Singer, songwriter, actor
Multitalented songwriter, singer, and actor Paul Williams is perhaps best known for scoring the 1976 film A Star Is Born, and collaborating with superstar Barbra Streisand to write the extremely popular love theme from that film, “Evergreen.” He earned several awards for that work, as well as many award nominations for his efforts on other film scores, including Cinderella Liberty and The Muppet Movie. In addition, Williams has provided music fans with many sweet-sounding ballads over the years, including “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song.”
Williams was born September 19, 1940, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was an architectural engineer who pursued various construction projects throughout the Midwest, so the future entertainer traveled a great deal as a child. In addition to the usual social misfortunes that go with always being new at school, Williams also had to deal with the stigma associated with his shorter stature—he described the other children’s attitude towards him thus to Tony Kornheiser in the Washington Post: “New kid. Smaller—hey, let’s whack him.”
When Williams was 13, his father was killed in an automobile accident, and he went to live with an aunt and uncle in Long Beach, California, where he spent the remainder of his adolescence. On the way to his new home, however, he had the opportunity to see a show in Las Vegas, Nevada; this experience solidified his desire—perhaps first sparked by childhood competition in local talent shows—to become an entertainer. While attending a Long Beach high school, he developed an interest in drama, appeared in many school plays, and was vice-president of the institution’s Thespian Club. After graduating, Williams wandered for a while and eventually came to rest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he became a featured member of the community theater. He appeared in plays such as A Thousand Clowns and William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
By 1960, however, Williams had come back to Long Beach, where he joined the slightly more prestigious repertory company Studio 58. During some of his performances with them, such as one in Under the Sycamore Tree, he received favorable attention from critics in Los Angeles, California, and this encouraged him to go to Hollywood in pursuit of a film career. He did find one, but it was small—he received only minor roles during the 1960s and 1970s, in pictures that were generally panned by the critics. As Williams began to despair of becoming a respected actor, however, he turned to other forms of expression. Comedian Mort Sahl hired him to write skits for a local television program; through this job, he met Biff Rose, a composer who needed a lyricist.
Williams began collaborating with Rose, and the result
Full name, Paul Hamilton Williams; born September 19, 1940, in Omaha Neb.; son of Paul Hamilton (an architectural engineer) and Bertha Mae (Burnside) Williams; married wife, Katie (marriage ended); children: Christopher Cole.
Actor, 1958—; comedy writer during the late 1960s; songwriter, beginning in the late 1960s; recording artist and concert performer, c. 1971—. Screenwriter, beginning c. 1981—. Appeared in films, including The Loved One, 1965, The Chase, 1966, Watermelon Man, 1970, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973, Phantom of the Paradise, 1974, Smokey and the Bandit, 1977, The Cheap Detective, 1978, The Muppet Movie, 1979, Smokey and the Bandit II, 1980, Smokey and the Bandit III, ? 1983, and The Doors, 1991. Appeared in plays, including Under the Sycamore Tree at the Magnolia Theater in California, 1961, and Tru on Broadway, in New York City, 1989. Appeared on television shows, including The Tonight Show, The Odd Couple, Wild, Wild West Revisited, Hawaii 5-0, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Fall Guy, and Midnight Special. Scored and/or composed songs for films, including The Getaway, 1972, The Man Who Loved CatDancing, 1972, Cinderella Liberty, 1973, Phantom of the Paradise, 1974, The Day of the Locust, 1975, Mahne, 1976, A Star Is Born, 1976, One on One, 1977, The End, 1978, Agatha, 1979, The Muppet Movie, 1979, and The Secret of NIMH, 1982. Scored or wrote music for television shows, including The Love Boat, The McLean Stevenson Show, It Takes Two, Sugar Time! and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.
