Oscar-winning songwriter with Al Kasha
Monday 26 September 2005
On 30 April 1972 the songwriters Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha met the film producer Irwin Allen. He was completing a disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure, about a luxury liner that had been hit by a tidal wave. John Williams had written a dramatic score, but, inexplicably, Allen also wanted a love theme. He told the songwriters to write one. "How long have we got?" they asked. "Twenty-four hours" was the reply. In that time, they wrote the Oscar-winning ballad of hope "The Morning After".
Joel Hirschhorn was born in the Bronx in 1938. He studied music at the High School for Performing Arts and then worked as a night-club singer and pianist. He also played in a rock band, the Highlighters, but he wanted to be a songwriter. He could write both words and music and his first film score was for The Fat Spy (1966), an appalling drive-in movie with Jayne Mansfield and Phyllis Diller.
He befriended Al Kasha, a producer at Columbia Records, and they began a songwriting partnership. In 1968 their song "Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby" was in the Elvis Presley film Speedway, and became a minor hit. When Elvis Presley recorded his TV special, one fan shouted out for his latest single but Presley had no idea what it was.
In 1970 Hirschhorn and Kasha wrote songs for The Cheyenne Social Club, a light-hearted but rambling western starring Henry Fonda and James Stewart and directed by Gene Kelly. Their break came with "The Morning After" in The Poseidon Adventure, a film where the technical wizardry was as commercial an ingredient as its stars, Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters and Ernest Borgnine. Their song, reflecting the thoughts of the actress Carol Lynley, was performed by a new artist, Maureen McGovern, and nominated for an Oscar. Hirschhorn did not write an acceptance speech as he was certain that "Ben" would be the winning song, but it turned out to be "The Morning After". The publicity generated an interest in the single, which then topped the US charts.
The international success of The Poseidon Adventure led to a spate of similar movies. No one remembers Michael Balsam and Paul Michael Glaser in Trapped Beneath the Sea (1974) but Hirschhorn and Kasha were luckier with The Towering Inferno (1974) starring Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Richard Chamberlain. The film was about a blazing skyscraper but along the way there was a love theme, "We May Never Love Like This Again", again sung by Maureen McGovern and added to John Williams's score. The song led to their second Oscar but it was not a big-selling single.
In less dramatic fashion they wrote "I'd Like To Be You for a Day" for the original Freaky Friday in 1976. The following year they wrote the score for Walt Disney's Pete's Dragon, which with its mixture of live action and animation was an attempt to recapture the magic of Mary Poppins. Their score and also the song about a lighthouse, "Candle on the Water" sung by Helen Reddy, were nominated for Oscars.
They won a Tony in 1981 for their Broadway adaptation of David Copperfield, simply called Copperfield, but the musical, with David Ray Bartee, George S. Irving and a young Christian Slater, only lasted 39 performances. They won a second Tony for the songs they added to the Broadway version of the MGM film musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982), but the production, with Debby Boone, was similarly short-lived. In recent years, their version of this musical has been staged successfully in the West End and the provinces.
In 1985, Hirschhorn married the documentary film-maker Jennifer Carter, who specialised in real-life adventures. She was the first woman to dive to the wreck of the Titanic and her findings were displayed in museums. Carter and Hirschhorn wrote the book Titanic Adventure: one woman's true life voyage down to the legendary ocean liner (2003).
Kasha and Hirschhorn wrote two books about their career, If They Ask You, You Can Write a Song (1979) and Reaching the Morning After (1986), and Hirschhorn also wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Songwriting (2001). He was also a columnist and a theatre critic for the industry trade paper Variety.
In 1993 they presided over a television version of their musical Copperfield, now in animated form entitled David Copperfield, with Sheena Easton, Michael York and Julian Lennon among the voices. They wrote music for the TV series Knots Landing, South Park and The Simpsons and completed the theme song "Side By Side" for the sitcom Three's a Crowd. "The Morning After" had a new lease of life in Rugrats Go Wild! (2003).
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