To Broadway, to Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

By Philip Lambert | Go to book overview

9
TOPSY-TURVY
SEPARATE PATHS SINCE THE EARLY 1970S

There were outward signs in the early 1970s that the songwriting partnership of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick had survived the tensions and difficulties of their latest show. When Max Wilk interviewed them (separately) in 1971, as The Rothschilds and Fiddler on the Roof continued to play on Broadway, they spoke as members of a team. Reflecting on these conversations in his book on American popular songwriters, Wilk summarized Bock’s and Harnick’s attitudes toward the future: “And so, for two craftsmen, who wish to exercise their considerable talents to enrich the American theater, … the search for their next project goes on.”1 In 1971, 1972, and 1973 Bock and Harnick wrote satirical songs for Mayor John Lindsay to sing at the annual Inner Circle dinner for New York political reporters, upholding a tradition they began in 1966.2 In October 1972 they sang three of their songs, one newly written, for a theatrical gala organized to raise money for the McGovern–Shriver presidential campaign.3 And they appeared together to help celebrate special events, including the premiere of the film version of Fiddler on the Roof on November 3, 1971, and milestones for the first stage run of Fiddler on July 21, 1971 (longest-running musical) and June 17, 1972 (longest-running Broadway show), before it established the record for longevity with its final performance on July 2, 1972.4

But these were only public faces, masking different private realities: issues of team survival were too fresh and unsettled to share with an interviewer in 1971; at this point they could write songs for political revues with minimal effort, perhaps even minimal personal contact; it is easy to smile for photographs on a red carpet. The truth is, Bock and Harnick were drawn increasingly apart during this time. They had stopped discussing new project possibilities, stopped thinking as a team. “Jerry and I were furious with each other and really didn’t speak for years,” Harnick reflected in 1990. “For a while the feelings between us were very bad.”5 They have acknowledged no defining

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