Johnny Mandel - Writer

Composer. Nationality: American. Born: New York, New York, 23 November 1925. Education: Studied symphonic music at Manhattan School of Music and Julliard School of Music. Career: Discovered he had perfect pitch when he was five; began writing big band arrangements at age 12; played in swing bands at age 16; after graduation worked with violinist Joe Venuti; arranged, wrote, and performed (generally on trombone and trumpet) with Alvino Rey, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich, Elliott Lawrence, and the Henry Jerome Orchestra, 1940s and 1950s; radio and television work, including Your Show of Shows. Joined Count Basie Orchestra; session work with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Chet Baker, Paggy Lee, Anita O'Day, Maynard Ferguson, Mel Torme, and Andy Williams, Los Angeles; turned from playing to composing music, late 1950s; began scoring films with I Want to Live , 1958; composed music for the TV series Banyon , 1972, M*A*S*H , 1972, "One for the Road" episode of Amazing Stories , 1985. Awards: Academy Award, Best Song, for "The Shadow of Your Smile," and Grammy Award, Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show, for The Sandpiper , 1966; ASCAP Henry Mancini Award, 1997.

Films as Composer:


I Want to Live (Thomas) (billed as John Mandel)


The Third Voice (Cornfield); The Lawbreakers (Newman)


Drums of Africa (Clark)


The Americanization of Emily ( Emily ) (Hiller)


The Sandpiper (Minnelli)


An American Dream ( See You in Hell, Darling ) (Gist); Harper (Smight); The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (Jewison)


Code Name: Heraclitus (Goldstone—for TV); Point Blank (Boorman)


Pretty Poison (Black)


That Cold Day in the Park (Altman); Some Kind of Nut (Kanin); Heaven with a Gun (Katzin)


The Man Who Had Power Over Women (Krish); M*A*S*H (Altman)


The Trackers ( No Trumpets, No Drums ) (Bellamy—for TV)


Molly and Lawless John (Nelson); Journey Through Rosebud (Gries)


Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (Cates); The Last Detail (Ashby)


W ( I Want Her Dead ) (Quine)


Escape to Witch Mountain (Hough); The Turning Point of Jim Malloy ( Gibbsville: The Turning Point of Jim Malloy ) (Gilroy—for TV)


The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Carlino)


Freaky Friday (Nelson)


Being There ( Chance ) (Ashby); Agatha (Apted)


Baltimore Bullet (Ellis Miller); Caddyshack (Ramis)


Evita Peron (Chomsky—for TV)


The Verdict (Lumet); Soup for One (Kaufer) (additional music); Deathtrap (Lumet); Lookin' to Get Out (Ashby)


Staying Alive (Stallone) (additional music)


A Letter to Three Wives (Elikann—for TV);


Foxfire (Taylor—for TV); Assault and Matrimony (Frawley—for TV)


Brenda Starr (Ellis Miller); Single Women, Married Men (Havinga—for TV)


Kaleidoscope (Taylor—for TV)

Other Films:


A Great Day in Harlem (Bach) (music consultant)


By MANDEL: articles—

"Themes in the Key of Mandel," interview with Jem Aswad, on ASCAP Film and TV Legands , , April 1997.

On MANDEL: articles—

McGilligan, Patrick, liner notes to I Want To Live (originally released 1958), Rykodisc, 1999.

* * *

Composer/arranger/instrumentalist Johnny Mandel came into film scoring and Hollywood songwriting after a long and successful career playing and arranging jazz and big band music. Like Henry Mancini, Mandel was one of Hollywood's last true links to the classic American pop era of big band, swing, and bebop.

Mandel's musical education began at age 5 when his musical family discovered he had perfect pitch. Piano lessons followed but the young Mandel soon found his true calling in the brass family of instruments: first on trumpet and later trombone. By age 12 he was writing big band arrangements, and by 16 was performing in bands in Catskill Mountain resorts.

During the prime big band era, Mandel got the kind of thorough working musical education impossible to achieve today. "A lot of the people I came up with—Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Miles Davis—were out on the road from when we were 16 and 17 years old. I did it for ten years, one-nighters all down the line. You can't learn this, you have to live it. We were very lucky because we had bands to play in. That's how you learn," Mandel remembered in an ASCAP interview.

