Who Wrote ‘The Pink Panther Theme?’

Creeping horns and a suspenseful beat tip-toe along, casting images of a slinking jungle cat awash in shades of blush, a haze of cigarette smoke snaking close behind. Sensual and thrilling, the theme song from the 1963 film, The Pink Panther, is a memorable one. No other tune could perfectly soundtrack inspector Jacques Clouseau’s constant crusade to secure the priceless Pink Panther diamond.

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Who Wrote It?

“The Pink Panther Theme” was the brainchild of award-winning American composer Henry Mancini, the mind behind the music of the Peter Gunn television series, “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and more. The all-instrumental jazz composition was crafted using his trademark technique of chromaticism, or the use of notes outside of the diatonic scale.

In his autobiography Did They Mention the Music? Mancini explained the theme was one of the few he had written without first seeing the film. The iconic song was originally written as the sound that would accompany the jewel thief’s creeping antics.

When the film’s animators also needed a tune for the cartoon character, the Pink Panther, Mancini said he would give them a tempo they could animate to. After timing each accent with the on-screen actions, he soon realized the tip-toeing piece he had originally written for the film’s villain was also perfect for the lanky cartoon panther.

Mancini was particular about his compositions. He explained in his autobiography that, like actors in a movie, he knew the right musicians to play the parts. “I had a specific saxophone player in mind–Plas Johnson,” he said. “I nearly always precast my players and write for them and around them, and Plas had the sound and the style I wanted.”

That sound quickly became as instantly recognizable as the film’s animated cat and as lovable as its bumbling inspector Clouseau. From then on, there has not been a deviation from the iconic theme in The Pink Panther franchise. Outside of the series, the theme has also been used for the game show The Price Is Right‘s “Safe Crackers” segment, in various video games, and in several other non-Panther-related films.

Mancini’s legacy lives on through the theme and many more compositions. Since 2001 ASCAP has annually awarded the Henry Mancini Music Scholarship, which provides support for aspiring young film composers.

(Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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