b. Jerrold Lewis Bock, 23 November 1928, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
Bock studied the piano from an early age and was soon able to play quite complicated compositions by ear. He wrote the music for various shows while studying at high school and the University of Wisconsin in the '40s, and subsequently worked on revues at summer camps and for television.
In 1955 Bock and lyricist Larry Holofcener contributed some songs to the Broadway revue CATCH A STAR, and, a year later, with George Weiss, they provided the complete score for Mr. Wonderful, a musical vehicle for Sammy Davis Jnr., which ran for 383 performances. Bock and Holofcener's last assignment together was for the Zeigfeld FolliesOF 1956, which closed before it reached New York.
Shortly afterwards, Bock met lyricist Sheldon Harnick (b. 30 April 1924, Chicago, Illinois, USA.), and they formed what is arguably the most important musicals partnership of the '60s. Harnick had been a danceband violinist before moving to New York in 1950 where he had several of his songs performed in revues such as NEW FACES OF 1952 (Boston Beguine) and SHOESTRING REVUE. Bock and Harnick's first effort, THE BODY BEAUTIFUL (1958), was a failure, but Fiorello! (1959) ran for 795 performances. Next came the underrated TENDERLOIN (1960), a humorous exposé of vice in New York with some good songs including Little Old New York, The Picture Of Happiness, and ‘How the Money Changes Hands’. In 1963 the team wrote several numbers for the critically acclaimed marionette show MAN IN THE MOON, and, later in the same year, came up with what is considered to be their best score, for SHE LOVES ME. With delightful songs such as ‘Will He Like Me?, Ice Cream, A Trip To The Library, and She Loves Me, plus Broadway's favourite ingenue, Barbara Cook, it warranted a longer stay than just 302 performances. Bock and Harnick's next show clocked up more than 10 times that total in New York, and was a smash-hit around the world.
Fiddler On The Roof (1964), starring Zero Mostel, became one of the most cherished of all Broadway musicals, and gave the world of popular music (and Jewish functions of all kinds) hit songs such as Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Sunrise, Sunset, and the immortal If I Was A Rich Man.
It proved impossible to follow, and for the remainder of the decade the composers worked on a variety of projects including a Sherlock Holmes musical BAKER STREET; THE APPLE TREE, which was based on stories by Mark Twain and others, and ran for 463 performances; and HER FIRST ROMAN, a rare musical adaptation of Bernard Shaw, for which they contributed a couple of songs. After The Rothschilds (1970), which had a strong Jewish theme and was similar in a way to FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Bock and Harnick ended their partnership.
Bock has been inactive for over 20 years, with no musical work at all forthcoming.
In 1971, Harnick gave his ‘observations on the fine art and craft of lyric writing’ at a recital in the LYRICS AND LYRICISTS series at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York, and since then his projects have included PINOCCHIO (1973) with music by Mary Rodgers, REX (1976) with music by Richard Rodgers, and an English translation of the UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG with composer Michel Legrandfor an 1979 Off Broadway production. In the '80s there was a projected musical DRAGONS, that does not seem to have materialised, and in the '90s Harnick collaborated with Joe Raposo on A WONDERFUL LIFE, and with Thomas Z. Shepard on LOVE IN TWO COUNTRIES, neither of which opened on Broadway immediately following their out-of-town tryouts.
Fiddler on the Roof, based on the short story "Tevye and His Daughters" by Sholom Aleichem, was one of the first musicals to defy Broadway's established rules of commercial success. It dealt with serious issues such as persecution, poverty, and the struggle to hold on to one's beliefs in the midst of a hostile and chaotic environment. Criticized at first for its "limited appeal", Fiddler on the Roof struck such a universal chord in audiences that it became, for a time, the longest running production in the history of Broadway.
Set in 1905, Fiddler on the Roof takes place in Anatevka, a small Jewish village in Russia. The story revolves around the dairyman Tevye and his attempts to preserve his family's traditions in the face of a changing world. When his eldest daughter, Tzeitel, begs him to let her marry a poor tailor rather than the middle-aged butcher that he has already chosen for her, Tevye must choose between his own daughter's happiness and those beloved traditions that keep the outside world at bay. Meanwhile, there are other forces at work in Anatevka, dangerous forces which threaten to destroy the very life he is trying to preserve.
Fiddler on the Roof opened on September 22, 1964 with Zero Mostel in the leading role. It ran for 3,242 performances at the Imperial Theatre and opened the door for other musicals to deal with more serious issues.
The 1971 screen version featured Norma Crane, Molly Picon, and Topol.