Extraordinary Composer Marvin Hamlisch Dies Suddenly and Unexpectedly

D. Chandler–Contributor

Los Angeles Times writer, Carolyn Cole once wrote that Marvin Hamlisch was “a showman as well as a versatile composer, [he] conquered an early fear of performing to become a draw on the nightclub circuit and later was principal pops conductor for several major symphonies.

Cole wrote those kind words while Hamlisch was alive, with his unexpected passing this past Monday money others have joined her chorus.

Winner of three Academy Awards,  Marvin Hamlisch, 68, suddenly died after he collapsed from a brief illness.

Hamlisch’s talent was ripely blooming by age 7 when he gained acceptance into the Julliard School of Music.

In a career that spanned over four decades, Hamlisch won virtually every major award: multiple Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony, three Golden Globes, and is best known for the torch song “The Way We Were.”

One of the most decorated composers in entertainment, Hamlisch was already famous as an all-around wunderkind when he began work on “A Chorus Line.” A child prodigy, he was accepted into Julliard at the age of six—the youngest child ever to be welcomed by the august Manhattan institution. His first Broadway job was as rehearsal pianist for “Funny Girl” starring Barbra Streisand—a professional relationship that would last his entire life. Producer Sam Spiegel hired him to play piano at his parties, where he made connections, leading to his writing his first film score, for “The Swimmer” starring Burt Lancaster. Many more film scores followed.

It seemed his fate to brush up against show business legends while on his way up the ladder. He wrote songs for Liza Minnelli, worked with Judy Garland and was accompanist and straight man for Groucho Marx during a 1974-1975 tour.

Hamlisch was drafted by Bennett and paired with the fussy, eccentric lyricist Ed Kleban, a former executive at Columbia Records with no previous theatre credits. It was an odd couple pairing if there ever was one, but it produced a timeless result. The score was episodic, with each song telling the life story of one or more characters. The show included two modern classics: the hopeful “What I Did for Love,” which Kleban and Mr. Hamlisch reportedly wrote under protest, as they considered it a commercial “sell-out” number; and “One,” the show’s finale. It’s throbbing, hop-step opening vamp is one of the best known theatre anthems in musical history, and is known to millions.

His musical scores, though intricately conceived, never drew attention to themselves. They served to compliment the on-screen action, not overwhelm it — enhancing each gesture, each glance, each moment of drama. That subtle approach allowed him to be something of a musical chameleon, easily gliding from searing dramas to off-beat comedies and making him a close collaborator to a diverse group of directors, such as Woody Allen, Steven Soderbergh and Alan J. Pakula.

He followed up “A Chorus Line” with another hit, though one of a far smaller scale. “They’re Playing Our Song” had lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and a book by Neil Simon. The two-character musical was based on the real-life relationship between Hamlisch and Sager, and follows the two mismatched songwriters—he is focused and all business, she is flighty and distracted—as they go through a series of bumps in forging both a professional and romantic relationship. After a tryout in Los Angeles, it ran for two-and-a-half years on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical.

Perhaps his greatest collaboration was with Barbra Streisand, for whom he penned the signature love anthem “The Way We Were.” He wrote the score for her 1996 film, “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” He also served as musical director and arranger of Streisand’s 1994 concert tour and the television special, “Barbra Streisand: The Concert,” for which he won two Emmys

In a 2010 interview with Broadway World, Hamlisch said he drew on the lovelorn masterpiece “My Funny Valentine” to write the theme song to “The Way We Were” because he wanted to capture the highs and lows of romance.

“It was all almost like a very yin-yang sort of movie,” Hamlisch said. “I wanted to write something that was uplifting and positive. On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of bitter-sweetness to that film — and bittersweet romance — so, it’s a real duality. And that’s why I think the song — though it’s in the major mode — is quite sad.”

Hamlisch’s deft touch can be felt in the scores for such diverse films as “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Bananas,” “Save the Tiger,” “The Informant!” and his latest effort, “Behind the Candelabra,” an upcoming HBO film about the life of Liberace.

His many film scores included “Ordinary People,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run” and “The Informant!” He co-wrote the song “Nobody Does It Better” for the movie “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

In recent years, he composed some classical works, and frequently conducted symphony orchestras.

Just two weeks ago on July 21, 2012, Hamlisch was still actively conducting the Pasadena Pops. Thus, his death has come as a terrible and unexpected lose for his family and all those who loved his music.

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