Henry Mancini Dies at 70; Composer for Films and TV

New York Times
June 15, 1994

Henry Mancini, a prolific composer whose music was heard in hundreds of films and television shows, and who won four Academy Awards in a career of more than 40 years, died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 70.

The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, said his press agent, Linda Dozoretz.

Counting the movies for which he wrote music for just a scene or two, as he did when he was a fledgling staff composer with Universal-International for six years in the 1950's, Mr. Mancini's work was heard in nearly 250 films.

It was also used to enhance six major television films and many other moments on television, ranging from the viewer mail segment of "Late Night With David Letterman" to theme music used periodically for NBC's election coverage. Mr. Mancini also made 85 record albums, most of them for RCA. He received 70 Grammy nominations and won 20 Grammy Awards for his recording work.

He worked quickly, and his output was prodigious. His best-known songs were "Moon River," for the 1961 movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and "Days of Wine and Roses," the basis of thematic material used in the 1962 movie of the same name, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Both songs had lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and both won Academy Awards, in 1961 and 1962.

Mr. Mancini won an Academy Award for the entire score of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and still another for the score for the 1982 film "Victor/ Victoria." He was also nominated for his scores for "The Glenn Miller Story" (1954), "Charade" (1963), "The Pink Panther" (1964) and 14 other film scores.

In television, he created the themes for "Peter Gunn" and "Mr. Lucky," both serialized in the late 1950's and early 60's.

Although he was among the most commercially successful composers in Hollywood, Mr. Mancini used to say he "never trusted this thing called success." For years, even after he acquired considerable fame and wealth after his creation of "Moon River," he continued to compose using a rented piano.

Henry Mancini was born on April 16, 1924 in Cleveland, the son of Quinto and Anna Pece Mancini, who had immigrated to the United States from Italy. His father, a steelworker, played the flute to relax after work and forced the young Henry to study music.

In later years, Mr. Mancini would recall going to the movies with his father to see Cecil B. DeMille's epic "The Crusades" and being greatly impressed by the score, by Rudolph Kopp. He decided that despite his father's wishes, he would not become a teacher but would write music for the movies instead.

In his high school years, Mr. Mancini became interested in classical music, and after graduation he briefly studied music at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. It was there that he met Max Adkins, the conductor of the Stanley Theater pit band, who encouraged him to begin arranging music for the band. He would later say that had it not been for Mr. Adkins, he would probably have become another laborer in the steel mill that employed his father.

Mr. Mancini transferred to the Juilliard School of Music in New York after a year at Carnegie Tech, but he never finished his studies. He was drafted to fight in World War II and served in both the Army Air Forces and the infantry. During the war, he got to know some musicians who played in Glenn Miller's Army Air Corps Band, and after the war he got a job with the band.

Eventually he began writing music for radio shows, among them "The F.B.I. in Peace and War." He became a staff composer for Universal-International studios in the early 1950's and wrote music for scenes in movies like "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "Ma and Pa Kettle at Home." He also contributed music to one of Hollywood's first rock musicals, "Rock, Pretty Baby."

He left Universal-International in 1958, having received his first Academy Award nomination for his score for "The Glenn Miller Story" in 1954. He also wrote the scores for "The Benny Goodman Story" (1956) and "Touch of Evil" (1958).

Increasingly, Mr. Mancini was recognized as a pioneer in a new approach to film scores. It was an approach that moved away from the heavy symphonic treatments that had been produced by composers like Alfred Newman, Max Steiner and Miklos Rozsa and instead exploited jazz motifs, using smaller ensembles.

In 1958, Blake Edwards, a television producer, asked Mr. Mancini to write the score for a television series about a detective named Peter Gunn. The series was successful, and Mr. Edwards said much of its success was due to Mr. Mancini's undulating score, in which a guitar and a piano played in unison to achieve what Mr. Mancini called "a sinister effect witn some frightened saxophones and some shouting brass." The theme was embraced by rock bands and high school and college marching bands and firmly established Mr. Mancini as a major composer for the genre. "Never has so much been made of so little," was Mr. Mancini's modest disclaimer.

Among his other film scores were those for "The Great Race" (1965), "Arabesque" (1966), "The Molly Maguires" (1970), "The Great Waldo Pepper" (1975), "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?" (1978) "Mommie Dearest" (1981) and "The Glass Menagerie" (1987).

At his death, Mr. Mancini was completing work on a musical-theater adaptation of "Victor/Victoria." He had written 25 new songs for the production, scheduled to open on Broadway in the fall.

He is survived by his wife, Ginny, a former member of the vocal group the Mellolarks, whom he married in 1947; a son, Christopher; two daughters, Felice and Monica, and three grandchildren.