“I think we can now talk to each other as friends.” With those words, Marvin Hamlisch accepted his third Oscar of the night. On April 12, 1974, he won for best score adaptation (”The Sting”), best original score (”The Way We Were”) and best song (”The Way We Were,” with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman). Recordings of that music were later honored at the Grammy Awards, at which he was also named best new artist. He is the composer of the longest-running musical in the history of Broadway, two other shows, and hundreds of individual songs, and is, thanks to that memorable Oscar evening, one of the best-recognized songwriters of our time.
Hamlisch grew up with melodic songs in New York City, since his father was an accordionist whose band of fellow Austro-Hungarian emigres played Viennese and American popular music. He was trained at the Juilliard School of Music (Pre-College Division) after a successful audition at the age of seven in which he transposed “Goodnight Irene” on the keyboard. He has often credited both Juilliard and Queens College of the City University of New York with both his musical education and his early career, since both were flexible schools that allowed him to work as an accompanist and songwriter. He told the New York Times in 1983 that “despite a wild absentee record, … the teachers [at Queens] bent over backwards not to make it difficult for me. My first movie score, for ‘The Swimmer,’ was accepted by my teacher, Gabriel Fontrier, as a class project in place of the required string quartet.” Hamlisch’s first professional songs were written for Liza Minnelli when they were in high school, and his first major hit, “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” was recorded by the equally youthful Lesley Gore. He combined his musical education with professional training in arranging and orchestration from the celebrated “Bell Telephone Hour” conductor Donald Vorhees while working for three years as a rehearsal pianist on that NBC show. He later described that experience as “terrific … because you’re doing different music every week: Lena Horne, Edward Villella, Leontyne Price.” At 18, Hamlisch served as assistant to famed vocal arranger Buster Davis for “Fade Out - Fade In” and the Barbra Streisand hit musical comedy “Funny Girl.”
Following his score for “The Swimmer” in 1968, Hamlisch relocated to Hollywood and quickly found success in all of the varied jobs of providing music for films. He scored, arranged, orchestrated, or supervised music for many comedies, among them Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run” (1969) and the contemporary dramas “Save the Tiger” (1973) and “Kotch” (1971). His song from the latter, “Life is What You Make It,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, earned Hamlisch his first Oscar nomination. Hamlisch created music and or
Full name, Marvin Frederick Hamlisch; born June 2, 1944, in New York, N. Y. ; son of Max (a musician and bandleader) and Lily (Schachter) Hamlisch. Education: Attended Juilliard School of Music, 1951-64; Queens College of the City University of New York, B.A. in music, 1968.
Composer of popular songs, including “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” 1960, and “Nobody Does It Better,” 1977; film scores include “The Swimmer,” 1968, “Take the Money and Run,” 1969, “Bananas,” 1971, “Save the Tiger,” 1973, “The Way We Were,” 1974, “The Sting,” 1974, “Starting Over,” 1979, “Ordinary People,” 1980, “Sophie’s Choice,” 1982, and D.A.R.Y.L,” 1985; composer of Broadway musicals, including “A Chorus Line,” 1975, “They’re Playing Our Song,” 1979, and “Smile,” 1986; also composer of theme for television program “Good Morning, America,” 1975.
Awards: Academy Awards, 1974, for best song and best original score, both for “The Way We Were,” and for best score adaptation, for “The Sting”; Grammy Awards, 1974, for best song and best soundtrack, for “The Way We Were,” for best pop instrumental performance, for “The Entertainer,” and for best new artist; Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, both 1975, for “A Chorus Line.”
Addresses: Office –Pastor Films, Inc., 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608. Agent— William Morris Agency, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
chestrations for his first Broadway show, “Minnie’s Boys” (1970), a tribute to the Marx Brothers, and toured as pianist and straight man for Groucho Marx between film assignments.
“The Way We Were” was not only a succesful title song for the Barbra Streisand bittersweet comedy film, it was also a major recording success for Streisand—her first million-selling single. But that song of the year was not Hamlisch’s only hit of the year. His arrangements of the rags of turn-of-the-century composer Scott Joplin for the Paul Newman/Robert Redford comedy, “The Sting” (1973), won major awards and had sales of over three million albums. Hamlisch’s lush orchestrations of the piano rags has been credited with reviving interest in Joplin’s music, which has regained its rightful place in American music and has since been re-published and recorded in its original versions.
