Bock, Jerry(actually, Jerrold Lewis), and Sheldon (Mayer) Harnick

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Bock, Jerry(actually, Jerrold Lewis), and Sheldon (Mayer) Harnick

Bock, Jerry (actually, Jerrold Lewis), and Sheldon (Mayer) Harnick, American songwriting team. Composer Bock (b. New Haven, Conn., Nov. 23, 1928) and lyricist Harnick (b. Chicago, April 30, 1924) wrote the songs for seven musicals that opened on Broadway between 1958 and 1970. Their greatest success was Fiddler on the Roof, a warmhearted examination of the breakdown of tradition set in a turn–of–the–century Russian Jewish village that became the longest–running Broadway production up to its time; they also scored a hit with the a ward–winning Fiorello!, a musical biography of N.Y. mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

Both men worked extensively before launching their partnership. Harnick studied violin in high school, where he also began to write sketches and songs. He attended Northwestern Univ., but his education was interrupted by World War II; he was drafted into the army in 1943, serving in the Signal Corps in Ga., where he wrote for USO shows. In 1946 he was discharged, and he returned to Northwestern, where he met his first wife and graduated with a bachelor of music degree.

Harnick first worked as a violinist in bands in Chicago, then in 1950 moved to N.Y. to try to become a songwriter. He placed satirical songs and sketches in the Broadway revue New Faces of 1952 (N.Y., May 16, 1952); his song “Boston Beguine” was featured in the film version of the show, New Faces, released in 1954. Meanwhile, he contributed songs to the revues Two’s Company (N.Y., Dec. 15, 1952) and John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (N.Y., Dec. 10, 1953). Up to this point he had been writing his own music, but he collaborated with composer David Baker on the songs for his first full–length book musical, a show based on the Horatio Alger stories, initially called Horatio (Dallas, March 8, 1954). After mounting a tryout in Tex., the songwriters began holding backers auditions for it in N.Y. (Seven years later the show finally ran Off–Broadway for a few weeks under the title Smiling, the Boy Fell Dead [N.Y., April 19, 1961].)

Harnick continued to write for revues, contributing songs and sketches to the Shoestring Revue (N.Y., Feb. 28, 1955), which ran Off–Broadway, and songs to the Off–Broadway shows The Littlest Revue (N.Y., May 22, 1956) and Shoestring ’57 (N.Y., Nov. 5, 1956). He met Jerry Bock on the opening night of the Harry Warren musical Shangri–La (N.Y., June 13, 1956), to which he had contributed uncredited additional lyrics.

Bock was the son of George Joseph Bock, an automotive parts salesman, and Rebecca Alpert Bock. His family moved to N.Y. when he was two. He began taking piano lessons at nine and wrote the music and lyrics for his first musical, My Dream, in 1945 during his senior year at Flushing H.S.; it was performed as a benefit to raise money for recreational equipment for a Navy hospital ship. He began attending the Univ. of Wise, in the fall of 1945, starting as a journalism major but quickly transferring to the School of Music. In his third year he wrote another musical, Big as Life, with lyrics by Jack Royce, which was staged on campus in May 1948 and performed around Wise, and in Chicago. Bock and Royce’s score won a competition sponsored by BMI, and several of the songs were published. Bock was sufficiently encouraged that he and fellow student Larry Holofcener, who had become his lyricist, moved to N.Y. in 1949 to try to become songwriters.

Bock and Holofcener were hired to write songs for the network television variety series The Admiral Broadway Revue, starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, which ran from January to June 1949, broadcasting live for an hour on Friday nights. In February 1950 the series returned to the air under the title Your Show of Shows, and it ran for 90 minutes on Saturday nights until June 1954. Bock and Holofcener wrote one song, and Bock wrote music for two others, for the Broadway revue Talent 50 (N.Y., April 28, 1950). On May 28, 1950, Bock married Patti Faggen; they had two children.

Bock and Holofcener contributed three songs to the revue Catch a Star! (N.Y., Sept. 6, 1955), which led to their first assignment to write a book musical. They were joined by George David Weiss, and all three were credited with writing music and lyrics for the songs for Mr. Wonderful (N.Y., March 22, 1956), a star vehicle for Sammy Davis Jr., based roughly on his life. The show ran 383 performances, and the score was recorded for a cast album that spent a month in the charts, while two of its songs became Top 40 hits: Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, and Teddi King each had popular singles with the title song, and Eydie Gorme scored with a version of ’Too Close for Comfort/’ Notwithstanding this achievement, Bock and Holofcener split up, so that Bock was looking for a new lyric collaborator when he met Harnick.

Bock and Harnick’s first Broadway musical, The Body Beautiful in January 1958, was a failure, running only 60 performances, but their second, Fiorello! (November 1959), was a hit. It ran 795 performances, winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical. The cast album hit the Top Ten and earned a Grammy nomination in its category.