Mandel's road work included performing with Alvino Rey, Artie Shaw, and Count Basie, among many others. With the decline of the big bands, Mandel began writing for radio and television in 1949, and by 1954 had settled in Los Angeles, doing session recording work, and concentrating on writing and arranging. His first film work was as an uncredited arranger for the 1955 Martin/Lewis film, You're Never Too Young. Mandel's career in actual film scoring commenced in 1958 with an innovative jazz score for I Want To Live , Robert Wise's grimly realistic crime drama about playgirl/convicted murderess Barbara Graham and her eventual execution in the San Quentin gas chamber. Mandel commented: "I felt totally at home doing movies because I'd done everything else first. I'd worked Vegas shows and in television with Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows where you had to write visual cues, where you were catching dance accents and marrying music to sight cues. And I'd done some radio drama in the late '40s and early '50s, so I'd learned to write to the second hand. Movies combine all of those things, so I realized—very late!—that I already knew how to do it."

Fortunately, Mandel broke into film scoring in a cinematic era that was ideally suited to his talents. The old order studio system, with its wall-to-wall symphonic orchestral scores, had crumbled by the late 1950s, and a new mode of film music, based on pop and jazz idioms, was quickly emerging.

Though jazz had been fused with orchestral scoring in several previous Hollywood films—most notably Alex North's landmark 1951 score for A Streetcar Named Desire , and Elmer Bernstein's The Man With the Golden Arm in 1955— I Want To Live was the first film to be completely scored in an authentic jazz mode. The real life Graham had been a fan of saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who was at the height of his popularity in the late 1950s. Mulligan and his combo appear in the opening club scene, and perform all the source music in the film.

The underscoring was also based on 1950s jazz styles, utilizing unusual instruments and conventional ones employed in extreme ranges such as the piccolo heard in an uncharacteristic low register in the execution cue. Mandel placed an emphasis on jazz drumming and exotic percussion for the suspense cues, sometimes employing several jazz percussionists. Two original soundtracks albums were released by United Artists Records at the time of the film's release, one featuring the source music played by Mulligan's combo, and the other including the more expansive, big band influenced underscoring. In the digital era, both albums were combined on a Rykodisc CD which included extensive liner notes on both the film and Mandel's unique score.

By the late 1950s, pop/jazz scores such as I Want To Live and Henry Mancini's Touch of Evil and Breakfast At Tiffany's were increasingly in demand. They were commercially successful, often producing both lucrative popular songs and soundtrack LPs, which meant both royalties and free promotion for the film. Mandel himself had several pop song successes, and a string of original soundtracks albums during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

After three small features, Mandel scored two major films, both of which produced successful theme songs. The Americanization of Emily , an off-beat comedy-drama about a less than heroic American soldier in World War II England, produced the hit "Emily," with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Even more successful was a tune written for The Sandpiper , a project chiefly motivated by the then-much publicized coupling of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Today the film is primarily remembered for Mandel's ballad, "The Shadow Of Your Smile." With lyrics by Paul Frances Webster, the lyrical melody with a contemporary bossa nova beat became one of the most recorded film songs of the decade, and won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1965.

Mandel followed Sandpiper with An American Dream , a watered-down version of the Norman Mailer novel, which nonetheless introduced another sensitive jazz ballad, "A Time for Love." ("A Time For Love" was again nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to "Born Free.") These popular successes led to Mandel scoring a number of 1960s "New Hollywood" classics, among them Harper , Point Blank , Pretty Poison , and That Cold Day in the Park. In 1970 he hit commercial gold again with his score for Robert Altman's M*A*S*H , which produced the hit "Suicide Is Painless" (also known as "Theme from M*A*S*H"). Mandel also scored the TV series based on the film.

Along with The Last Detail in 1973, M*A*S*H was the last film of consequence that Mandel scored, moving on as he did to Disney live-action features ( Escape to Witch Mountain, Freaky Friday ), and a mixed bag of comedies ( Caddyshack ), TV movies, and the occasional major feature ( Deathtrap , Brenda Starr ). Mandel's last score was for a TV movie of Danielle Steel's Kaleidoscope in 1990.

In spite of his prolific film work, Mandel considered himself primarily a jazz musician, and during the 1990s, he returned to his arranging roots with arrangements for a variety of major recording artists, including Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, and Barbra Streisand, as well as producing his own solo albums. In addition to his Academy Award and two nominations, Mandel has won four Grammys, and in 1997 was awarded ASCAP's prestigious Henry Mancini Award.

—Ross Care

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