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Marvin Hamlisch, Movie And Broadway Composer, Has Died

Aug 7, 2012
Originally published on September 18, 2012 7:22 pm

Marvin Hamlisch won just about every big-time award there is — Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, a Tony and a Pulitzer. He wrote music for The Sting, A Chorus Line and dozens of other movies, stage shows and TV specials. Hamlisch died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 68.

Hamlisch was precocious. When he was 7, he started at Juilliard. "My big thing at Juilliard — because I hadn't taken that many piano lessons at that point — was not that I could play Bach or Beethoven, but that I could play 'Goodnight Irene' in any key," Hamlisch told NPR's Scott Simon in 1987. "Between that and my Lord Fauntleroy suit, I got in."

Just shy of his 30th birthday, at the 1974 Academy Awards, Hamlisch won three Oscars: one for his score for The Sting, an adaptation of Scott Joplin rags that helped spark renewed interest in Joplin, and both original song and original score, for The Way We Were.

The star of that film, Barbra Streisand, said in a statement that she's devastated. "He was my dear friend. He's been in my life ever since the first day I met him in 1963, when he was my rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl. He played at my wedding in 1998," she writes. "He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being."

Hamlisch won his Pulitzer for A Chorus Line, which opened in 1975. In that show, Hamlisch's music tells as much of a story as Edward Kleban's lyrics, says Donna McKechnie, who played Cassie in the original Broadway cast. McKechnie remembers when director and choreographer Michael Bennett sat the entire cast down to hear — for the first time — one of the songs from the show.

"Marvin played the piano. He played 'At the Ballet.' It was so stunning. I knew immediately when I heard that, that we were into something good," she says. "That is the most beautiful song to convey the simple everyday feelings of a dancer."

Hamlisch seemed to have an endless supply of imagination, energy and passion, says McKechnie. They were even planning a concert together before he died.

In his interview with Scott Simon, Hamlisch admitted that his childhood fantasy was to play center field in the seventh game in the World Series. "And you'd hear, 'He's going back, he's going back,' " said Hamlisch, then making the sound effects of a roaring crowd after he caught the ball. "But that's not what I do. That's not my gift."

Liza Minnelli knew what his gift was. She wrote on her Facebook wall that she and Hamlisch had been friends since they were teenagers. "I have lost my first lifelong best friend, and sadly we have lost a splendid, splendid talent."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A major force in American popular music has died. Marvin Hamlisch wrote music for The Sting and "A Chorus Line" and for dozens of other movies, TV specials and musicals. He was 68.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation of a man who conquered the world of American entertainment, winning an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and a Tony.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Marvin Hamlisch won just about every award there is, sometimes more than once.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: For "The Sting," Hamlisch adopted Scott Joplin rags. That won him an Oscar and sparked a Joplin revival.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: One Academy Award would have been a major victory for a composer who was just shy of his 30th birthday, but in 1974, Marvin Hamlisch won two other Oscars for original song and original score for "The Way We Were."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY WE WERE")

BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) Misty, watercolor memories of the way we were.

BLAIR: Three Oscars in one year and to think, that was before "Singular Sensation." Every song in "A Chorus Line" is considered a winner.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SINGULAR SENSATION")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) One thrilling combination, every move that she makes. One smile and suddenly nobody else will do...

BLAIR: Marvin Hamlisch's music tells as much of a story as Edward Kleban's lyrics, says Donna McKechnie, who played Cassie in the original Broadway cast. McKechnie remembers when choreographer Michael Bennett sat the entire cast down to hear for the first time one of the songs from "A Chorus Line."

DONNA MCKECHNIE: And Marvin played at the piano "At the Ballet." It was so stunning for all of us, so I thought I knew immediately when I heard that that, now, we're into something good because that is the most beautiful song to convey the simple, you know, everyday feelings of a dancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT THE BALLET")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Yes everything was beautiful at the ballet. I was pretty. I was happy. I was loved too at the ballet.

BLAIR: Imagination, energy and passion. Donna McKechnie says Marvin Hamlisch seemed to have an endless supply. She says they were even planning a concert together before he died.

Marvin Hamlisch grew up playing music. His dad was an accordionist and a band leader. When he was seven, he went to Julliard. In 1987, Marvin Hamlisch sat down at the piano with NPR's Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

MARVIN HAMLISCH: And my big thing at Julliard - now, this is true - because I had not really taken many piano lessons up to that point - was not that I could play Bach or Beethoven. My thing was that I could play "Good Night Irene" in any key, so I'd come in. They'd say, what are you going to play? I said...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAMLISCH: They said, what else do you do? I go...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAMLISCH: Between that and my Lord Fauntleroy suit, I got in.

SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: Why didn't you want to play little league or something? Why was it so important that you - at the age of seven?

HAMLISCH: Oh, you don't understand something. My fantasy was to be the guy, say, in center field and you hear, he's going back. He's going back, back, back, back. (Unintelligible). And the people - you know, I mean, that's what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a baseball - I love baseball, so - but that's not what I do. That's not my gift.

BLAIR: No. Marvin Hamlisch, your gift was to knock it out of the ballpark with melodies that will make people cheer for a very long time. Marvin Hamlisch died Monday. He was 68. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.