These multiple awards were eclipsed in 1975 when “A Chorus Line” won all of the available Tonys and Drama Critics’ Circle awards and became only the third musical in history to be granted a Pulitzer Prize. From the first previews at the Public Theatre in May to the Broadway opening the next fall to the audience that saw the still-running show last night, there is no question that “A Chorus Line” is a brilliant combining of text, music, and movement. Clive Barnes, who began his New York Times review with “the conservative word for ‘A Chorus Line’ might be tremendous,” described Hamlisch’s contribution as “occasionally hummable and often quite cleverly drops into a useful buzz of dramatic recitative.” The show, which recreates the audition process through a series of solos and group songs, depends on the “recitatives” that Hamlisch supported with his music. From the exuberant “I Can Do That” to the three concurrent female solos that make up “Everything’s Beautiful at the Ballet” to the opening dance routine that begins the show in the middle of a bar, Hamlisch’s music was considered perfection. Two songs became popular outside of the show’s context. The finale, which presents all of the characters in the show for which they are competing, became succesful as “One Singular Sensation.” The anthem of the show, set as a personal finale for the dancers, “What I Did for Love,” became a hit single for Jack Jones, Johnny Mathis, and Andy Williams, among many other pop singers. It is performed as a general lament for the love of a person, although in the show it refers to sacrifices made for love of performance. Ironically, it became the most popular song for auditions for many years. “A Chorus Line” is still running on Broadway, has been seen in over twenty countries on stage, became a motion picture (1985), and has been recorded by Columbia. For many members of the audience, Hamlisch’s score represents the Broadway musical.
Hamlisch has created two other musicals for Broadway. “They’re Playing Our Song” (1979), loosely based on his relationship with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, had a succesful run and national tour. It provided stars Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz with songs created to fit their conversational singing styles, but the title song, in which they, as a composer/lyricist couple, continually interrupt each other’s thoughts to draw attention to their successes, won popularity as a jazz and pop instrumental. His third musical, “Smile” (1986), based on the satiric film comedy of that name, was less succesful. As in “A Chorus Line,” Hamlisch set himself the difficult task of recreating an unsucessful performance event—in this case the amateurish sounds of a “Young American Miss” state-wide competition in California. He also wrote a muscialized biography of actress Jean Seberg for performance at London’s National Theatre in 1983. He compared the risks of that project to “A Chorus Line” in an interview with New York Times’ Stephen Holden: “A project like ‘Jean’ seems awfully risky to a producer…. I have to keep reminding myself that ‘A Chorus Line’ was initially considered weird and off the wall. It was ‘A Chorus Line’ that convinced me that if you give an audience a theatrical moment, whether it’s funny or mean or satiric, they’ll accpet it as long as it’s theatrical. You mustn’t underestimate an audience’s intelligence.” Hamlisch has written often of his desire to continue writing muscials for the stage.
Film continues to be a major focus of Hamlisch’s career. In an interview written shortly after the multi-Oscar evening, he told Joyce Wadler that “you work just as hard on a movie that turns out to be a bomb as you do on one that’s a hit, and when the movie’s over, it’s unemployment time. But if you’re any kind of artist, money is not your objective; the biggest thrill you can have is to tell people one of your songs and have them be able to hum it.” The James Bond thriller, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” featured Hamlisch’s hummable music and the hit single for Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better.” His score for the highly acclaimed film “Sophie’s Choice” was also a succesful recording in 1985.
Among his many scores for major television projects are settings of two dramatic masterworks—John Osbourne’s Americanization of “The Entertainer” for Jack Lemmon in 1976 and Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire” for Ann-Margaret in 1985—and the theme for ABC’s daily “Good Morning, America.” Hamlisch himself has been the subject of television specials by the BBC and the Public Broadcasting Service. He has also written successful individual songs—one, “Break It to Me Gently,” became the number one record on the rhythm and blues charts in 1977 as sung by Aretha Franklin.
