Marvin Hamlisch died on August 7th, and left the world of music diminished by much. He was only 68 years old, and was, as always, neck high in the preparation of new works.
I met him in the early 1960s when he popped in one day at the office of the talent agency HBS, of which I was part owner (I was the “S”). He was seeking representation and I was the agent he approached because all my clients were in musical theatre. The only problem was Marvin hadn’t written any music yet, but he made it clear that one day soon he would write lots of it. In the meantime, he was looking for help in staying alive by using his many musical gifts to earn a living while waiting.
Marvin “popped up” everywhere. If you were in on the party circuit, you might find him playing the piano at a party given by Sam Spiegel for an A list of celebrities. In between the standards, Marvin would slip in an embryonic melody of his own, and when the evening was over, believe it or not, Spiegel offered the 24 year old pianist a job to compose the music for his upcoming major film, “The Swimmer” which was to star Burt Lancaster. It sounds like a fairy tale, but fairy dust always emanated from Marvin’s shoulders, and all he had to do was put himself out there for things to happen.
His interest was always primarily Broadway, so in order to earn his keep, he assisted on the vocal arrangements for Funny Girl in 1967, did the dance arrangements from 1967-1973 in quick succession for Henry, Sweet Henry, Golden Rainbow, Minnie’s Boys and Seesaw, where he was noticed by the rising star Michael Bennett.
When Bennett needed someone to add music to his workshop-developed A Chorus Line, Marvin jumped at the chance to work for $100 a week writing songs for this very iffy project that was being put together under the auspices of the Public Theatre and its guiding light, Joe Papp.
A musical about the hopes and dreams of a bunch of chorus dancers did not instantly create much of a buzz in the theatre community. Not until it began previews at the Public. The word spread quickly, and, in due time, the show was moved uptown to Broadway’s Shubert Theatre where it remained for 15 years, putting everyone connected with it pie high in the sky.
Others might have bought themselves a chalet in Switzerland or a mansion in Maui and retired to it between visits to road companies and foreign productions throughout the world. But not Marvin.
He began a relationship with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, and turned it into another musical, They’re Playing Our Song, launched on Broadway by producer Emanuel Azenberg in February 1979, with a book by reigning prince Neil Simon. It remained there for a mere 1082 performances, and gave employment to Robert Klein, Lucie Arnaz, Tony Roberts, Stockard Channing, Victor Garber and Anita Gillette in the course of its long run.
Visitations are open to the public
Sunday, August 12 and
Monday, August 13, 2012
2:00–5:00pm AND 7:00–9:00pm
Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home
1076 Madison Avenue
New York (81st & Madison)
Details and remembrances:
Hollywood beckoned, of course, and his first complete score, for the Streisand/Redford “The Way We Were” in 1974 made certain it would continue to beckon for the rest of his life. It also led to his first Oscar for best song, “Ordinary People.” “Sophie’s Choice” followed, as did his remarkable job of arranging Scott Joplin’s music in “The Sting.”
In 2009 he completed his final film, “The Informant” with Matt Damon. Producer Ken Davenport, in a recent blog, reminded us that he won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and a Pulitzer. Only Richard Rodgers shares that powerhouse combination.
Marvin never lost his sweet boyish enthusiasm or lack of pretension. The youngest-ever Julliard student, he once said to me, as I ran into him in the aisle of a Broadway theatre, “Thanks a lot for letting me hang out in your office in the early days.” Duh. He should have said, “Aren’t you sorry you didn’t sign me when I first popped up in your office?” But Marvin wasn’t mean, so he wouldn’t say that. I, however, didn’t speak to me for a week when that thought flashed through my mind.
A rare breed, this Hamlisch, and we are fortunate for having been around when he was.
There are many video tributes to Marvin Hamlisch. This latest one is from Barbra Streisand.
Richard Seff, who, in his career on Broadway has been a performer, agent, writer, and librettist, has written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com. Read more at RichardSeff.com
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