Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the scores of dozens of plays and movies, died in Los Angeles on August 2 at the age of 68. His songs were some of the most iconic of Hollywood and Broadway.
Hamlisch, the Pulitzer prize-winning composer of “A Chorus Line” and recipient of numerous Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards, was born in New York City to immigrant parents. His father was a professional accordion player and, seeing musical promise in his son, sent him to the famed Julliard School for piano lessons before he turned 7. As he recounted in many interviews, however, Marvin Hamlisch soon realized he wasn’t cut out to be a classical concert pianist. Instead, he turned his sights to pop music. He was 21 when he wrote Lesley Gore’s 1965 hit “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.”
It is for his Broadway and Hollywood scores that Marvin Hamlisch will be best remembered.
Hamlisch was only 29 when he swept the music categories at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974, becoming the first person to receive three Oscars on the same evening. That night, he won best scoring for “The Sting,” and best song and best original dramatic score for “The Way We Were.”
In July, Hamlisch received the first Legends Award from the film, television and digital media non-profit organization CINE at its 55th Annual Awards Gala. Mark Finkelpearl, a filmmaker and Cine Board member, says that during a question and answer session before the awards, Hamlisch explained that he had to fight to get “The Way We Were” the way he wanted it.
Composer Marvin Hamlisch performs at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, November 8, 2011.
“He played the piano for us in this little, tiny theater and showed clips from movies like 'The Way We Were' and 'The Sting' and talked about different scenes and how changing the music a little bit would change a scene completely. He didn’t like the final music cue in the scene between [Robert] Redford and Barbra Streisand outside the Plaza Hotel in 'The Way We Were.' And the director wouldn’t let him change it," Finkelpearl recalled. " [He said] ’You know what Marvin? We’re too far along, we don’t want to change it, I think it works. You’re overthinking it.’ And Marvin said ‘Look, I have to live with this movie for the rest of my life. And I know that I can make it better. I will take the money out of my fee to go back and redo the cue and lay it into the film the way that I think it should be laid in.’ And the director agreed to that. So he lost some money on the deal, but he got the cue the way he wanted it for the end of “The Way We Were.” It was a really, really poignant about craft. And about really elevating your craft to the point where if you’re not happy with it, if you can’t live with it, it’s not right.”
Finkelpearl added that it's not possible to overstate Hamlisch's importance.
"Marvin Hamlisch was a titan. There’s no one who can ever fill those shoes again," he noted. "Everything’s changed. Showbiz has changed, the movies have changed. There will never be another Marvin Hamlisch.”
Hamlisch’s latest musical theatre work is the Broadway-bound production of “The Nutty Professor,” based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis Movie. The show, with songs by Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes, just opened in Nashville. Producer Mac Pirkle says Hamlisch was a joy to work with.
“He’s got a very high level of excellence that he strives for in everything that he does," Pirkle recalled. "And that shows in the music that he did and shows in the detail of the arrangements that followed from his compositions. And shows in the work that he did with Rupert [Holmes].” They really have been able to explore the wide variety of emotions in the show in a beautiful way that is fun, it’s energetic, it provides great moments for dance, great moments for character insights. It’s great fun.”
A tireless worker, Hamlisch was also the principal Pops conductor for the Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Dallas, Seattle, San Diego and Pasadena Symphony Orchestras and next week was to announce that he’d taken on the same role with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Hamlisch was the recipient of four Grammy Awards, four Emmys, three Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize. That last honor came for “A Chorus Line” which ran for 6,137 performances on Broadway from 1975 to 1990. Hired by director Michael Bennett, he scored the lyrics and composed songs including “One (Singular Sensation)” and the oft covered ballad “What I Did For Love.”