Henry Mancini’s widely varied career as a composer took him from the big band era in the late 1940s through monster movies in the 1950s and his jazzy scores of the 1960s and '70s. What an interesting life! Here are some fun facts you probably didn’t know about Henry Mancini.
Did you know? Composer John Williams played piano on the original 1958 recording of “Peter Gunn,” written and conducted by Henry Mancini. Williams was then known as Johnny T. or Curly, if you can believe it. Williams met Mancini while both were working for Universal Studios. Al Schmitt, sound engineer on the recording sessions for “Peter Gunn,” recalled of Williams, “He was a sweet guy…The last time I saw him, I said, ‘You’re big now, but in those days, I could get John Williams for three hours – and for just 42 bucks.’” Williams played “Peter Gunn” on piano again in 2017 – part of a fundraising tribute to Henry Mancini in Beverly Hills – and was conducted by Quincy Jones that time! Both Williams and Jones credited Mancini with opening doors for them.*
Did you know? Henry Mancini wrote the soundtrack to many wonderful award-winning films, but he also worked on the score for The Creature from the Black Lagoon! John Stanley, director and host of California’s “Creature Features” TV show in the 1970s, talked to Mancini about the famous horror movie he worked on while a staff composer at Universal in 1954. Mancini told Stanley, "It was all pretty obvious music for those Universal films. There was never anything subtle about The Creature From the Black Lagoon…Just so you'll see where I'm coming from, I also scored the animal pictures -- the Bonzo films, the Francis the Talking Mule flicks with Donald O'Connor…”
Mancini went on to explain why he valued his time working on movies like Creature. "This was a fabulous training ground; it was a wonderful way to spend an apprenticeship. It was where I labored in the vineyards, yes, but all the time I was learning. Without all that experience, I know I never would have become the composer that I became once 'Peter Gunn' and Blake Edwards came into my life. It was the greatest learning experience any composer could ask for."**
Did you know? Henry Mancini was a call-in voice during the first season of the sitcom “Frasier,” which was followed by the playing of “Moon River.” You can watch the video here. He plays a man who calls Dr. Frasier Crane’s radio show, explaining his problem, "I hate my voice. I mean, I know no one likes the sound of their own voice, especially when they hear it on tape, because it doesn't sound as good as it does in their own head. But I hate my voice in my head too.” As he drones on, Frasier begins scratching his back while his colleague Roz eats Chinese food. Then they start silently goofing around and ignoring the caller completely. Finally, the caller asks “Any advice, Doctor?” Frasier jumps to the microphone and hastily replies, "Yes. Just go on with what you're doing, and everything should turn out all right.”
It turns out that Kelsey Grammer, who famously portrayed Frasier on both "Cheers" and "Frasier" across three decades, was a big Henry Mancini fan. He met his idol at Frank Sinatra’s 75th birthday party and became friends, which led to Mancini’s cameo on "Frasier" in 1994, shortly before his death. Grammer even briefly owned Henry Mancini’s former house in Los Angeles – flipping it after a renovation for a $6 million profit!
For Mancini at the Movies, we’ll be focusing on those award-winning movie soundtracks and sharing the incredible music Henry Mancini made. Join us this weekend, October 12 and 13. Good seats are still available! Call 508.362.1111 or visit capesymphony.org.
*With thanks to Joe Manning’s article “Mancini’s Peter Gunn Score Launched Dozens of Careers” from Film Score Monthly.
**With thanks to John Stanley’s article “Henry Mancini – The Composer from the Black Lagoon.”