Henry Mancini: From the Glenn Miller Orchestra to The Pink Panther

The following post is written by Archive Processing Technician Rachel McNellis. In celebration of publishing the finding aid to the Henry Mancini Papers, In the Muse is celebrating “Mancini Week” with multiple blog posts from the Division’s archive processing technicians who processed the collection. This post is the first of the “Mancini Week” series.

Henry Mancini, Print Photograph, Undated, Box 695 / Folder 4, Henry Mancini Papers, Music Division.

Henry Mancini (1924–1994) may be best known as the composer of the soundtracks for The Pink Panther (1963) and its many sequels and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) with its Oscar-winning song, “Moon River.” The Henry Mancini Papers number more than 200,000 documents which trace Mancini’s rise to fame from his earliest activities as a musician.

Mancini’s career started in 1946 when he took a position as a vocal coach, pianist, and arranger for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Tex Beneke. Glenn Miller came to prominence as a leading big-band director during the late 1930s, and he led the orchestra until 1942. He then dissolved the group and joined the U.S. Army Air Force to form an ensemble to entertain the troops. Miller tragically vanished in a plane crash over the English Channel in December 1944. In 1946, Miller’s estate reassembled the group and hired Beneke as its director. The Mancini Papers include Mancini’s earliest work for this group, including his original “Bagatelle” and his arrangements of John Coots’s “You Go to My Head” and Sam H. Stept’s “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

“You Go To My Head,” John Coots, Arranged by Henry Mancini, circa 1946-1947, Box 689 / Folder 5, Henry Mancini Papers, Music Division.

Mancini’s work with the Glenn Miller Orchestra was transformative for him both professionally and personally. The band included a thirteen-piece string section as well as a strong brass section, which challenged him to create balanced sounds and develop new techniques for orchestrating finely-crafted works for full ensembles. He was also introduced to post-war jazz music. This influence is found in his works of the 1950s and 1960s, including his themes for The Pink Panther and the television series Peter Gunn (1958–1961), which exhibit the use of jazz harmonies and popular styles of the time. And in 1947 Mancini married Ginny O’Connor, the lead singer for the Miller Orchestra’s vocal ensemble, the Mello-Larks. Mancini left the orchestra later that year to begin working as a freelance arranger for nightclubs and radio shows.

In 1952, Mancini joined Universal Studios, where he composed music for over 100 films. In 1960 he left Universal, resuming work as an independent composer and arranger. Throughout his career, Mancini collaborated with renowned film director Blake Edwards, orchestrator Jack Hayes, composer-lyricist Leslie Bricusse, and other prominent figures in the music and film industries. Mancini became one of the most prolific and successful film and television composers in history, receiving four Academy Awards, 20 Grammy Awards, one Golden Globe Award, and two Emmy Award nominations.

The Mancini Papers include the composer’s original scores for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Jack Hayes’s orchestration for The Pink Panther, and thousands of documents for Peter Gunn. The collection also includes Mancini’s unpublished music for Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy (1973), which would be the only rejected project of Mancini’s career. (A suspense thriller, Frenzy focuses on a serial killer in London who strangles women with a tie. Mancini completed his ominous and foreboding score in November 1971; Hitchcock fired him because “the score was too macabre” [1] and hired Ron Goodwin to write a new soundtrack.) The collection also includes Mancini’s arrangement of the “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet,” which became his only top-ten single when it reached the top of the Billboard Charts on June 29, 1969.

In addition to music scores, orchestral parts, and sketches, the Mancini Papers include project files, business papers, photographs, correspondence, scripts, writings, programs, promotional materials, scrapbooks, clippings, biographical materials, and realia. These materials document the creative process, from conception to production, of many of his projects. As a whole, this collection offers a window into Mancini’s entire career and is an unparalleled resource for those interested in learning more about his intriguing life and works.

Mónica Hurd, Melissa Capozio Jones, and Rachel McNellis processed the Henry Mancini Papers under the supervision of archivist Chris Hartten in 2019-2020.

[1] Henry Mancini, The Autobiography of Henry Mancini: Did They Mention the Music? (Chicago: First Cooper Press, 1989), 156.

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