Hamlisch on Hamlisch

The maestro recalls some memories from his work

"The Swimmer" (1968)
I got a call to play the piano at a party. I said, "Well, I don't really do parties," but the woman who called said, "It's (producer) Sam Spiegel's party." I said, "I'll be there in 10 minutes." So I went and played the party and people were gathering around the piano and it went well. Spiegel asked me if I wrote music and I said yes, so he told me he was about to start making a movie of John Cheever's novella "The Swimmer." I went out and read the book and then called him up and asked if I could come over. He said, "What for?' and I said, "I want to play you the theme for 'The Swimmer.' " He said, "But we haven't even started shooting yet!" So I go over anyway and play what I'd written and he went gaga for it. Every time I played it for him he'd go grab a neighbor to come listen to it. That party changed my life.

"The Way We Were" (1973)
Big challenge. You know you're writing for Barbara Streisand so you want it to be perfect. It was an absolute privilege and joy to work with the Bergmans who have become my lifelong friends. We always joke about the fact that when we went to Barbara's home to play her the song, you had the three of us singing the song to her. Barbara Streisand is in the room and we're the ones singing. It was crazy.

"The Sting" (1973)
Before I saw the movie I wondered if I wanted to adapt music as opposed to compose music. Then I saw it and called my agent and said, "I'd pay them to do the movie." Also, and a lot of people don't know this, but I was the body double for both Newman and Redford. That's something I've always tried to keep very, very quiet.

"Ordinary People" (1980)
This was a hard job for me. It was difficult. The experience of that family was so wildly different from anything that I had experienced. So I had to really immerse myself in that world. Also, I went to lunch one day with Redford in New York, the Russian Tea room, and I found out what that song "Mr. Cellophane" is all about. That song is about a guy who is kind of invisible, who no one ever sees. I don't mean that about Redford. Going to lunch with Robert Redford is -- if you're a guy -- kind of like you don't exist. Every woman in the restaurant went up to him to talk to him and I was there going, "Can you pass the salt?"

"Sophie's Choice" (1982)
An honor. The fact that Alan Pakula wanted me to do this film was an honor. He was absolutely wonderful in his direction to me in terms of what he wanted. I am so proud of that film and the music.

"The Informant!" (2009)
An absolute thrill to work with Soderbergh, who asked for me. He is a great director and very insightful about what he wanted. But also, once he tells you what he wants he then leaves you alone to figure it out. George Clooney was at the Venice fest when we were there for this film and it was similar to my experience with Redford. I was at the piano and he was actually singing along, and people started to gather around. It was interesting how many people had no idea who was actually playing the piano.
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