CSOTD 12/2/16: Lost in the Twilight Zone

During the past few months, I’ve been going through my collection of more than 2,000 Christmas CDs and at least as many 45s, assembling songs for personal Christmas mix CDs that reflect my wide tastes in Christmas music. (As of this writing, I’ve compiled 20 volumes and have plenty of recordings in reserve.) In so doing, I’ve been discovering or rediscovering some wonderful works that I might not have noticed before. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 2 is one of those.

One of the great composers for film and television was Henry Mancini (1924-1994). Among his many familiar scores are those for the TV series Peter Gunn and for the films Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther. Ironically, his biggest hit single was from a film for which he didn’t compose or conduct the score – “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet,” a #1 hit in 1969.

In 1964, Mancini waived his usual fee to write the theme song for the first of what was expected to be a series of television programs that would educate United States viewers about the United Nations and its mission. The first of these was an ABC film entitled Carol for Another Christmas.

Written by Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame and starring Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, and Robert Shaw, among others, it was the only television work to be directed by Joseph Mankiewitz, who was coming off his colossal bomb, Cleopatra. (It made a lot of money, but cost even more.)  The film was a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a modern setting. The TV showed aired to mixed reviews on December 28, 1964, and was never rerun; indeed, it was not seen again for almost 50 years.

The one relic from the program to live on was Mancini’s beautiful theme song, which he recorded properly for his 1966 album A Merry Mancini Christmas. I wonder how many people have been entranced by the melody and had no idea how it came upon its unusual title.

Oddly, when Turner Classic Movies dug the special out of mothballs in 2012 and aired it for the first time since 1964, the theme song had been replaced! Many times, rights fees make such substitutions inevitable, but Mancini’s family said he was especially proud of the melody and would never have objected to its reuse. Even so, the only time Mancini’s theme was part of the film was the first time it aired.

Now you know how the Henry Mancini melody “Carol for Another Christmas” got its name. Here it is, from his 1966 Christmas album.

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