Full name, Paul Hamilton Williams; born September 19, 1940, in Omaha Neb.; son of Paul Hamilton (an architectural engineer) and Bertha Mae (Burnside) Williams; married wife, Katie (marriage ended); children: Christopher Cole. Addresses: Record company-- A&M, 1416 La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90028.
Multitalented songwriter, singer, and actor Paul Williams is perhaps best known for scoring the 1976 film A Star Is Born, and collaborating with superstar Barbra Streisand to write the extremely popular love theme from that film, "Evergreen." He earned several awards for that work, as well as many award nominations for his efforts on other film scores, including Cinderella Liberty and The Muppet Movie. In addition, Williams has provided music fans with many sweet-sounding ballads over the years, including "We've Only Just Begun" and "Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song."
Williams was born September 19, 1940, in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was an architectural engineer who pursued various construction projects throughout the Midwest, so the future entertainer traveled a great deal as a child. In addition to the usual social misfortunes that go with always being new at school, Williams also had to deal with the stigma associated with his shorter stature--he described the other children's attitude towards him thus to Tony Kornheiser in the Washington Post: "New kid. Smaller--hey, let's whack him."
When Williams was 13, his father was killed in an automobile accident, and he went to live with an aunt and uncle in Long Beach, California, where he spent the remainder of his adolescence. On the way to his new home, however, he had the opportunity to see a show in Las Vegas, Nevada; this experience solidified his desire--perhaps first sparked by childhood competition in local talent shows--to become an entertainer. While attending a Long Beach high school, he developed an interest in drama, appeared in many school plays, and was vice-president of the institution's Thespian Club. After graduating, Williams wandered for a while and eventually came to rest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he became a featured member of the community theater. He appeared in plays such as A Thousand Clowns and William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
By 1960, however, Williams had come back to Long Beach, where he joined the slightly more prestigious repertory company Studio 58. During some of his performances with them, such as one in Under the Sycamore Tree, he received favorable attention from critics in Los Angeles, California, and this encouraged him to go to Hollywood in pursuit of a film career. He did find one, but it was small--he received only minor roles during the 1960s and 1970s, in pictures that were generally panned by the critics. As Williams began to despair of becoming a respected actor, however, he turned to other forms of expression. Comedian Mort Sahl hired him to write skits for a local television program; through this job, he met Biff Rose, a composer who needed a lyricist.
Williams began collaborating with Rose, and the result was "Fill Your Heart," a ballad that eventually found itself on the B-side of novelty singer Tiny Tim's hit, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." Tiny Tim's producer suggested that Williams, who had previously learned to play the guitar, form his own band. He did, called it Holy Mackerel, and released an album on Reprise Records that attracted virtually no attention from fans. Reprise--and its parent company Warner Brothers--believed in Williams, however, and he released a solo effort in 1970 called Someday Man. This disc, too, was met with silence from music audiences.
Soon afterwards, however, Williams signed on as a songwriter for A&M Records. With composer Roger Nichols, he started writing songs for other artists, including Johnny Mathis and Claudine Longet. Then they started racking up hits. Their first huge success was the song "Out in the Country," which scored a hit when recorded by Three Dog Night. Their "Rainy Days and Mondays," recorded by the Carpenters, became quite popular as well. Williams and Nichols were also contracted to compose music for a bank commercial advertising their special services for newlyweds. Williams explained to Henry Edwards in After Dark: "Since I am an incurable romantic, I fell in love with the idea of making a sugary commercial about a young couple getting married." Apparently, audiences responded to William's inspiration so favorably that he and Nichols decided to expand the jingle into a full-length song. The result, "We've Only Just Begun," became a massive hit for the Carpenters, and has since become a ballad standard, recorded by many other artists.
Encouraged by his success, Williams began recording his own albums for the A&M label, starting with An Old-Fashioned Love Song. This, along with follow-up efforts such as 1972's Life Goes On and 1974's A Little Bit of Love and Here Comes Inspiration, fared much better with fans than did Williams's earlier recordings. He began performing on variety shows and in the better nightclubs, and while many dismissed his songs as too sentimental, most conceded along with Los Angeles Times reviewer Terry Atkinson that Williams was a very good musical entertainer in person, "with an appealing blend of unpretentiousness and effective dramatic sense."