Awards: Academy Award nomination for best song, for “Nice to Be Around,” from the film Cinderella Liberty, 1973, and Academy Award nomination for best score, for the film Phantom of the Paradise, 1974; Academy Award, Grammy Award, and Golden Globe Award for best song, for “Evergreen,” from the film A Star Is Born, 1976, and a Golden Globe Award for best score, for the film A Star Is Born, 1976; and Academy Award nomination and Grammy nomination for the score of The Muppet Movie, 1979.
Addresses: Record company— A&M, 1416 La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028.
was “Fill Your Heart,” a ballad that eventually found itself on the B-side of novelty singer Tiny Tim’s hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Tiny Tim’s producer suggested that Williams, who had previously learned to play the guitar, form his own band. He did, called it Holy Mackerel, and released an album on Reprise Records that attracted virtually no attention from fans. Reprise—and its parent company Warner Brothers—believed in Williams, however, and he released a solo effort in 1970 called Someday Man. This disc, too, was met with silence from music audiences.
Soon afterwards, however, Williams signed on as a songwriter for A&M Records. With composer Roger Nichols, he started writing songs for other artists, including Johnny Mathis and Claudine Longet. Then they started racking up hits. Their first huge success was the song “Out in the Country,” which scored a hit when recorded by Three Dog Night. Their “Rainy Days and Mondays,” recorded by the Carpenters, became quite popular as well. Williams and Nichols were also contracted to compose music for a bank commercial advertising their special services for newlyweds. Williams explained to Henry Edwards in After Dark: “Since I am an incurable romantic, I fell in love with the idea of making a sugary commercial about a young couple getting married.” Apparently, audiences responded to William’s inspiration so favorably that he and Nichols decided to expand the jingle into a full-length song. The result, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” became a massive hit for the Carpenters, and has since become a ballad standard, recorded by many other artists.
Encouraged by his success, Williams began recording his own albums for the A&M label, starting with An Old-Fashioned Love Song. This, along with follow-up efforts such as 1972’s Life Goes On and 1974’s A Little Bit of Love and Here Comes Inspiration, fared much better with fans than did Williams’s earlier recordings. He began performing on variety shows and in the better nightclubs, and while many dismissed his songs as too sentimental, most conceded along with Los Angeles Times reviewer Terry Atkinson that Williams was a very good musical entertainer in person, “with an appealing blend of unpretentiousness and effective dramatic sense.”
In 1974 Williams was invited by film director Brian De Palma to score much of his musical update of The Phantom of the Opera, entitled Phantom of the Paradise. Williams also acted in the film, but received the most notice for his work on the music, earning an Academy Award nomination. In 1976 he had even greater success with his work on the film A Star Is Born. With various other composers, Williams wrote the lyrics to the motion picture’s songs “Watch Closely Now,” “The Woman in the Moon,” “With One More Look at You,” “Everything,” and the now-classic love theme “Evergreen.” He garnered a Golden Globe Award for the film’s score, another for “Evergreen,” and a Grammy and an Academy Award for “Evergreen.” Other films Williams has written music for include Cinderella Liberty, The End, and The Muppet Movie.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Williams found himself in demand for character roles in many motion pictures, including the Smokey and the Bandit movies and playwright Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective. He also released more albums, including Ordinary Fools, Classics, and Crazy for Loving You. Many of these efforts featured his music from films. He also wrote both scripts and music for television programs. In 1989, Williams appeared on the Broadway stage in the title role of the play Tru, a one-man show about the late author Truman Capote. Before he performed, he told Richard Leivenberg in Harper’s Bazaar: “I am not simply going to put on a hat and mince around. I want to crawl inside the man and have people be moved by him, so by the end of the evening they will miss his presence as much as I do.”
(With Holy Mackerel) Holy Mackerel, Reprise, c. 1969.
Someday Man, Warner Bros., 1970.
An Old-Fashioned Love Song, A&M, c. 1971.
Life Goes On, A&M, 1972.
A Little Bit of Love, A&M, 1974.
Here Comes Inspiration, A&M, 1974.
Ordinary Fools, A&M, 1975.
Classics, A&M, 1977.
