The son of a musician and bandleader, Marvin Hamlisch was a child prodigy who was playing the piano from the age of five and just two years later attended the famous Julliard School of Music in New York City where he became their youngest ever student. Through his childhood friend Liza Minnelli he gained a position as a rehearsal pianist and junior vocal arranger for Broadway productions including Barbra Streisand's Funny Girl, while at the same time he was studying for his Bachelor of Arts at Queen's College. Before he had even graduated Minnelli included 'The Travelin' Life' on her 1964 debut album for Capitol Records Liza, Liza which he had co-written with lyricist Howard Liebling, a partnership that would also produce Hamlisch's first chart hit the following year. Performed by Lesley Gore and produced by Quincy Jones 'Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows' was a huge hit in the USA where it peaked at No 13 in the charts and featured in the Frankie Avalon teen musical movie Ski Party (Gore would also take Hamlisch & Liebling's 'California Nights' into the Top 20 in 1967.) Upon graduation he found himself playing the piano at one of film producer Sam Spiegel's parties and in a remarkable twist of fate was commissioned to compose the score for the 1968 Burt Lancaster cult film The Swimmer. Hamlisch's second score was for Woody Allen's 1969 movie Take The Money And Run and the pair worked together again on Allen's Bananas two years later.
Other soundtrack work included The April Fools (1969), Move (1970), The Last Warrior (1970), Something Big (1971), Kotch (1971), The War Between Men And Women (1972), The World's Greatest Athlete (1973) and Save The Tiger (1973). The latter was released in the same year as the two movies that would establish the composer as one of Hollywood's premier writers. The Way We Were, a moving romantic drama starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford was a phenominal global success while the theme song, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and performed by Streisand, sold over a million copies, topped the US charts and won an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for best original song while the score also won an Oscar. Hamlisch's second movie of that year also starred Robert Redford, this time teaming him with his Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid co-star Paul Newman in the 30s comedy crime drama The Sting. Featuring adaptations of Scott Joplin's ragtime tunes the film's Oscar winning score yielded the familiar single 'The Entertainer', a piano piece that highlighted Hamlisch's keyboard skills and became a No 3 hit in the USA where sales approached two million copies. It remains one of the most recognised pieces of music of all-time. Prior to his enormous movie success Hamlisch had appeared on stage with Groucho Marx acting as the octogenarian comedian's piano player for An Evening With Groucho at his 1972 Carnegie Hall concert.
In 1975 the composer teamed-up with new lyricist Edward Kleban and made his Broadway debut with the groundbreaking A Chorus Line which garnered him both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize and included such career boosting songs as 'What I Did For Love'. The composer often worked with his then girlfriend, singer/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager writing songs including 'Break It To Me Gently (Aretha Franklin) and 'Looking Through The Eyes Of Love' (Melissa Manchester) while they contributed the memorable 'Nobody Does It Better' sung by Carly Simon to the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Despite the end of their relationship the pair remained good friends and carried on working together. Neil Simon's Broadway musical They're Playing Our Song, which featured their songs and told the story of two songwriters, was based on them.
Hamlisch continued his multi-faceted career with numerous musicals and impressive film scores including the highlights; Ordinary People (1980), Sophie's Choice (1982), A Streetcar Named Desire (1984), the big screen version of A Chorus Line (1985), Three Men And A Baby (1987), Shirley Valentine (1989) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). He also served as musical director with several American orchestras and acted as conductor on tours and TV specials by Barbra Streisand and Linda Ronstadt. Marvin Hamlisch died aged sixty-eight in 2012, four months after a kidney transplant, although this was not thought to have been a factor.
A month after his death at a memorial service Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin sang some of his songs while the following February at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood Streisand performed 'The Way We Were' in his honour. With a catalogue of popular and enduring songs Hamlisch achieved much during his lifetime and while he won many awards he remains one of only two people (fellow composer Richard Rodgers is the other) whose total awards tally includes a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony.
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