Marvin Hamlisch’s Answered Prayer: “The Way We Were”

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The way we were

By Randal C. Hill 

Marvin Hamlisch, who was responsible for writing the music to Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were,” used to utter an unusual prayer. Starting in 1964, when he was 20 years of age, he would privately plead, “Please, God, let Barbra Streisand sing one of my songs.”  

The first job he landed soon after graduating from New York’s Queens College was as a rehearsal pianist for “Funny Girl” with—of all people—Barbra Streisand. 

One day years later, Marvin got a phone call from a friend about possibly writing a song for a film that would star Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. Thrilled by the possibility of his prayer actually paying off, Hamlisch resolved to capture the movie script in a single song. “I wanted to reflect all of the sorrow and despondency and pain of their relationship, the star-crossed nature of it,” he explained later.  

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Enter the lyric-writing couple Alan and Marilyn Bergman. As a fitting complement to Marvin’s work, they created poignant word images that succinctly captured the essence of the Redford-Streisand tale: 

Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories of the way we were 
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were  

But all of Marvin’s creativity, inspiration and hard work almost didn’t matter, as Streisand’s song was omitted from the original film version of the “The Way We Were.” The determined Hamlisch, however, convinced Columbia’s reluctant studio moguls to hold two test screenings.  

The first audience sat unmoved by the final scene (with no song), where Streisand and Redford realize they have no future together. The next screening included Barbra’s tune. Hamlisch recalled, “I heard a woman start to cry. And then another. And within minutes, there wasn’t a dry eye left. I knew I was right.” One assumes that, from that moment onward, Marvin Hamlisch became a proponent for prayer.  

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