R.I.P. Johnny Mandel, Grammy winner and composer of M*A*S*H theme song
He played in jazz bands and studied at Julliard before composing for film and TV.
Image: Associated Press
Prolific composer and arranger Johnny Mandel was born in 1925. Growing up in New York City, Mandel loved the big band sounds of the 1930s and 1940s. He started playing the trumpet as a teen then switched to trombone.
He was in many swing bands led by the likes of Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn, Buddy Rich and others. He was even in one group with future U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan.
After graduating from Julliard, Mandel began arranging music for jazz bands and composed music for Sid Caesar's live variety show Your Show of Shows — also starring Imogene Coca, Howard Morris and Carl Reiner.
Mandel started composing for films in the early 1960s and soon had two breakout hits. The song "Emily," from The Americanization of Emily starring Julie Andrews and James Garner, was released in 1964. "The Shadow of Your Smile" from the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton film The Sandpiper won Mandel and lyricist Paul Francis Webster an Oscar for Best Original Song. The Sandpiper theme also garnered Mandel a Grammy for Song of the Year.
Though he composed music for everything from Caddyshack to Escape to Witch Mountain, Mandel's most famous work came from the 1970 Korean War film MASH, directed by Robert Altman. Mandel wrote a catchy yet haunting tune to match the lyrics written by Altman's teenage son, Michael. The song, "Suicide is Painless," was also used for the subsequent television show M*A*S*H, without the lyrics.
Outside of film and television, Mandel arranged music for leading artists including Michael Bolton, Barry Manilow, Mel Torme, Anita O’Day, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand.
Singer and friend Michael Feinstein shared news of Mandel’s passing on Facebook, writing, "The world will never be quite the same without his humor, wit and wry view of life and the human condition. He was truly beyond compare, and nobody could write or arrange the way he did."
Alan Alda tweeted:
Johnny Mandel, thank you for your melodies. And for one in particular that's engraved in our hearts.— Alan Alda (@alanalda) June 30, 2020
Johnny Mandel passed away at the age of 94.