An Interview with Leslie Bricusse by Daniel Mangodt
First published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.15/No.58, 1996
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven
You have worked with John Barry on several occasions…
I’ve done 4 or 5 things with him in the early days, when we were first starting. I did songs for three of the Bond films and another little film called THE KNACK in the sixties when we were all living in London.
You said three Bond films?
The ones that you would know are GOLDFINGER and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but in-between that was a film called THUNDERBALL. After GOLDFINGER, the producers Broccoli and Saltzman wanted to have a song named after the nickname the Japanese had for James Bond, which was Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So John and I wrote a song called “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. The theme is in the film, but not the song. (There is a wonderful recording by Dionne Warwick which is on the anniversary CD). Usually there is only one song in a Bond film and where possible it’s the title. More recently they have gone from music title songs to just “song” songs. It has always been a fashionable thing to use someone who is currently hot in the pop world.
On GOLDFINGER you worked together with Anthony Newley.
That was because at that time Tony and I were a writing team. We were writing our first Broadway shows together. We were both friends of John’s. When Newley and I wrote together, we wrote everything together: the music and the lyrics and the book. It was a natural process for us to do that.
What about YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE?
I did that on my own. The producers wanted the hottest pop artist at the moment and Nancy Sinatra had two big hits: ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ and ‘Something Stupid’ with her father Frank. John in the meantime had found a black singer. He wanted to use this wonderful new girl, but Cubby (Broccoli) wanted Nancy Sinatra because she was the big star. So we used Nancy. The young black girl that we didn’t use was Aretha Franklin. About 3 months later she had a #1 hit and then had about six #1 hits in a row and Cubby wanted her for the next film, but by then she didn’t want to do it.
John Barry told me that a lot of takes were necessary to record that song from ‘You Only Live Twice’…
Twenty-nine I think was the number. I remember 29 since it’s my lucky number and John pieced together the final version from about 20 of them I think. It was a difficult time for him in the studio, but it worked and the song came out OK.
You’ve also written the music and the lyrics for DOCTOR DOOLITTLE…
It was the first piece I did all on my own. It was quite a long-lasting project and, interestingly, all these years later we are going to do it in the theatre as a stage musical. It was written directly for the film. The producer Arthur Jacobs at Fox got the rights; originally it was intended for Lerner and Loewe and in a way I think that’s how Rex Harrison got involved (a reunion of the MY FAIR LADY team). Then Loewe was sick and Lerner was off doing a lot of other things, so it fell into my lap and that was the first major project I did.
The reviews at the time were not so encouraging…
It got good reviews in some countries and not so good ones in others. These big roadshow musicals (3 hours long) were OK in the theatre, but as a movie for kids, it was a little bit too long. The Fox people wanted to repeat the success of THE SOUND OF MUSIC and make the film bigger than I felt it should be. So it got blown up and I think: if they had made a smaller film for half the price, it would have done twice as well as it did, but it continues to play on television and cable. I eventually acquired the stage rights from Fox and we are doing it in London some time next year.
Rex Harrison isn’t a singer. Did you have to adapt your songs?
One had the most perfect guideline because of MY FAIR LADY. Although everybody says he wasn’t a singer, he was incredibly musical. His sense of rhythm and timing was impeccable. So he was able to “act” a song and he had a good ear: the bits he sang, he was always in the right place on the right note and the right time and he just gave wonderful acting performances of songs, which will be hard to beat.
You got an Oscar for ‘Talking to the Animals’.
I was surprised that I got an Oscar for that. I got nominated for the score and the song and I would have been more likely to win for the score than the song, but one out of two ain’t so bad. I was quite happy.
You’ve also worked with John Williams on SUPERMAN, HOOK and HOME ALONE.
I think I’ve done about eight movies with John. We started writing together around the time of DOCTOR DOLITTLE on several lightweight comedies. We did one called HOW TO STEAL A MILLION, a Natalie Wood picture (PENELOPE), a Gene Kelly film (A GUIDE FOR THE MARRIED MAN) and John was the musical director for my score of GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS, with Peter O’Toole. SUPERMAN was in the seventies and in the nineties we’ve done two HOME ALONE pictures and HOOK. We got nominated for both these films.
HOOK in a way was a disappointment, because there was a moment when I thought it might have become a musical film. Steven Spielberg was quite keen, but there wasn’t time and I came in rather late on the project. John and I wrote considerably more songs than were in the film. Steven shot over four hours, so when you have to cut; the songs are automatically the first to go. The finished project was neither one thing nor the other, but the film ended up being successful. I think that if we had more time to prepare it might have been interesting as a more musical film. There were some very nice songs that didn’t get used.
You wrote the lyrics for SUPERMAN…
The beautiful flying theme, ‘Can You Read My Mind’. Again a horrendous mistake was made there, because we had a wonderful recording of that song by Toni Tennille. She did it beautifully, and Richard Donner, the director, then decided he wanted Margot Kidder, playing Lois Lane, to sing the song. I think it’s rather drab. She kind of talks it and several months later a singer called Maureen McGovern made a recording that became a hit record, but it was four months after the film and I think if it had been sooner or if we had used Toni Tennille’s record, we would have been a lot better off. The song has become established, happily, despite that, because I wrote the lyric frame by frame to what was happening on the screen and when she spoke the lyric, she was like a bar or two bars behind. She wasn’t doing what his eyes were telling her to do in the lyric. So to me it was all off cue, which is a shame.
Unfortunately the interview had to end here because of a pressing engagement and we weren’t able to talk about the rest of Leslie Bricusse’s career, especially his work with Henry Mancini. Maybe next time…