HARNICK, SHELDON (1924– ), U.S. songwriter. Born and raised in Chicago, Harnick began studying the violin while in grammar school. After service in the army for three years, he enrolled in the Northwestern University School of Music and earned a bachelor of music degree in 1949. Though his focus had been on the violin, Harnick developed skills as a writer of comedy sketches, songs, and parody lyrics. By the early 1950s, Harnick had moved to New York to try his skill on Broadway. His first song in a Broadway show, "The Boston Beguine," for New Faces of 1952, introduced theatergoers to the wry, subtle humor and deft wordplay indicative of a Harnick lyric. For the next few years, he contributed lyrics and songs to several Broadway shows before he joined up with Jerry *Bock to write their own musicals. Their first, The Body Beautiful, was a moderate success, and in 1959 they wrote Fiorello!, about the legendary, half-Jewish, combative former mayor of New York City. It won the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony award, and Drama Critics' Circle award as best musical of the year. Next was Tenderloin in 1960, set in the seamy Tenderloin district of late 19th-century New York. That was followed in 1963 by She Loves Me, a musical set in a pre-World War ii ice cream parlor in Budapest whose songs like "Vanilla Ice Cream" and "She Loves Me" became classics.
These shows were a prelude to Harnick and Bock's greatest success, Fiddler on the Roof, in 1964, starring Zero *Mostel as Tevya the dairyman with five daughters. Working with the director-choreographer Jerome *Robbins and the book writer, Joseph Stein, they created a musical masterpiece that vividly evoked a vanished community while telling a story with universal and timeless appeal. Fiddler, based on a series of short stories by *Shalom Aleichem, earned the Tony award and a gold record for both its Broadway cast album and film soundtrack recordings. In 1971, with the Broadway production still running, the film version, starring Chaim *Topol, was released and played worldwide. The following year the stage production, with such songs as "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset," Do You Love Me?," and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me a Match," became the longest-running show in Broadway history with more than 3,000 performances, until that record was eclipsed in 1979. Over the years, the show has been performed thousands of times all over the world in dozens of languages, common and obscure.
After Fiddler, Bock and Harnick collaborated on The Apple Tree in 1966, three one-act musicals, and The Rothschilds (1970), a musical based on the founding of the banking dynasty. The partnership foundered at that point, but Harnick went on to collaborate with a number of well-known Broadway and film figures, including Richard *Rodgers, Mary *Rodgers, Michel Legrand, and Joe Raposo. Harnick also provided English-language librettos for classical operas and oratorios, including works by Stravinsky, Ravel, Mozart, Bach, and Verdi. He also wrote the theme songs for two films, both with music by Cy *Coleman: The Heartbreak Kid in 1972 and Blame It on Rio in 1984.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]