This jazz standard was originally composed as an instrumental by pianist Errol Garner for his 1955 album Contrasts. Later that same year, Johnny Burke wrote lyrics for the song.
Johnny Mathis was the first in a long line of performers to cover this song and it became one of his most famous hits. Peaking at #12 on the charts in 1959, his was also the most popular version. That same year, jazz great Sarah Vaughan earned a spot at #106. The song endured throughout the '60s with more charting hits from R&B singer Lloyd Price (#21), the Soul group Vibrations (#63) and jazz organist "Groove" Holmes (#44). Ray Stevens also recorded a popular Country version in 1975 (#14). Surprisingly, versions by Ella Fitzgerald in 1959 and Frank Sinatra in 1961 failed to chart.
Thanks to Clint Eastwood, this song earned a chilling connotation when it was used for his directorial debut Play Misty for Me
in 1971. He also starred in the thriller as a radio jockey who was stalked by an unhinged fan who had an obsession with the song. Eastwood was inspired by the title song when he first saw Errol Garner perform at the Concord Music Festival a year earlier, but securing the song rights was no easy task. While he paid $2,000 to use Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
" for a romantic montage in the film, he had to shell out $25,000 for "Misty" (Garner's instrumental version).
Both Garner's instrumental version and Mathis's popular cover have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (Garner in 1991 and Mathis in 2002).
Tom Selleck is known for a few things - his mustache, his reputation as an '80s sex symbol, and his romance with Monica on Friends - but being a singer is not one of them. Well, being a good singer anyway. On an episode of his hit show Magnum, P.I., Selleck, as the title detective, is forced to perform this song at a karaoke bar called The Sing Sing Palace. He comedically struggles through the opening before a few gunshots give him an excuse to stop. This moment from "The Man from Marseilles" has gone down as a fan favorite.
John Ratzenberger sang this song to Shelley Long on the Cheers episode "Cliffie's Big Score." Cliff was tricked into believing that the song would turn her on, but it had the opposite effect.
Although the Mathis version was used in the 2012 Academy Award-winning movie Silver Linings Playbook during a romantic ballroom scene, it was not included on the movie's official soundtrack.
Mathis had no intention of recording the song when he did. He had heard the instrumental version and told Garner he would be happy to record it if he added lyrics. The next time he heard from Garner, Mathis told him he had a recording date coming up, but never expected the composer to show up at the studio. "He showed up at the recording session and we had not at all planned to do 'Misty,'" Mathis told John Gilliland for the radio documentary Pop Chronicles. "I was just praying that he would forget about it. So thank God for the genius of Glenn Osser who did the score. He merely just penciled in the parts that were missing and told the violin players - they didn't even have their music, they just did it."