Johnny Mandel, Hollywood film composer who wrote theme to 'MASH,' dies

Claudia Luther, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Johnny Mandel, the arranger, composer and film scorer whose melody for "Shadow of Your Smile" from 1965's "The Sandpiper" ensured his place in the American songbook, has died at his home in Ojai at age 94.

Mandel also was the arranger and composer of "Suicide Is Painless," the familiar theme to the movie "MASH" as well as the TV series based on that film. He died Monday, his daughter told the New York Times.

"Shadow" won Mandel and lyricist Paul Francis Webster an Academy Award, and the pair also were nominated for "A Time for Love" from 1966's "An American Dream." Mandel also won Grammys for those songs and for his work as an arranger on several notable albums, including Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable."

During his many years in Hollywood, Mandel composed music for television movies, pilots and specials while along the way writing memorable songs such as "The Shining Sea" with Peggy Lee.

"The wonderful thing about Johnny's songs is that they are great as instrumentals and, with beautiful lyrics, they become wonderful vehicles for singers," Ruth Price, a singer and the longtime artistic director of the Jazz Bakery, told the Los Angeles Times in 1996.

Mandel's first big song as a composer was "Emily," from 1964's "The Americanization of Emily," which he wrote with lyricist Johnny Mercer. But his biggest hit was "The Shadow of Your Smile," from the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton film shot in Big Sur.


Mandel said that, at first, "Shadow" did not appear to be getting any traction. Then he recorded it the way he wanted to hear it, with Tony Bennett, and it took off.

"That's what I enjoy doing the most," Mandel told CNN's Dennis Michael in 1992, "taking a project and writing the material, arranging it, recording it and mixing it and producing it -- all the way from the beginning to the end. You know, it's really akin to what a film director does if he has the control to be able to direct from beginning to end."

Mandel arranged about a third of the tracks on Cole's "Unforgettable" album, which won the album of the year Grammy in 1991. He also was the arranger and conductor for Shirley Horn's "Here's to Life" album in 1991, which won him a Grammy for arranging, and he shared the Grammy for arranging with Quincy Jones for Jones' 1981 album, "Velas."

"I arranged music for 20 years before I ever composed, so I can't divorce orchestration from the process," Mandel told The Times in 1991. "It's too personal a thing, the way you mix musical colors, just like a painter. That's what drew me to music."


swipe to next page