A Little on the Windy Side, Portrait, 1979.
Crazy for Loving You, Firstline, 1981.
After Dark, June 1972.
Harper’s Bazaar, September 1989.
Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1977.
Washington Post, June 30, 1980.
Songwriter, actor, singer
Multitalented entertainer Paul Williams is an award-winning songwriter, as well as an actor and singer. He is best known for his many popular tunes including the score of the film A Star is Born. Williams, who also wrote “We’ve Only Just Begun” and other top-selling hit songs of the 1970s and 1980s, has appeared in a number of motion pictures and starred on Broadway during his career. He is also known for his charming and witty personality. In the mid-1990s, Williams spent much of his time writing country music songs in Nashville.
Williams was born Paul Hamilton Williams, Jr., on September 19, 1940, in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the son of the late Bertha Mae and Paul Williams, Sr. Williams’s father was an architectural engineer, and his mother was a homemaker. Childhood unfortunately was not a carefree time for Williams. The family relocated often, and Williams, who was small in stature, changed schools frequently as a result. That combination of circumstances set him apart from classmates and often caused him to be the butt of cruel jokes. Williams was only 13 when his father died in an auto accident. He subsequently left Nebraska and went to live with his aunt and uncle in Long Beach, California.
Williams was drawn to show business even as an adolescent. At Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, he joined the thespian club and acted in school plays. After graduation he moved for a time to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he earned a solid reputation as an actor at the local community theater. Eventually he returned to Southern California to pursue a career in motion pictures, an effort that kept him occupied during much of the 1960s. He also started his own band, and the group released an album on the Warner Brothers label. Although he secured many small acting roles, he failed to achieve movie stardom. Equally disappointing was the success of his band, which never developed mass appeal. His early film appearances included Planet of the Apes in 1967, Watermelon Man in 1970, and an adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera called Phantom of the Paradise, for which he also wrote the score in 1974.
Williams’ true talent was his ability to write touching, often romantic song lyrics. His career as a songwriter solidified rapidly over a simple advertising jingle that he wrote for a bank commercial. The jingle, a collaborative effort between Williams and composer Roger Nichols, caught the ear of an up-and-coming singing duo called The Carpenters, comprised of Richard Carpenter and his sister, the late Karen Carpenter. The Carpenters recorded the song, called “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and in 1970 it climbed the charts to become their second major hit. The recycled bank jingle turned solid gold for The Carpenters, and it became one of their most popular recordings ever. “We’ve Only Just Begun” went on to sell over 2.5 million copies in the first two years of its release. The songwriting team of Nichols and Williams continued working together and found more success. They went on to write additional hits for Richard and Karen Carpenter, along with other new songs that were popularized by such artists as Johnny Mathis, Anne Murray, Three Dog Night, Bobby Sherman, and the Monkees.
The popularity of the Williams and Nichols songwriting team opened new doors for Williams as an individual creative talent and performer. Many of the tunes penned by Williams throughout his career became memorable hits. In 1971 he made a trip to Paris where he contributed the lyrics for Michel Colombier’s pop symphony, Wings. Upon his return, he collaborated with Barbra Streisand on the soundtrack of A Star Is Born which included the best-selling song “Evergreen.” The song won an Academy Award for song of the year in 1976. Additionally, A Star Is Born\Non two Golden Globe awards for Williams: one for the movie score, and another for the movie’s hit theme song, “Evergreen.” Williams’ songs were heard in other movies including Cinderella Liberty in 1973, The Day of the Locust in 1975, and Bugsy Malone in 1976. Williams scored the Muppets’ movie in the 1970s and the
For the Record…
Born on September 19, 1940, in Omaha, NE; son of Bertha Mae (Burnside) and Paul Williams, Sr.; married Katie Clinton; two children, Cole and Sarah; divorced; married Hilda Keenan Williams, April 16, 1993.
