100th birthday: Henry Mancini gave the Pink Panther legs – culture


Henry Mancini’s evergreens “Moon River” and “The Pink Panther” are considered the first bestsellers in film music history. But he also understood the sound of the uncanny.

The flautist and composer Henry Mancini earned his first spurs as a freelancer, playing upbeat melodies at weddings for three dollars an evening. He later studied the big band sound with jazz musician Benny Goodman.

In the 1950s he worked for Universal Studios, where he scored horror films, including the famous B-movie “Tarantula”. For a small ensemble, he and his colleagues arranged effective puzzle pieces, which were then later randomly put together to form a film score.

His teaching years are his master years

After his educational days at Universal, Mancini developed into a skilled swing and pop arranger who developed a congenial film friendship with director Blake Edwards.

This resulted in hits such as the crime thriller “Peter Gunn” as well as the immortal classics “Moon River” and “The Pink Panther”. The big breakthrough came at the beginning of the 1960s. Blake Edwards hired Mancini for his Truman Capote film adaptation “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Henry Mancini worked day and night on a brilliant idea for the touching scene with Audrey Hepburn – playing the guitar on the windowsill. The song became Mancini’s biggest commercial success.


A legendary scene in music history: Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly, sits at the open window and makes music.

IMAGO/United Archives

«One night I sat down in my studio and tried the first three notes on the piano. All of a sudden “Moon River” came pouring out of me. Think about it for a month, write it down for half an hour.”

Pink four-legged friend with savings potential

The other stroke of genius is a masterpiece of musical cool: triangle, double bass, piano and the casual saxophone allow the lithe pink panther to sneak through the streets of a nameless metropolis.

Movie poster for the 1963 film Pink Panther, featuring a woman hugging a stuffed tiger


“The Pink Panther” is actually a feature film from 1963 – and predecessor to the successful animated series.

IMAGO / Cinema Publishers Collection

Actor Jack Lemmon reportedly cried when he heard the Pink Panther theme for the first time. Because it sounded so damn cool and not because it was so sad.

From jazz to horror, Mancini could do it all

In the late 1960s, Mancini increasingly returned to the thriller and horror genre, but with more finesse and courage to experiment than at Universal Studios.

In 1967, Terrence Young directed the psychological thriller “Wait Until Dark.” A literally dark chamber play about a blind woman, played by Audrey Hepburn, who is terrorized by three gangsters in a New York apartment.

Master of the arrangement

Mancini had conceived sophisticated music for the game of cat and mouse in the semi-darkness – in complete contrast to his otherwise lively band music. Mancini combines two quarter-tone pianos with a sitar, electric guitar and a whistled melody in the background.

Mancini’s stroke of genius shows the inner life of a blind woman, plagued by fear and terror, who has to fight three men.

All in all, Henry Mancini was not a typical genre composer, but rather an “easy listening” perfectionist. Its timeless quality was the original, light-footed arrangement, the proverbial Mancini sound, sometimes pink, tongue-in-cheek, but also dark and disturbing.

Radio SRF 1, April 16, 2024, 5:00 a.m.

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