In 1974 Williams was invited by film director Brian De Palma to score much of his musical update of The Phantom of the Opera, entitled Phantom of the Paradise. Williams also acted in the film, but received the most notice for his work on the music, earning an Academy Award nomination. In 1976 he had even greater success with his work on the film A Star Is Born. With various other composers, Williams wrote the lyrics to the motion picture's songs "Watch Closely Now," "The Woman in the Moon," "With One More Look at You," "Everything," and the now-classic love theme "Evergreen." He garnered a Golden Globe Award for the film's score, another for "Evergreen," and a Grammy and an Academy Award for "Evergreen." Other films Williams has written music for include Cinderella Liberty, The End, and The Muppet Movie.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Williams found himself in demand for character roles in many motion pictures, including the Smokey and the Bandit movies and playwright Neil Simon's The Cheap Detective. He also released more albums, including Ordinary Fools, Classics, and Crazy for Loving You. Many of these efforts featured his music from films. He also wrote both scripts and music for television programs. In 1989, Williams appeared on the Broadway stage in the title role of the play Tru, a one-man show about the late author Truman Capote. Before he performed, he told Richard Leivenberg in Harper's Bazaar: "I am not simply going to put on a hat and mince around. I want to crawl inside the man and have people be moved by him, so by the end of the evening they will miss his presence as much as I do."
by Elizabeth Wenning
Paul Williams's Career
Actor, 1958--; comedy writer during the late 1960s; songwriter, beginning in the late 1960s; recording artist and concert performer, c. 1971--. Screenwriter, beginning c. 1981--. Appeared in films, including The Loved One, 1965, The Chase, 1966, Watermelon Man, 1970, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973, Phantom of the Paradise, 1974, Smokey and the Bandit, 1977, The Cheap Detective, 1978, The Muppet Movie, 1979, Smokey and the Bandit II, 1980, Smokey and the Bandit III, c. 1983, and The Doors, 1991. Appeared in plays, including Under the Sycamore Tree at the Magnolia Theater in California, 1961, and Tru on Broadway, in New York City, 1989. Appeared on television shows, including The Tonight Show, The Odd Couple, Wild, Wild West Revisited, Hawaii 5-0, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Fall Guy, and Midnight Special. Scored and/or composed songs for films, including The Getaway, 1972, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, 1972, Cinderella Liberty, 1973, Phantom of the Paradise, 1974, The Day of the Locust, 1975, Malone, 1976, A Star Is Born, 1976, One on One, 1977, The End, 1978, Agatha, 1979, The Muppet Movie, 1979, and The Secret of NIMH, 1982. Scored or wrote music for television shows, including The Love Boat, The McLean Stevenson Show, It Takes Two, Sugar Time! and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.
Paul Williams's Awards
Academy Award nomination for best song, for "Nice to Be Around," from the film Cinderella Liberty, 1973, and Academy Award nomination for best score, for the film Phantom of the Paradise, 1974; Academy Award, Grammy Award, and Golden Globe Award for best song, for "Evergreen," from the film A Star Is Born, 1976, and a Golden Globe Award for best score, for the film A Star Is Born, 1976; and Academy Award nomination and Grammy nomination for the score of The Muppet Movie, 1979.
- Selective Works
- (With Holy Mackerel) Holy Mackerel Reprise, c.
- Someday Man Warner Bros., 1970.
- An Old-Fashioned Love Song A&M, c. 1971.
- Life Goes On A&M, 1972.
- A Little Bit of Love A&M, 1974.
- Here Comes Inspiration A&M, 1974.
- Ordinary Fools A&M, 1975.
- Classics A&M, 1977.
- A Little on the Windy Side Portrait, 1979.
- Crazy for Loving You Firstline, 1981.
- After Dark, June 1972.
- Harper's Bazaar, September 1989.
- Los Angeles Times, December 28, 1977.
- Washington Post, June 30, 1980.