The Music Man: Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012)

7 Aug

(^ Left to Right: Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, and Marvin Hamlisch celebrating their shared Academy award for “The Way We Were” at the 1973/74 Oscars.)

How shocking it was for Michael and me to turn on the TV this morning and to see a scroll announcing the death of composer Marvin Hamlisch at the relatively young age of 68.  Hamlisch was a mere 29 years old when he won three Oscars in one night for his contributions to a pair of huge 1973 films, The Sting and The Way We Were. For the former, he was honored in the “Best Original Song Score and/or Adaptation” category for pairing the music of ragtime composer Scott Joplin to the Great Depression era antics of the smooth, ridiculously handsome confidence men played by Paul Newman and Oscar nominee Robert Redford.  Purists scoffed at the way Joplin’s music was reappropriated, but it was a perfect if unlikely fit, a nifty audio complement to the onscreen action–and it introduced the composer to a whole generation or two. Hamlisch’s other awards were for The Way We Were‘s original “dramatic” score as well as a shared honor for composing the music to the movie’s “classic” signature tune (with lyrics by the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman) made famous by Best Actress nominee Barbra Streisand.  I was watching the Oscars that night–with my grandma in her bedroom–and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how ecstatic Hamlisch was–how he beamed–every time he was called back to the podium to collect another statuette. Yeah, The Sting was the big winner that year, what with victories in 7 categories including Best Picture,  but–ask anybody who was watching–it was definitely Hamlisch’s night.  I thought we was adorable, and the thrill of his success is one reason why  I keep watching the Oscars year after year. We need more Hamlisch. Oh yeah, I’m also happy to report that we had well-worn vinyl copies of both the complete soundtrack to The Sting and a 45/single of “The Way We Were” in our home. Now, that was living.

Hamlisch’s triple victory wasn’t exactly a first as Billy Wilder had already accomplished a similar feat by producing, directing, and co-writing 1960’s Best Picture champ, The Apartment; likewise, Walt Disney had taken home more than one award in one evening, including a set of four at the 1953/54 ceremony (in the categories of feature length documentary, documentary short subject, cartoon short, and two-reel short subject). Of course, Disney’s Oscars were not necessarily for work he created himself, and both he and Wilder were fully mature men when they scored big.  Did I mention that Hamlisch was only 29 at the time of his first major triumph? Of course I did. Wow! Where do you go when you’ve seemingly reached the pinnacle of your career before you’ve even turned 30? (Fact: he turned 30 shortly afterward.)

  • Well, Hamlisch soared to even greater heights, becoming one of a select few individuals to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony (often referred to as an EGOT). So much for the so-called Oscar jinx.
  • His first Emmy was for 1995’s Barbra: The Concert on HBO (that would be Barbra Streisand, natch.) He earned a total of seven Emmy nods and won three times.
  • He won four Grammy awards, including Best New Artist (1974) as well as yet more accolades for The Way We Were soundtrack, giving him another incredible triple play evening.
  • Hamlisch’s Tony was for the long-running landmark Broadway musical, A Chorus Line. Two of the best known songs from the show include the catchy, “One” (One singular sensation. Every little step s/he takes…”) and the evergreen “What I Did for Love” (“Kiss today goodbye, the sweetness and the sorrow…”).
  • He shared the Pulitzer prize for A Chorus Line with Michael Bennett (director-choreographer),  James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante (book), and Edward Kleban (lyrics).
  • He reportedly holds the distinction with Richard Rodgers of being the only composers to win not only the  coveted EGOT but also a Pulitzer.

His wealth of accomplishments also includes…

  • a total of 12 Oscar nominations, including a pair for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me (collaborating with Carole Bayer Sager on the song “Nobody Does It Better) and a nod for “Surprise, Surprise,” a number that he and Kleban composed for the 1985 movie version of A Chorus Line.
  • an additional 11 Golden Globe nominations, claiming the trophy for “The Way We Were” and “Life is What You Make It”  from 1971’s Kotch (another shared nod–this one with celebrated American songwriter Johnny Mercer).
  • four awards from the American Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (ASACP)

Hamlisch and one-time partner Carole Bayer Sager were once a romantic item as well and collaborated, with no less than ever-popular  playwright Neil Simon, on the successful Broadway musical They’re Playing Our Song, starring Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein. The show was based on the real-life relationship between the composer and the lyricist; it ran for over 1000 performances, beginning in 1979.  He married Terre Blair in 1989.  His most recent offering is/was the long awaited stage version of the Jerry Lewis classic The Nutty Professor. The production has been in the planning stages for quite awhile and recently opened in Nashville as a tryout for an anticipated Broadway run.

He was young when he began his career,  first as  a child prodigy at Julliard and then later composing “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows,” a 1965 hit for Lesley Gore. Hamlisch was 21 at the time. Today, he passed from this earth all too soon, it seems, but, oh, what a life. What a career. What a legacy. What music to our collective ears!

Thanks, Marvin…

Official Hamlisch website:

USA Today obituary:

Hamlisch at the Internet Movie Database:

Hamlisch at the Internet Broadway Database:

Hamlisch and the Grammy awards:

Broadway: The Musical (PBS):

Wilder at the IMDb:

Disney at the IMDb:

Richard Rodgers at the IMDb:

Richard Rodgers at the IBDb:


One Response to “The Music Man: Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012)”

  1. vinnieh 19 October 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Great tribute to an outstanding composer.

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