Kubernik: 'Dreamsville: Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn, and Music for TV Noir' Now Out!

Dreamsville: Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn, and Music for TV Noir Now Out! 

By Harvey Kubernik 

BearManor Media has just published a terrific 318-page book, Dreamsville: Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn, and Music for TV Noirby Jon Burlingame. It’s listed on Amazon. 


   Henry Mancini (1924-1994) is renowned as the Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer of such timeless standards as “Moon River” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” as well as such memorable instrumental themes as “The Pink Panther” and “Baby Elephant Walk.” But preceding all of them was the wildly popular theme from Peter Gunn, a television series whose soundtrack won the very first Grammy ever awarded for Album of the Year. 

   Award-winning author and journalist Jon Burlingame chronicles the backstory of Peter Gunn and how its music propelled Mancini to fame and fortune, launching a decades-long collaboration with filmmaker Blake Edwards that encompassed nearly 30 movies, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Victor / Victoria and beyond.

   Jon Burlingame (author of six books including The Music of James Bond and Music for Prime Time) relates the untold story of Peter Gunn and its companion series Mr. Lucky; examines the music Mancini wrote for both series and their chart-topping success as modern jazz albums; and tells how this 1958-61 period in TV history set the stage for one of the most remarkable careers of any American composer in the Twentieth Century. For more than 25 years, Burlingame has taught film-music history courses at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. As a producer, Burlingame is responsible for four volumes of music from the classic spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E, and a series of albums of music from Quinn Martin television shows of the 1960s and ‘70s. 

    In a 2024 emailed correspondence I asked author and music historian Burlingame about Peter Gunn and Mancini. 

    “PETER GUNN was a seminal moment in TV history, the first time that original music for television was taken seriously and would become the basis for best-selling, Grammy-winning soundtrack albums. I have always loved the series, as well as its music, and as the Henry Mancini centennial was coming up in 2024, I wanted to chronicle the show and its music, something that (believe it or not) had never been done in-depth. The research and writing turned out to be one of the most fun projects I’ve ever done, and — I hope — an important addition to the documentation of the career of one of our most important American composers. People forget that Mancini was the first film composer to become a household name, due to his many popular songs and unprecedented role as a pops conductor on the orchestra circuit of the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond. And PETER GUNN was the show that brought him together with filmmaker Blake Edwards and led, ultimately, to ‘Moon River,’ ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ the ‘Pink Panther’ theme and so many other classic movie and TV scores.”

   Discovering the Peter Gunn detective series, starring Lola Albright (Edie Hart) and Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn) in 1958 and watching it weekly for a few years with my parents in Culver City, Ca. was mandatory viewing. It ran on NBC-TV from 1958-1960, and 1960-1961 on ABC-TV. 

  Gunn as a private eye who frequented a wharf-side jazz club with a jazz soundtrack backdrop checking out his girlfriend, nightclub singer Edie, while teaming or at odds with his cop pal Lieutenant Jacob, played by Herschel Bernardi.  

    The roaring “Peter Gunn” title theme grabbed me when I first heard it blaring from our TV. Since then, there’s been over 120 cover versions of it, including The Art of Noise Featuring Duane Eddy, King Curtis, Billy Vaughn and his Orchestra, Sandy Nelson, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Cramps, Denny Freeman and the Cobras, Jeff Beck, Quincy Jones, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Clarence Clemmons. 

   In 1994, the record label Fresh Sound issued The Jazz Sound from Peter Gunn Music composed by Henry Mancini. The tunes were arranged by Maxwell Davis, Pete Candoli, and Bob Florence.  

    Mancini could be considered the first musician to compose modern jazz for the soundtrack of a filmed television series. 

    "This CD collects most of the material Mancini wrote for the late-'50s, noir-ish TV drama Peter Gunn,” wrote music journalist Stephen Cook in All Music Guide. “The innovative and appropriate jazz soundtrack includes arrangements by Pete Candoli, Maxwell Davis, and Bob Florence and features some of the best Los Angeles session players of the time (Bud Shank, Russ Freeman, Red Mitchell, etc.). Mancini takes up from his earlier soundtrack for Orson Welles' Touch of Evil with brass-heavy, crime jazz tunes like ‘Fallout!’ and rock & roll swing numbers like ‘Spook! and the title-track. The bulk of the material, though, is in a cool, West Coast jazz vein, including brisk swingers like ‘Blue Steel’ and breezy and mid-tempo cuts like ‘Goofin' at the Coffee House.’ Also included are the kind of sleepy-eyed lounge cuts Mancini excelled at, like ‘Dreamsville,’ ‘A Quiet Gass,’ and ‘Soft Sounds.’ This is an excellent collection and one that ranks with Mancini's other fine film and TV work from the '50s and '60s." 

. In 2024 I asked author Andrew Loog Oldham, producer and manager of the Rolling Stones 1963-1967 about the Mancini “Peter Gunn” landmark TV recording moment. “Henry Mancini: The Saul Bass of TV themes.”  

    The great thing about Henry Mancini, known to Hank by friends, was that he was always accessible to students and aspiring music journalists. I recall a 1974 college seminar at RCA Records on Sunset Boulevard, a second home to Mancini and his recording career, often scoring the movies of director/producer Blake Edwards, where he invited the class to a mixing session. 

    I then sat with him at a 1974 Bob Dylan/Band concert at the Forum in Inglewood and we discussed the group Cream and he praised the jazz/rock sounds of the late sixties/early seventies. That same year we found ourselves sitting in the same row at an Andre Previn recital at UCLA’s Royce Hall venue. He re-introduced himself to me, I said hello to Previn, we went to the same junior high school in Los Angeles, and Hank wanted to know if I was going to his yearly event at the Hollywood Bowl. I must have gone for an entire decade. What a bargain for $5.00 to hear his movie and TV catalog under the stars.    

    During 2024, 2 episodes of Peter Gunn are broadcast on Sundays on MeTV.  

    Gain additional insights into this groundbreaking sonic expedition by reading Dreamsville: Henry Mancini, Peter Gunn, and Music for TV Noir.    

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including HollywoodShackJob:RockMusicInFilm and on Your Screen, published in 2004 by the University of New 

Mexico Press, and Docs That Rock, Music That Matters,” published in 2020 by Otherworld Cottage Industries.