Hamlisch’s third career is as a performer and conductor with orchestras around the country and in Europe, among them the New York Philharmonic, the Minneapolis Symphony, and the Cleveland and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. Appearing most often for charity concerts, he conducts his arrangements of Joplin rags, the overture from “A Chorus Line” and other Broadway shows, and his film scores. He occasionally provides the audiences with what he describes as “the onslaught” of his own voice and provides narrations in his unadulterated New York accent. When he appeared at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, conducted by Skitch Henderson, he performed new songs that critic Will Crutchfield thought “brilliant,” and “he commenced a series of parody songs that had everyone in stitches.”
Hamlisch, who commutes between the coasts, began to teach at Juilliard in 1986, offering an Introduction to American Musical Theatre. Whether creating music for theatre, film, television, or his own voice, Hamlisch has proven his ability to compose songs that everyone can hum on demand.
The Way We Were (soundtrack), Columbia, 1973.
The Sting (soundtrack), MCA, 1974.
A Chorus Line (original cast recording), Columbia, 1975.
Sophie’s Choice (soundtrack), Southern Cross, 1985.
A Chorus Line (soundtrack), Casablanca, 1985.
New York Post, April 6, 1974.
New York Times, May 22, 1975; June 17, 1977; March 16, 1979; May 13, 1983; January 26, 1987.
Village Voice, November 3, 1975.
Composer. Nationality: American. Born: New York, 2 June 1944. Education: Attended Queens College, New York. Family: Married Terre Blair, 1989. Career: 1968—began scoring films. Awards: Academy Award, for The Sting, 1973, and The Way We Were, 1973; Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, for A Chorus Line, 1976.
Films as Composer:
Ski Party (Rafkin) (song)
The Swimmer (Perry)
The April Fools (Simon); Take the Money and Run (W. Allen)
Flap (The Last Warrior) (Reed); Move (Rosenberg)
Bananas (W. Allen); Kotch (Lemmon); Something Big (McLaglen)
The Special London Bridge Special (Winters); Fat City (Huston); The War Between Men and Women (Shavelson); The World's Greatest Athlete (Scheerer)
Save the Tiger (Avildsen); The Sting (Hill); The Way We Were (Pollack)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Simon)
The Spy Who Loved Me (Gilbert)
Ice Castles (Wrye); Same Time, Next Year (Mulligan)
Chapter Two (Simon); Starting Over (Pakula)
The Absent-Minded Waiter (Gottlieb); Ordinary People (Redford); Seems Like Old Times (Sandrich)
The Devil and Max Devlin (Stern); The Fan (Bianchi); I Ought to Be in Pictures (Ross); Pennies from Heaven (Ross)
Sophie's Choice (Pakula)
Romantic Comedy (Hiller)
A Chorus Line (Attenborough); D.A.R.Y.L. (Wincer)
Shy People (Konchalovsky); Three Men and a Baby (Nimoy)
Big (Penny Marshall); The January Man (O'Connor); Little Nikita (Benjamin)
The Experts (Thomas); Shirley Valentine (Gilbert); Troop Beverly Hills (Kanew)
Switched at Birth (Hussein); Frankie & Johnny (G. Marshall)
Seasons of the Heart (Grant—for TV)
Fairy Tales on Ice: Alice Through the Looking Glass (for video); Open Season (Wuhl); The Mirror Has Two Faces (Streisand)
By HAMLISCH: article—
Screen International (London), no. 81, April 1977.
On HAMLISCH: articles—
Films and Filming (London), vol. 20, no. 9, June 1974.
Hollywood Reporter, vol. 238, no. 16, 26 September 1975.
Photoplay (New York), vol. 31, no. 6, June 1980.
Soundtrack! (Mechelen), June 1996.
* * *
A child prodigy, trained rigorously in classical music, Marvin Hamlisch discovered in his teens that playing piano concerts was not for him. Live performance made him too nervous. Instead, his talent took him in another direction. Hamlisch developed a love for popular music, especially show tunes. A fine ear enabled him to duplicate whatever he heard. "I had no style of my own," he later confessed, "Whatever I heard, I imitated." With his knowledge of music theory (particularly concepts of orchestration) and an affection for popular lyrics, Hamlisch decided on a career in show business.
