Bock, Jerry

views updated


BOCK, JERRY (1928– ), U.S. composer. One of the most successful Broadway theater composers of the 1960s (Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me), Jerrold Lewis Bock was born in New Haven, Conn., and grew up in Queens, n.y. He took up the piano and composition as a boy. He wrote his first musical in public school, wrote another in high school, which was produced at the school, and wrote the show Big as Life, which was staged in 1948 at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a student. Beginning after his graduation, he teamed with Larry Holofcener to write special musical material for television. In 1956 he composed his first complete Broadway score for Mr. Wonderful, starring Sammy *Davis Jr., and two years later began his successful collaboration with Sheldon *Harnick. Their first production, The Body Beautiful, was a flop, but they enjoyed working together and a year later produced Fiorello!, based on the life of the New York mayor, Fiorello H. *La Guardia. The show won a Pulitzer Prize. Another New York-inspired musical, Tenderloin, followed in 1960. Perhaps the best Bock-Harnick score was produced for the 1963 musical She Loves Me, based on the 1940 Ernst *Lubitsch film The Shop Around the Corner. The story, involving two bickering workers in a Budapest parfumerie who fall in love through an exchange of letters, contained such long-lasting songs as "Vanilla Ice Cream," "Will He Like Me," and "A Trip to the Library."

In 1964 the Bock-Harnick collaboration provided the score for Fiddler on the Roof, which contained the classics "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man," and "Sunrise, Sunset." The show, with Zero *Mostel portraying Sholom *Aleichem's Tevye the milkman, became the most popular musical and longest-running show in the history of Broadway and spawned productions worldwide in dozens of languages. It won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and was revived a number of times on Broadway. A 1971 film version, with song and story about shtetl life, starred the Israeli actor Chaim *Topol and was hugely successful. The family's story, of living in poverty, of Jews facing religious discrimination and pogroms, of the difficulties of raising a family in changing times, contained universal messages, and audiences around the world were quick to relate to them.

The team went on to write Baker Street, built around the character of Sherlock Holmes, and The Apple Tree, adapted from the work of Mark Twain, but these did not achieve the success of their previous work. The last Bock-Harnick project was The Rothschilds, an original musical based on the history of the banking family. It had its Broadway debut in 1970 and ran for more than a year.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]