Oscar winner wrote theme to ‘MASH’
JOHNNY MANDEL | 1925-2020
NEW YORK — Johnny Mandel, the Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer, arranger and musician who worked on albums by Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole and many others and whose songwriting credits included “The Shadow of Your Smile” and the theme from the film and TV show “M*A*S*H,” has died. He was 94.
Mr. Mandel died Monday of a cardiac ailment at his home in Ojai, California, according to Lauren Iossa, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of ASCAP. Mr. Mandel served on the ASCAP board of directors from 1989-2011.
“Giant. Genius. Gentleman. There are many ways to describe the legendary composer Johnny Mandel,” ASCAP Chairman and President Paul Williams said in tribute.
Mr. Mandel was among the last of the great songwriters to emerge in the pre-rock ’n’ roll era, his career dating back to the 1940s. He played trombone and trumpet with such big band and jazz artists as Jimmy Dorsey and Count Basie and spent two years in the 1950s arranging music for Sid Caesar’s landmark TV sketch program “Your Show of Shows.” He collaborated on songs with Johnny Mercer, Paul Williams and the husband and wife team Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
He even worked on soundtrack for “Caddyshack.”
“I don’t have a method or a style, and I never wanted one,” Mr. Mandel said during a 2010 interview with The National Endowment for the Arts, which the following year gave him a Jazz Masters award for lifetime achievement. “Some guys really try to have a style. I just work with what’s there and try to do the best with what’s there.”
In recent years, he contributed arrangements for Streisand’s “Love Is the Answer” and Tony Bennett’s “The Art of Romance.” Decades earlier, Bennett sang a the memorable cover of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” the theme from the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor movie “The Sandpiper.” The Mandel-Paul Francis Webster ballad won a Grammy in 1966 for song of the year, topping the Beatles’ “Yesterday” among others, and received an Oscar for best original song.
His most widely heard composition was likely “Suicide is Painless,” the droll theme from Robert Altman’s Korean War satire “M*A*S*H,” and later for the hit TV show that starred Alan Alda. In a 2008 interview with the blog JazzWax, Mr. Mandel explained that Altman had asked him to come up with a song and made two requests: Call it “Suicide is Painless” and make it as stupid as possible.
“I said to myself, ‘Well I can do stupid,’” Mr. Mandel recalled, adding that Altman brought in extra help for the lyrics.
“Bob was going to take a shot at the lyrics. But he came back two days later and said, ‘I’m sorry but there’s just too much stuff in this 45-year-old brain. I can’t write anything nearly as stupid as what we need.’ Bob said, ‘All is not lost. I’ve got a 15-year-old kid who’s a total idiot.’ So Michael Altman, at age 15, wrote the lyrics, and then I wrote the music to them.”