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As one of the most gifted and decorated film composers of his generation, Marvin Hamlisch became one of only two people in history to amass an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize in his lifetime. It was small wonder that Hamlisch achieved such greatness, having scored some of the biggest, most memorable films in cinema history, including "The Sting" (1974), "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), "Ordinary People" (1980) and "Sophie's Choice" (1982). But it was his longtime collaboration with Barbra Streisand that earned Hamlisch acclaim on both stage and screen. Starting with his chance hiring as a rehearsal pianist for the Broadway debut of "Funny Girl" (1964), Hamlisch and Streisand established themselves as a vibrant collaborative force with the romantic drama, "The Way We Were" (1973). Years later, he joined Streisand as the conductor for her 1994 concert tour, which was filmed for HBO and earned him two Emmy Awards. Following his Oscar-nominated music for her star vehicle, "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996), he won another Emmy for arranging and conducting the music for the television special, "Barbra Streisand - Timeless" (Fox, 2001), which confirmed that Hamlisch was perhaps the...
As one of the most gifted and decorated film composers of his generation, Marvin Hamlisch became one of only two people in history to amass an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize in his lifetime. It was small wonder that Hamlisch achieved such greatness, having scored some of the biggest, most memorable films in cinema history, including "The Sting" (1974), "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), "Ordinary People" (1980) and "Sophie's Choice" (1982). But it was his longtime collaboration with Barbra Streisand that earned Hamlisch acclaim on both stage and screen. Starting with his chance hiring as a rehearsal pianist for the Broadway debut of "Funny Girl" (1964), Hamlisch and Streisand established themselves as a vibrant collaborative force with the romantic drama, "The Way We Were" (1973). Years later, he joined Streisand as the conductor for her 1994 concert tour, which was filmed for HBO and earned him two Emmy Awards. Following his Oscar-nominated music for her star vehicle, "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996), he won another Emmy for arranging and conducting the music for the television special, "Barbra Streisand - Timeless" (Fox, 2001), which confirmed that Hamlisch was perhaps the single most accomplished composer working in Hollywood.
Born on June 2, 1944 in New York, NY, Hamlisch was raised by his mother, Lilly, and his father, Max, a musician from Vienna who emigrated to America in order to escape the Nazis. A child prodigy, Hamlisch displayed his prowess early when he began mimicking songs from the radio on the piano. At seven years old, he became the youngest student ever to be admitted to the famed Juilliard School of Music, where he spent the next 13 years studying his craft. But since he had performance anxiety, Hamlisch was limited to learning composition and theory, rather than focusing on becoming a concert pianist. After he left Juilliard in 1964, he was hired as a rehearsal pianist for the Broadway production of "Funny Girl," which starred Barbra Streisand in the role that made her a star. Also that year, his song, "Travelin' Man," was recorded by Liza Minnelli on her debut album, Liza! Liza! (1964). But his first hit came the following year when he co-wrote the bouncy "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," which Lesley Gore recorded and turned into a hit in 1965. He subsequently co-wrote another of Gore's hits, "California Nights" (1967), but by this time Hamlisch had already made in-roads in Hollywood. During that time, he spent four years earning his bachelor's degree from City College, graduating in 1967.
After serving as a vocal arranger on "The Bell Telephone Hour" (NBC, 1959-1968), where he collaborated with such stars as Lena Horne and Tony Bennett, Hamlisch had his first break as a film composer through something of a fluke. At a party given by Sam Spiegel, he was hired to play piano and so impressed the famous producer that he hired Hamlisch to score "The Swimmer" (1968). The haunting themes he created did much to enhance this character study about a wealthy advertising man (Burt Lancaster) confronting his disturbing past. With his film career on track, he went on to work with Woody Allen twice; first on "Take the Money and Run" (1969), then on "Bananas" (1971), while in between he scored "The April Fools" (1969), a romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon, Catherine Deneuve and Peter Lawford. With his song "Life Is What You Make It," which he co-wrote with Jonny Mercer for the bittersweet drama, "Kotch" (1971), Hamlisch earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. While the writing duo did win a Golden Globe Award, they lost the Academy Award to Isaac Hayes' "Theme from 'Shaft'".
Within two years, however, Hamlisch made cinema history by becoming the second person to win three Oscars in one evening; with the first being Billy Wilder in 1960. The first came for his adaptation of several Scott Joplin rags for "The Sting" (1973), while the second and third were for his lush romantic score and title song, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, for "The Way We Were" (1973), starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Hamlisch next turned his attention to the Broadway stage, creating the music for the landmark Broadway show, "A Chorus Line" (1975). While initial critical reaction overlooked the score in favor of the dazzling production and Michael Bennett's outstanding direction and choreography, audiences particularly responded to the music. In fact, the ballad "What I Did for Love" eventually became a modern standard. His exemplary work earned Hamlisch a Tony Award for Best Score, which he shared with lyricist Edward Kleban, and the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, which he won alongside Kleban, and novel writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. Meanwhile, "A Chorus Line" held the record as the longest-running musical in Broadway history until June 1997, when Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" surpassed it.