One could hardly imagine a musician more suited to the composition of film music, a unique craft that demands acquaintance with a wide variety of musical styles, the ability to create simple yet attractive melodies which can be expressed and resolved in short phrases, and a familiarity with the tonalities and colors of different instruments. Film musicians also must be able to compose quickly, drawing on a repertoire of stock themes. Hamlisch proved, in a rather interesting way, that he could do this. After writing songs for such performers as Lesley Gore and Liza Minnelli, he was introduced by the latter to Buster Davis, a vocal arranger who gave him work on a number of Broadway productions, including Funny Girl and Golden Rainbow. Between assignments Hamlisch worked as a rehearsal pianist for The Bell Telephone Hour on television. One evening at a party he met movie producer Sam Spiegel, who was looking for someone to do the music for The Swimmer (eventually directed by Frank Perry). Hamlisch went home, wrote the theme music in three days, and got the job. Though not a complicated score, this music shows Hamlisch at his flexible best; its mournful, vaguely modern yet expressive harmonies suit the failed antiromanticism of John Cheever's deranged hero and his impossible quest to re-create the past.
In many ways, the scoring done for his next assignment, Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run, is Hamlisch's most impressive. This is because Allen's postmodern pastiche offers a series of ironic and subversive comments on all aspects of cinematic traditionalism, including the emotional coloring and commentative functions of film music. Allen allows Hamlisch to foreground the presence of the scoring even as he asks him to poke fun at the traditional repertoire of musical colors. The result is a film that catalogs even as it makes fun of traditional method. To accompany the voice of God narrator, for example, Hamlisch composed an up-tempo, vaguely military theme, orchestrated with percussion, strings, and brass, which overstates its own seriousness. Similarly, romantic motifs, utilizing harp and piano, are too sweet and help send up the film's ironic concern with star-crossed lovers. Most interesting, perhaps, are the various "action" motifs Hamlisch creates, including one that's vaguely Jewish, with mazurka rhythms as well as a prominent clarinet and strings playing in a minor key.
No subsequent project, not even Allen's Bananas, has drawn on Hamlisch's many talents so extensively and profitably. The rest of his film work, however, is certainly varied and interesting. For George Roy Hill's The Sting, Hamlisch used a number of piano rag tunes by composer Scott Joplin to create a "period" musical atmosphere (actually the film is set during the Great Depression while Joplin's rags belong to an earlier era, but this historical inaccuracy does not spoil the audience's enjoyment). These compositions are somewhat complex harmonically, which meant that Hamlisch could not abstract short, flexible phrases to use as emotional color in dramatic scenes. Consequently, the Joplin rags are used almost exclusively during transitional passages and during action or montage sequences with no diegetic sound.
The Barbra Streisand/Robert Redford vehicle The Way We Were, though a very different project, also brought acclaim, awards, and financial success. The film's schmaltzy title tune, with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, was initially rejected by Streisand as too simple musically, but her recording made the charts and won an Oscar for both lyricists and composer. This film is scored in a very traditional fashion with the title theme expressing a romantic emotional coloring associated, first, with the Streisand character and, second, with the film's overall nostalgic point of view. The theme assumes a number of different forms as it comments on moments of dramatic tension and emotion. As in the classic studio melodrama, the musical themes are an integral part of the drama, even though this is in no sense a musical film (Streisand does not "perform"); hence the notion of a title theme subsequently accorded dramatic prominence is important. Hamlisch's work for the James Bond project The Spy Who Loved Me is similar; here his title theme is integrated with the already famous Bond signature theme, but, because the romantic elements of this film are emphasized more than in others of the same series, the lush naughtiness of Hamlisch's "Nobody Does It Better" is prominently featured as coloring in the many scenes between Roger Moore and Barbara Bach. Hamlisch's action themes, boldly orchestrated in the Bond film tradition, are also noteworthy.