Starred in movies throughout the 1960s; has recorded albums with A&M Records including Just an Old-fashioned Love Song, 1971; Life Goes On, 1972; and Classics, 1977; part of songwriting team with Roger Nichols; the duo wrote hits such as “Out in the Country,” 1969; “We’ve Only Just Begun,” 1970; and “Rainy Days and Mondays,” 1971; scored Wings with Michel Colombier, 1971; scored A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand, 1976.
Awards: Academy Award, Song of the Year for “Evergreen,” 1976; Grammy Award, Song of the Year, 1976; Grammy Award, Best Recording for Children, 1976; Golden Globe Award for “Evergreen;” Golden Globe Award for the score of A Star Is Born.
Addresses: Office —8545 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069; Tugboat Productions, Lazy Creek Productions, 4508 Noeline Ave., Encina, CA 91436-3336.
Muppets’ Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol,” in 1993. Williams also wrote songs for the television series “The Love Boat” which aired from 1977-86.
Williams, a talented musician with a witty personality, plays the piano and the guitar. His name recognition grew when Williams began making personal appearances and performing his own hit songs. He appeared frequently on the Tonight Show, made appearances on Midnight Special, and released a number of solo albums on Herb Alpert’s A&M label. Williams proved himself to be a talented comedian and he resumed his acting career in a number of memorable movie appearances, including a recurring role as a harried bootlegger in a series of Smokey and the Bandit movies with Burt Reynolds in 1977, 1980, and 1983.
Williams dramatic talents unfolded on Broadway in 1989 when he portrayed Truman Capote in Tru. He played the Capote character once more in 1990 on NBC’s People Like Us. He later appeared in the film Seventh Veil, which was filmed in 1998. Additional television performances included a role in the pilot film of ABC’s The Fall Guy, which aired from 1981-86. Williams also starred in an ongoing role on the afternoon soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful for several months in the late 1990s.
Around 1980, the talented and plucky songwriter began a decade-long plunge into the world of substance abuse. The descent lasted until September of 1989 when he realized the severity of his addiction. Williams took it upon himself to call a psychiatrist and committed himself to a month-long rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. Williams took his private drug battle seriously and vowed to control his addiction for the rest of his life. He successfully reversed the direction of his life, and later put his efforts to work as an accredited counselor to assist others like himself who battle addiction. He became intensely involved in counseling work. Undeterred by past indiscretions, he moved forward optimistically in the companionship of his wife Hilda Keenan Williams, a former agent whom he married in 1993. Williams set out to make amends for his past follies and wanted in particular to reconcile with his two children from a former marriage who were nearly grown by that time.
Once an avid race car driver, Williams greatest pleasures involve simpler pursuits. He enjoys reading mystery stories and caring for a couple of pet rabbits. He maintains a high profile in the Musicians Assistance Program. As a member of the board and counselor for the group, Williams generously donates his time by traveling and lecturing about the evils of addiction. He also maintains a position on the board of the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
With a renewed spirit Williams went on to revive his career in the mid-1990s. By 1999 Williams was an established fixture in Nashville. He wrote new songs, went into contract negotiations with Atlantic records, and he established and operated a music publishing company that kept him constantly in transit between his home in Los Angeles and temporary accommodations in Tennessee. Williams’ “You’re Gone,” was a hit song for the Diamond Rio Band. Likewise “Party On,” recorded by Neil McCoy, was a hit on the country charts.
Williams is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and a trustee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. During the late 1990s, Williams testified before a congressional hearing in Nashville regarding copyright legislation that would affect the music industry.
“Out in the Country,” 1969.
Someday Man, Warner Brothers, 1970.
“We’ve Only Just Begun,” 1970.
Just an Old-fashioned Love Song, 1971.
“Rainy Days and Mondays,” 1971.
“An Old Fashioned Love Song,” 1972.
Life Goes On, 1972.
“The Rainbow Connection,” 1979.
Crazy for Loving You, 1981.
Billboard, February 13, 1999, p. 65.
People, December 21, 1998, p. 133.