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Marvin Hamlisch and “Nobody Does It Better”

Marvin_Hamlisch_-_1970s

Marvin Frederick Hamlisch (June 2, 1944 – August 6, 2012) was an American composer and conductor who was one of only twelve people to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards and one of only two people (along with Richard Rodgers) to have won those four prizes and a Pulitzer Prize.  Hamlisch was born in Manhattan, to Viennese-born Jewish parents Max and Lilly (née Schachter) Hamlisch.   His father was an accordionist and bandleader. Hamlisch was a child prodigy, and, by age five, he began mimicking the piano music he heard on the radio. A few months before he turned seven, in 1951, he was accepted into what is now the Juilliard School Pre-College Division.  His first job was as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. Shortly afterward, he was hired by producer Sam Spiegel to play piano at Spiegel’s parties. His favorite musicals growing up were My Fair Lady, Gypsy, West Side Story, and Bye Bye Birdie. Hamlisch attended Queens College, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1967.

Although Liza Minnelli’s debut album included “The Travelin’ Life,” a song that Hamlisch wrote in his teens (originally titled “Travelin’ Man”), his first hit did not come until he was 21 years old. This song, “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”, co-written with Howard Liebling, was recorded by Lesley Gore and reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1965. His first film score was for The Swimmer, after the film’s producer Sam Spiegel hired Hamlisch based on a piano performance Hamlisch did at a party. Later he wrote music for several early Woody Allen films such as Take the Money and Run and Bananas. In addition, Hamlisch co-wrote the song “California Nights” (also with Liebling), which was recorded by Lesley Gore for her 1967 hit album of the same name. The Bob Crewe-produced single peaked at #16 on the Hot 100 in March 1967, two months after Gore had performed the song on the Batman TV series, in which she guest-starred as an accomplice to Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.

Hamlisch’s first major stage work was in 1972 playing piano for Groucho Marx at Carnegie Hall for An Evening with Groucho. Hamlisch acted as both straight man and accompanist while Marx (at age 81) reminisced about his career in show business.  Among Hamlisch’s better-known works during the 1970s were adaptations of Scott Joplin’s ragtime music for the motion picture The Sting, including its theme song, “The Entertainer.”  It hit #1 on Billboard′s Adult Contemporary chart and #3 on the Hot 100, selling nearly 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. He had great success in 1973, winning two Academy Awards for the title song and the score for the motion picture The Way We Were and an Academy Award for the adaptation score for The Sting. He won four Grammy Awards in 1974, two for “The Way We Were.” He also earned ten Golden Globe Award nominations, winning twice for Best Original Song, with “Life Is What You Make It” in 1972 and “The Way We Were” in 1974.   In 1975, he wrote what, for its first 12 years, would be the original theme music for Good Morning America—it was built around four notes. He then composed the scores for the 1975 Broadway musical A Chorus Line, for which he won both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize; and for the 1978 musical They’re Playing Our Song, loosely based on his relationship with Carole Bayer Sager.  He co-wrote “Nobody Does It Better” for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) with his then-girlfriend Carole Bayer Sager, which would be nominated for an Oscar.

At the beginning of the 1980s, his romantic relationship with Bayer Sager ended, but their songwriting relationship continued. In the 1980s, he had success with the scores for Ordinary People (1980) and Sophie’s Choice (1982). The 1983 musical Jean Seberg, based on the life of the real-life actress, failed in its London production at the U.K.’s National Theatre and never played in the U.S.  In 1986, Smile was a mixed success and had a short run on Broadway.  He also received an Academy-Award nomination in 1986 for the film version of A Chorus Line. In May 1989, Hamlisch married Terre Blair, a native of Columbus, Ohio, who was the weather and news anchor for that city’s ABC affiliate, WSYX-Channel 6.  The marriage lasted until his death.  The Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed a rare Hamlisch classical symphonic suite titled Anatomy of Peace (Symphonic Suite in one Movement For Full Orchestra/Chorus/Child Vocal Soloist) on November 19, 1991.  His musical version of Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl (1993) closed after only 188 performances, although Hamlisch received a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music. Hamlisch was Musical Director and arranger of Barbra Streisand’s 1994 concert tour of the U.S. and England as well as of the television special, Barbra Streisand: The Concert, for which he received two of his Emmys. He also conducted several tours of Linda Ronstadt during this period, most notably on her successful 1996 Dedicated to the One I Love tour of arenas and stadiums.

Hamlisch was the primary conductor for the Pittsburgh Pops from 1995 until his death.  He also held the position of Principal Pops Conductor for the the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, The National Symphony Orchestra Pops, The Pasadena Symphony and Pops, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. At the time of his death, he was preparing to assume responsibilities as Principal Pops Conductor for The Philadelphia Orchestra. Hamlisch was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2008.  That same year, he appeared as a judge in the Canadian reality series Triple Sensation which aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The show was aimed to provide a training bursary to a talented young man or woman with the potential to be a leader in song, dance, and acting.  Also un 2008, Hamlisch was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. And he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 at the World Soundtrack Awards in Ghent, Belgium.

Hamlisch’s last projects included The Informant! (2009), starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Prior to his death, he completed his first children’s book Marvin Makes Music, which included the original music “The Music in My Mind” with words by Rupert Holmes, and the score for the HBO film Behind the Candelabra (2013), also directed by Soderbergh and starring Damon and Michael Douglas as Liberace.  Shortly before his death, Hamlisch finished scoring a musical theatre version of The Nutty Professor, based on the 1963 film. The show played in July and August 2012, at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in Nashville, aiming for a Broadway run. The book was by Rupert Holmes, and the production was directed by Jerry Lewis.  Hamlisch died on August 6, 2012. The cause of death was respiratory arrest (lung failure). Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli took turns singing songs by Hamlisch during a memorial service for the composer on September 18, 2012.  At the 2013 Academy Awards, Barbra Streisand sang “The Way We Were” in Hamlisch’s memory.

The following work by Marvin Hamlisch is contained in my collection:

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Nobody Does It Better (title/theme song).

 

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