Most of the other films in which Hamlisch was involved offered him less opportunity for creativity and made slighter demands on his compositional talents. For Save the Tiger, he reorchestrated as nondiegetic commentative music a number of 1940s swing tunes, particularly two by Benny Goodman; the effect is interesting, for the reorchestrations inevitably seem richer than their originals, which play diegetically throughout the film. This contrast between the diegetic and the nondiegetic musically embodies the functioning of memory as an idealized reconstruction of bygone pleasures. Trapped by a past he cannot relive, the protagonist is tortured by a nostalgia evoked but not satisfied by his scratchy records. Disappointingly, however, the film's nondiegetic themes play in only a limited number of scenes with no natural sound; hence the contrast between music as event and music as comment is never fully worked out. Employed on some Neil Simon vehicles (The April Fools, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and Chapter Two), Hamlisch wrote effective "invisible" action scores without dominant themes or motifs. Other projects, such as Seems Like Old Times, required little more: a simple, dominant theme which could be orchestrated and colored for comic, action, and romantic scenes alike.
Hamlisch's career declined in the eighties; this was a reflex of new methods of scoring (most particularly, using a medley of already existing popular tunes with ready-made cultural associations or creating such a medley with the object of subsequent recording sales, as in Stigwood's Saturday Night Fever). Not all producers, however, have chosen music programs of this kind for their films. Hamlisch was thus able to create effectively unobtrusive background scoring for, among other similar projects, Shirley Valentine, Three Men and a Baby, and Big, three comedy dramas that traditionally benefit from this kind of musical treatment, where the themes are largely "unheard" but often contribute substantially to the creation of mood or meaning in a given scene. A Chorus Line offered Hamlisch the chance to adapt a Broadway musical for the screen; if the resulting film was less than successful, this could not be traced to his tasteful, if unflamboyant, rescoring. He has not worked much in the nineties, a period that has been dominated by big-budget action spectaculars that emphasize sound rather than music (e.g., Terminator II, Twister, Waterworld). With his considerable musical talents, Hamlisch, had he been active during the studios' classic period (1930–60) could well have equaled, perhaps surpassed the elaborate, occasionally symphonic work of music directors such as Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann. In any event, his many credits and workmanlike, sometimes exceptional, scoring establish Hamlisch as the last and perhaps most talented in the line of traditional screen composers.
—R. Barton Palmer
HAMLISCH, MARVIN (1944– ), U.S. composer and arranger. Born in New York City, Hamlisch was the youngest student (at age seven) ever admitted to the Juilliard School of Music (which he attended until 1964). He is the composer and/or arranger of music scores for such films as The Swimmer (1968), Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971), Save The Tiger (1973) and Kotch (1971). In 1974 Hamlisch became the first individual to receive three Academy Awards in one night – one for best scoring of The Sting, one for best original dramatic score for the film The Way We Were, and one for best original song, "The Way We Were." He also received four Grammys for his work on The Sting. Hamlischalso won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for writing the script and composing the score of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line (1975).
His musical scores for other Broadway productions include They're Playing Our Song (1979), Shirley Maclaine on Broadway (1984), Smile (1987), The Goodbye Girl (1993), Sweet Smell of Success (2002), and Imaginary Friends (2003). Written by Neil Simon, They're Playing Our Song was based on the personal and professional relationship between Hamlisch and his long-time collaborator, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager. It was nominated for four Tony Awards, among them Best Musical.
Hamlisch also wrote the music for such films as The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Ice Castles (1978), Starting Over (1979), Chapter Two (1979), Gilda Live (1980), Ordinary People (1980), Seems Like Old Times (1980), Pennies from Heaven (1981), Sophie's Choice (1982), Three Men and a Baby (1987), January Man (1989), Shirley Valentine (1989), Missing Pieces (1991), Open Season (1996), and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).
In addition to his work as a composer, Hamlisch is the principal pops conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, d.c. He is the first person to hold such a position with either of those orchestras. In 1992 Hamlisch published his memoirs, The Way I Was (with G. Gardner).
D. Flinn, What They Did for Love (1989); G. Stevens and A. George, The Longest Line: Broadway's Most Singular Sensation – A Chorus Line (1995).
[Jonathan Licht /
Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]