I just put down the phone with legendary Carole Bayer Sager who wrote “Nobody Does it Better” with Marvin Hamlisch, the James Bond theme song from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and a big, big hit for Carly Simon. Hamlisch had already won the Pulitzer and Tony for “A Chorus Line” and a hit with “The Entertainer” from “The Sting.” When the pair met for another writing assignment, Hamlisch was getting ready to leave for London to write the music for “Spy.” Sager says she told him: “You know, ‘Nobody Does It Better’ always struck me as a great title for a Bond movie. He said, I love it and we wrote the chorus that afternoon.”
Hamlisch, she recalls, had to persuade Cubby Broccoli to let her write the song since he usually used movie composers like John Barry. “He convinced Cubby to give me a chance.” Hamlisch and Sager called Carly Simon, and “Marvin went up to see her. She loved it an dI loved her rendition of it. At the end she sings James I love you and we never knew if she was singing about James Bond or James Taylor.” The song was a huge hit, and was nominated for an Oscar. Hamlisch and Sager then wrote another staple, Melissa Manchester’s hit, “Looking Through the Eyes of Love.”
But that wasn’t all for the duo. They were dating and living together when Neil Simon decided to turn their romance into a Broadway musical. The result was the hit, “They’re Playing Our Song,” which starred Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein. “Our real romance was somewhere between that and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But there was this weirdness about us both being songwriters. Marvin kept telling Neil that ‘she’s a pop lyricist and I’m an old stodgy Broadway composer’. I said, Are you insane? You have Oscars and a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize! [In 1974, Hamlisch won 3 Oscars in one night– two for “The Way We Were” and one for “The Sting.”] We’d have these crazy disagreements. He told Neil, I get jealous when she has a number 1 song either I feel jealous because I wish I had it, or I get angry because I could have written a better song!”
They were supposed to be working on a musical of Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl.” “But Marvin would walk in and tell him these funny neurotic stories aboiut us, and finally Neil said Would you mind if I have lunch with Carole?” The show became about Hamlisch and Sager’s relationship. “It was a painless, joyful experience.” So much so that just a few weeks ago, Klein and Arnaz joined Hamlisch for one of his concert dates to reprise their songs.
Sager and Hamlisch eventually broke up but remained good friends. When Sager was invited to put on a show to Feinstein’s at the Regency, Hamlisch helped design it, then rehearsed with the band and sat in on piano the first couple of nights. Sager, like everyone who knew Hamlisch, was shocked when she got the news of his death this morning. “I don’t know if he was sick, or what happened,” she told me. “But everyone loved him. That’s what you’re hearing. And it’s true.”