing “Whistling Away the Dark.”

“Mancini led the change after Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Days of Wine and Roses. Before him, film composers were completely anonymous. Max Steiner and Victor Young (notable film composers) could walk into a room and nobody would know who they were. In the ‘60s, Mancini and Burt Bacharach became huge stars in their own right.”

“I got such nachas (happy and proud, especially of someone’s accomplish-ments) when I heard my guest was to be Christine Andreas,” Friedwald shares. Andreas sings two of Mancini’s most famous songs with husband Marty Silvestri at the piano.

A rare example of the composer’s writing a song that would be performed on screen, “Moon River” might’ve been called “Blue River” but for Johnny Mercer’s aversion to repeating a name, phrase, or idea. The lyricist remembered this title used for an old jazz tune. “The song makes you feel safe, it envelops when you sing it,” Andreas comments. It’s warm and melancholy.

Christine Andreas

The vocalist follows with “Days of Wine and Roses,” theme song of a film about married alcoholics. Its title derives from “Vitae Summa Brevis” by Ernest Dowson, a British poet of whom Friedwald says, “his life mantra was party hearty and die.” They are not long, the days of wine and roses:/Out of a misty dream/ Our path emerges for a while, then closes/ Within a dream…Clearly an exception to his collaborator’s rule. “Mercer was himself an alcoholic. One of his recurring themes is an alcoholic’s view of life,” Friedwald muses. Andreas is palpably rueful.

“Mancini wrote standard after standard on an elevated scale.” The next clip is a cardiganed Andy Williams’ performing “Dear Heart” (Lyric-Ray Evans/ Jay Livingston) from the Glenn Ford/Geraldine Page film. Alas, the up-tempo swing version is contrary to Friedwald’s description of it as a heartbreaker. Andreas then offers a lovely “Two for the Road” (lyric -Leslie Bricusse), evidently a favorite of her traveling father. From the Audrey Hepburn/ Albert Finney film.

“He was kind of a combination of Irving Berlin and Nelson Riddle, Berlin because pure melody flowed out of him and Riddle because he had the gift of knowing how melody should sound,” Friedwald says with admiration. Mancini wrote easy listening music during an era when youth culture otherwise ruled.

Our host then introduces Mancini’s daughter, vocalist Monica Mancini. (WF) “Did he write at home?” (MM) “Yes, in a little studio over the garage until he got really big. He didn’t talk about it though and I was oblivious early on…” (WF) “What was it like growing up Mancini?” (MM) “Being an immigrant, my grandfather wanted dad to be an educator. He never appreciated what dad accomplished. It was always a thorn in dad’s side… He was a great dad and not much of a disciplinarian because his dad had been.” All three siblings were musical, but no one was pressed.

Monica Mancini performing

(WF) “Was he a natural performer?” (MM) “Dad was very shy until he got his feet wet and loved conducting…He’d purposely go into overtime when recording in studios to give the guys extra money. He took care of people.” (WF) “He was also a great arranger. The Charlie’s Angels theme, “A Time For Us” (lyric-Jack Elliott)  knocked The Beatles off the charts in the1970s.”

The last clip is of Sue Raney singing the long-lined, lilting “Dreamsville (lyric- Evans/Livingston) from The Peter Gunn score. Guests are thanked. The session ends on a gentle note.

When Henry Mancini died, he was working on the Broadway version of Victor/Victoria, which he never saw on stage. His wife, Ginny Mancini founded The Society of Singers, a non profit that promotes the education, health and welfare of singers. ASCAP Foundation has awarded the “Henry Mancini Music Scholarship” annually since 2001. In 2005, the Henry Mancini Arts Academy in Midland, Pennsylvania was opened as a division of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. His legacy lives on.

Will Friedwald

Will Friedwald is the author of eight books on music and popular culture. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations and is also co-producer & writer of Michael Feinstein’s Jazz & American Songbook series at Jazz at Lincoln Center & The American Songbook at NJPAC TV series for WNET & PBS.

Opening Photo of Henry Mancini Courtesy of Monica Mancini Army photo of Henry Mancini Courtesy of Monica Mancini Will Friedwald’s photo by Matt Baker Christine Andreas Photo courtesy of the Y Monica Mancini Photo courtesy of Ms. Mancini

About Alix Cohen (816 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.