Harnick and Ogden Nash wrote lyrics to the Serge Prokofiev music for a television version of Peter and the Wolf (May 3, 1959) starring Art Carney and the Baird Marionettes. The next Bock–Harnick musical was Ten–derloin (October 1960), another period story set in N.Y. By opening night Bobby Darin had made a Top 40 hit out of “Artificial Flowers” from the score, and the cast album spent eight months in the charts, but the show ran only 216 performances, closing at a loss. In April 1962, Harnick, having been divorced from his first wife since the late 1950s, married comedienne Elaine May (real name Berlin); they divorced after a year, and Harnick later married actress Margery Gray.

Bock and Harnick’s fourth Broadway musical, She Loves Me (April 1963), based on the 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklos Nikolaus Lazio, ran 302 performances, which was not enough to turn a profit. But the much–admired score was recorded for a two–LP cast album that spent five months in the charts and won the Grammy for Best Score from an Original Cast Show Album. The songwriters next wrote a revue, To Broadway with Love (N.Y., April 21, 1964), that was performed at the N.Y. World’s Fair and recorded as an album.

Then came Fiddler on the Roof (September 1964), based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem. It ran for 3, 242 performances, until July 1972, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The title song was recorded for a chart single by the Village Stompers, and Roger Williams reached the charts with “Sunrise, Sunset” from the score, which also featured “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Tradition,” songs fashioned for star Zero Mostel. The Broadway cast album reached the Top Ten and sold two million copies, earning a Grammy nomination in its category. The show was produced successfully all over the world, notably in the U.K., where the West End version starring Israeli actor Chaim Topol opened Feb. 16, 1967, and ran 2, 030 performances.

The Apple Tree (October 1966), Bock and Harnick’s sixth Broadway show, was an experimental effort presenting three separate short musicals with the same cast. It ran 463 performances, and its cast album, a Grammy nominee, spent two months in the charts. The songwriters next turned to television, penning songs for a musical version of the film The Canterville Ghost that was broadcast in November 1966. Their final musical together, The Rothschilds (October 1970) traced the history of the wealthy European banking family; it ran 505 performances, its cast album earning a Grammy nomination in its category. In November 1971, United Artists released a three–hour movie version of Fiddler on the Roof starring Topol that became the top grossing film of the year. The two–LP soundtrack album went gold.

Bock and Harnick were unable to find a project they both wanted to work on in the early 1970s, though they combined a final time for Regards to the Lindsay Years (Dec. 14, 1973)—a theatrical salute to N.Y. mayor John Lindsay that was recorded for an album. Prior to that, Bock wrote the music and lyrics for an autobiographical concept album, Album Leaves, released in 1972, and a second LP, Trading Dreams, in 1974. During this period he worked on a murder–mystery musical called Caper that was never produced. He also worked with the Musical Theatre Lab, a workshop for aspiring composers and lyricists. In 1992 he scored the film A Stranger Among Us.

Harnick’s initial efforts after his partnership with Bock were both children’s shows done by the Baird Marionettes. His version of Pinocchio (N.Y., Dec. 15, 1973), with music by Mary Rodgers, ran for 134 performances Off–Broadway, while Alice in Wonderland (N.Y., Feb. 19, 1975), with music by Joe Raposo, for which Harnick provided the voice of the White Rabbit, ran Off–Broadway for 51 performances. He wrote the lyrics and libretto for the opera Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (Kansas City, Sept. 20, 1975), with music by Jack Beeson, then returned to Broadway, collaborating with Richard Rodgers on the musical Rex (N.Y., April 25, 1976). It ran only 49 performances but the cast album earned a Grammy nomination in its category.

Harnick wrote a well–received new English version of Franz Lehár’s Die lüstige Witwe (The Merry Widow) for the N.Y. City Opera in 1978. His translations of Jacques Demy’s lyrics for the songs of Michel Legrand were heard in a theatrical production of the film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (N.Y., Jan. 2, 1979) for 36 performances Off–Broadway. He and Legrand then collaborated on a musical version of Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol that had regional tryouts in 1981 and 1982 without coming to Broadway. He did an English translation of Georges Bizet’s Carmen produced by Peter Brook in Paris in 1983. Dragons (N.Y., May 12, 1984), a musical for which he wrote the music, lyrics, and libretto, was given a workshop production of six performances Off–Broadway. He wrote the lyrics to Joe Raposo’s music for a stage version of A Wonderful Life (Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 1991), and his work finally was heard again on Broadway when he contributed additional lyrics to Cyrano, The Musical (N.Y., Nov. 21, 1993), a show imported from the Netherlands, which ran 137 performances. He collaborated with Michel Legrand on the score of the animated children’s film Aaron’s Magic Village, which opened in September 1997.


(only works for which Bock and Harnick, working together, were primary, credited songwriters are listed): musicals/revues (dates refer to N.Y. openings): The Body Beautiful (Jan. 23, 1958); Fiorello! (Nov. 23, 1959); Tenderloin (Oct. 17, 1960); She Loves Me (April 23, 1963); Fiddler on the Roof (Sept. 22, 1964); The Apple Tree (Oct. 18, 1966); The Rothschilds (Oct. 19, 1970). TELEVISION: The Canterville Ghost (Nov. 2, 1966). FILM: Fiddler on the Roof (1971).

—William Ruhlmann