Biography: (updated 2009-10-03)
Hamlisch was born in New York City to Viennese Jewish parents, Lilly Schachter and Max Hamlisch. His father was an accordionist and bandleader. Hamlisch was a child prodigy and by age five he began mimicking music he heard on the radio on the piano. A few months before he turned seven, in 1951, he was accepted into what is now the Juilliard School Pre-College Division. However anxiety issues kept him from pursuing a career as a concert pianist, leading instead to composition, specifically for film and theatre. His first job was as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand. Shortly after that he was hired by producer Sam Spiegel to play piano at Spiegel's parties. This connection led to his first film score, The Swimmer.
Hamlisch later attended night classes at Queens College. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1967. In 2007, he received the Q Award, presented to Queens College alumni who have served as role models for the college.
Although Liza Minnelli's debut album included a song written in his teens, his first hit did not come until he was 21 years old. This song, Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows, was sung by Lesley Gore. (The song later figured prominently in the 'Marge on the Lam' episode of The Simpsons) His first film score was for The Swimmer although he had done some music for films as early as 1965. Later he wrote music for several Woody Allen early films, such as Take the Money and Run. In addition, Hamlisch co-wrote the song 'California Nights' with Howard Liebling, which was recorded by Lesley Gore on her 1967 hit album of the same name. The song was on the pop charts as high as number 16.
Among his best known work during the 1970s were adaptations of Scott Joplin's ragtime music for the motion picture The Sting, including its theme song, 'The Entertainer'. He had great success with The Way We Were in 1974, winning two of his three 1974 Academy Awards. He also won four Grammy Awards in 1974, two for 'The Way We Were.' He co-wrote 'Nobody Does It Better' for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me with his then-girlfriend Carole Bayer Sager. (John Barry was unable to work in the United Kingdom due to tax reasons.) He also wrote the orchestral/disco score for the film, which was re-recorded for the album. The song went on to be nominated for an Oscar in 1977.
In the 1980s he had success with the scores for Ordinary People (1980) and Sophie's Choice (1982). He also received an Academy Award nomination in 1986 for the film version of A Chorus Line.
He composed the score for the 1975 Broadway musical A Chorus Line, for which he won both a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and They're Playing Our Song, loosely based on his relationship with Carole Bayer Sager. His other stage work has been met with mixed reception.
At the beginning of the 1980s his romantic relationship with Bayer Sager ended, but their songwriting relationship continued. The 1983 musical Jean Seberg, on the tragic life of the actress, failed in its London production at the UK's National Theatre and never played in the US. In 1986, Smile was a mixed success, but he did gain some note for the song Disneyland. The musical version of Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl (1993) closed after only 188 performances, although he received a Tony Award nomination.
Currently, he is Principal Pops Conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra (the first person to hold this position), the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the San Diego Symphony, the Seattle Symphony, and most recently, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, starting in 2009-10.