Though capable in a number of idioms, Hamlisch was particularly adept at incorporating a pop sensibility into his compositions, as he did with the James Bond movie, "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977). The music, which featured a disco-funk version of the James Bond theme during the exhilarating opening ski chase, earned him more Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for "Nobody D s It Better," performed by Carly Simon. Hamlisch found himself in Oscar contention once again for the original song "The Last Time I Felt Like This" from "Same Time, Next Year" (1978), starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. After a mixed critical reception for the stage outing, "They're Playing Our Song" (1978), loosely based on his romantic relationship with lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, Hamlisch received an Academy Award nod for his song "Through the Eyes of Love" from the romantic sports drama "Ice Castles" (1979). Hamlisch next adapted the music for Robert Redford's directorial debut, "Ordinary People" (1980), which he followed by arranging the period music for "Pennies From Heaven" (1981).
Hamlisch continued to create award-worthy music with the score for "Sophie's Choice" (1982), which earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. Though his relationship with Bayer Sager was now over, the two remained professional collaborators, writing songs for musicals like "Jean Seberg" (1983) and "Smile" (1986). Back on the big screen, an adaptation of Hamlisch's stage success, "A Chorus Line" (1985), earned him an Academy Award nomination for the song "Surprise, Surprise." Hamlisch next settled into a string of not-so-inspired scores for movies like "D.A.R.Y.L." (1985), "Three Men and a Baby" (1987) and "Little Nikita" (1988). He turned in another Oscar-caliber effort with the song "The Girl Who Used to Be Me" from "Shirley Valentine" (1989). After writing the scores for "January Man" (1989), "Missing Pieces" (1991) and "Frankie and Johnny" (1991), Hamlisch began turning more to television, including scoring the theme song for "Brooklyn Bridge" (CBS, 1991-93), which earned him his first Emmy Award nomination. A return to the stage to arrange the music for Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" (1993) was met with scorn from both critics and audiences, resulting in one of the worst failures of his career.
Hamlisch earned his greatest small screen acclaim for arranging and directing the music for "Barbra: The Concert" (HBO, 1994), which bestowed upon him Emmys for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music Direction. Reuniting with Streisand on the big screen, he earned his 12th Oscar nomination with a nod for Best Original Song for "I Finally Found Someone" from "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996). The song was co-written with rock star Bryan Adams, Adams' frequent collaborator Robert John 'Mutt' Lange, and Streisand herself. In 1999, Hamlisch collaborated with Bayer Sager on the song "With You" for "AFI's 100 Years 100 Stars" (CBS), which earned the songwriting duo an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music and Lyrics. His success with Streisand continued unabated when his music arrangements and direction gave him another Emmy Award for his work on "Barbra Streisand - Timeless" (Fox, 2001). That same year, he earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Music and Lyrics for the song "On the Way to Becoming Me" for the television special, "American Film Institute Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Barbra Streisand" (Fox, 2001).
As he entered into the 21st century, Hamlisch scored films and television projects with lesser frequency while he concentrated on conducting for various symphonies across the United States, including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. After scoring the music for the made-for-television drama, "Candles on Bay Street" (CBS, 2007), Hamlisch returned to cinema scoring after an eight-year absence to compose the music for "The Informant!" (2009), director Steven Soderbergh's manic black comedy about hot-shot Archer-Daniels executive, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), who turns FBI informant, only to find himself jailed for embezzlement. For his work on the film, Hamlisch received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture. In that same year, he arranged the music for the TV special "Liza's at the Palace" (PBS, 2009), which featured Liza Minnelli in a Broadway show that included a revised version of her mother's tribute to vaudeville. After serving as the conductor for "Idina Menzel Live: Barefoot at the Symphony" (PBS, 2012), Hamlisch was preparing to reunite with Soderbergh to score the director's Liberace biopic, "Behind the Candelabra," but on Aug. 6, 2012, he suddenly died following a brief undisclosed illness. Hamlisch had showed no signs of slowing down, and just weeks before his death he had vigorously conducted a concert with the Pasadena Pops featuring Michael Feinstein, which fittingly ended with a rendition of "The Way We Were." He was 68 years old and left behind a legacy as one of the most decorated conductors of the latter 20th century.
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Hamlisch also composed the theme for the TV show, "Good Morning, America."
When he picked up his 1995 Emmy, Hamlisch became the sixth person to win each of the four major entertainment awards in competition. (Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Rodgers, Rita Moreno and John Gielgud were the other five.) In 2001, two more people joined that elite club: Mel Brooks and Mike Nichols.
On why he has more or less stopped composing film scores, Hamlisch told Susan King of the Los Angeles Times (July 27, 2000): "To tell you the truth, there's really only so much time, and I really want to do some more Broadway shows before I pack it in."
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