Marvin Hamlisch has built a musical career worthy of much respect. He was musically gifted from an early age, studied music in college in New York, worked in the trade as a pianist and arranger, and wrote some popular songs for singers such as Liza Minelli. Having worked on the movie "The Swimmer" he moved to Hollywood scoring two Woody Allen comedies "Take the Money and Run" and "Bananas", "Save the Tiger" with Jack Lemmon, and earning an academy award nomination with the movie "Kotch" for his song "Life is what you make it", lyrics by Johnny Mercer and sung by Walter Matthau.
In 1974 he hit a career high in award terms with no less than 3 Oscars. Two were for the movie "The Way We Were" starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, winning Best Original Dramatic Score and Best Title Song with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The third Oscar was for the soundtrack to the movie The Sting (with Robert Redford again). For this film Hamlisch played and arranged some of Scott Joplin's piano rags such as The Entertainer (the title track) and Solace. The popularity of the resulting soundtrack was perhaps single-handedly responsible for the renewed interest in Ragtime in general which subsequently arose.
Hamlisch then went on to write his first Broadway show "A Chorus Line" (later made into a film) with lyricist Edward Kleban. Including songs such as "One" and "What We Did for Love" this was a major record-breaking success and resulted into another shower of awards. Hamlisch had a relationship with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager and together they wrote another Broadway show "They're Playing Our Song" reputed to be based upon their own relationship. That working partnership also continued on the James Bond movie "The Spy Who Loved Me" where their song "Nobody Does it Better" was a big hit for Carly Simon.
Other notable movies that he worked on in some capacity include "Ordinary People", "Three Men and A Baby" and "Pennies from Heaven" (as musical director). He worked again with Alan and Marilyn Bergman on other songs including "The Girl who Used to be Me" for "Shirley Valentine". The film version of "A Chorus Line" was Oscar-nominated for the song "Surprise, Surprise" as was the score for the Meryl Streep movie "Sophie's Choice". It is not surprising then that Barbra Streisand chose Hamlisch as musical director for her comeback tour in 1994. He also worked with Streisand on her film "The Mirror has Two Faces" which earned yet another Oscar nomination for the song "I've Finally Found Someone". All in all, I think you could say that Hamlisch's career to date has been exceptionally successful!
As far as we are aware Hamlisch stopped composing original film music for a few years, though he was still active in the world of film music, conducting Dimitri Tiomkin's music for "It's a Wonderful Life" in a series of concerts in December 2006. However, director Steven Soderbergh persuaded him to score his comedy "The Informant!" in 2009. The film is set in the 90s but the film has a retro-style in many ways, and Hamlisch's music seems to invoke a cross between 60s sitcom TV series and Henry Mancini. So while the film has a deadpan delivery, it is the style and music which helps to convey the light comedy.
We are saddened to report the death of Marvin Hamlisch on 6th August 2012 at the age of 68.
Worth seeking out are the songs from "A Chorus Line" and "Nobody Does it Better" from the "The Spy Who Loved Me". Naturally we also want to recommend the soundtrack to The Sting and suggest a look at our overview of Ragtime.
Here are some CD covers signed by Marvin Hamlisch. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click a thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.