The Autobiography of Henry Mancini
Hardback: 312 pages
Publisher: Contemporary Books (1st printing October, 1989)
Publisher: Cooper Square Press; illustrated edition edition ((Reprint February 25, 2002)
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.7 inches
Film music autobiographies are few are far between. Tiomkin’s ‘Please Don’t Hate Me’ and Rozsa’s ‘Double Life’ are the only two that come to mind, both excellent, multi-faceted portraits of their authors and their experiences in the film music arena. Henry Mancini’s ‘Did They Mention the Music?’ – written in collaboration with lyricist and music writer Gene Lees – is sure to join their ranks as a highly readable and fascinating look at Mancini’s life and music.
It’s a very warm book. Like Miklos Rozsa’s ‘Double Life’, it’s a gentle fireside chat with the composer, who takes an honest look back at his life and career, avoiding both false modesty and self-serving braggadocio. For a show business autobiography, Mancini’s book is refreshing in its humility and fascinating in its behind-the-scenes tales – fans of Mancini and of Hollywood, students of moviemaking and film music will find much of Interest here. Like Rozsa, Mancini is a gentleman first, artist second and celebrity third – his book avoids much of the pretentious flap of many show business auto bio’s and is refreshing in its respectful storytelling.
After a somewhat rambling first chapter, which oscillates in time as Mancini remembers his early youth, we trace Mancini’s life from his early days as a musician during the Big Band era, his experiences as a soldier in World War II (he was among those who liberated one of the Nazi concentration camps, and has some especially haunting recollections of this), his brief acquaintances with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, through his years in the Universal Pictures music factory, scoring segments of B-movies like TARANTULA, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and culminating with the success of his famous film music of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
It’s fascinating to get a look behind the scenes at the creation of such scores as BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and its famous song, ‘Moon River’, and the PINK PANTHER themes. Mancini also points out how he re-recorded most of the soundtrack albums for these films, which aren’t the actual soundtrack recordings – the reason was to get a better stereo sound for LP release; though Mancini admits he’s made a few goofs, one of the bigger ones he regrets is having a choir perform ‘Moon River’ on the album instead of the wistful Audrey Hepburn solo heard in the film.
Even though he is best known for his light, pop melodies, Mancini describes his preference for dramatic film music, and regrets more of it isn’t available on his records: “The albums were made up of the most melodic material from the films,” Mancini writes in Chapter 9. “A lot of the dramatic music – which is what I really loved to do and really thought I had a feeling for – was left out… I used the source music that was the common denominator for my record-buying audience. It may have hurt my reputation as a writer of serious film music. To this day, I would love to have an album of some of those scores as they were heard in the film.” [Varese Sarabande, Silva Screen, Telarc – are you listening?] “The albums gave me a reputation, even among producers, as a writer of light comedy and light suspense, and at that time it was not easy for them to think of me for the more dramatic assignments. I did that to myself.” (p. 101-102)
Chapter 11 offers a very good look at the nuts-and-bolts aspects of soundtrack record production and royalties; and observes the sobering truths of the way film music has been treated by the studios who commissioned it: “From the earliest days of talking pictures, the movie industry has displayed a contradictory attitude toward music. It hires gifted, highly trained composers… and then treats some of their music like piles of old clothes… The studios, not the composers, own the scores. A movie industry lawyer has gone into court and argued that in commissioning a film score, a studio is like a man ordering a suit from a tailor. Once it is made, he can do anything he likes with it.” (p. 114)
Mancini goes on to point out how he has managed to avoid the clothes pile in a fair number of cases – he was able to secure full ownership of many scores himself, or at least half ownership through a publishing company he owns. This shrewd arrangement not only rewarded Mancini with financial wealth but gave him considerable control over his artistic creations, an unfortunate rarity in the film music world.
Other chapters provide a fascinating look behind the scenes of THE PINK PANTHER, and how Mancini came up with one of his most memorable themes; his association with Alfred Hitchcock and the score he wrote for FRENZY – which Hitchcock subsequently rejected as unsuitable; and his ongoing relation with Blake Edwards. In Chapter 16, Mancini describes the basics of creating movie music and the process of composing music for films. A look at the many rewards Mancini’s career has given him follows – visits to the White House, acquaintanceships with several Presidents and other noteworthy associations, and the book is appended with a list of film and disc and award credits.
Throughout the book, Mancini exhibits a great deal of humility and honesty in his appraisal of his accomplishments and his personal life (Chapter 11) “I seemed to myself such an unlikely person for all this to be happening to… I had broken out of the anonymity that is the lot of most film composers – and which I fully expected to last all my life” (p. 120). Chapter 12 contains a heartfelt evaluation of his relationship with his son – elsewhere Mancini describes his often strained relationship with his father. All of this is remarkable in its honesty and helps to create a well-rounded picture of Mancini the musician and Mancini the man.
Other Chapters illustrate Mancini the Weirdo – he relates several pranks that earned him the nickname he carried from his Big Band days – “Weirdo” – due to his sense of humor and his irreverence for authority.
‘Did They Mention the Music?’ is both an informative look at film scoring from the perspective of one of its most successful practitioners, and a friendly fireside chat with Mr. Mancini who tells us stories about his life. Each story is told openly and modestly, with an occasional smirk or two, but its author remains unassumingly honest throughout. It’s a very welcome read, effectively told, and gives one a renewed admiration for Henry Mancini and his music. Indeed – perhaps the book’s most important benefit is in making one eager to go back and re-listen to all these memorable scores and hear them with a new appreciation.
Randall D. Larson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.9/No.33/1990