Best Performance by a Child Pianist in a Living Room with a Black eye

Remembering Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012) -

I was the catcher during a baseball game, a singularly hazardous position. The leadoff batter was overzealous. Or maybe I was too close to home plate. History is unclear on this point. The batter swung heroically at the first pitch and missed. The bat’s momentum carried it around and struck me in the left eye. If the trajectory of this swing had been a half inch lower, I would now be starring in pirate movies. But I could see no silver lining at the time. Matter of fact, I could see very little.

I hurried home to show my mother the Mount Everest that was growing on my eyebrow. To this day, I clearly remember two things about my mother in this crisis. First, the look of pure horror on her face as I walked into the kitchen. Second, the cool, methodical way in which she dealt with calamity. These two extremes of emotion-horror and efficiency- define for me the wonder that is motherhood.

She took the flat end of a knife and pressed the protuberance down with both hands, at the same time that she was putting ice on the eye. Yes, she had three hands. The next day, I had what you call a real shiner. I looked as if I had gone six rounds with Marciano. All right, make it thirty seconds with Mickey Rourke. What was uppermost in my ten-year-old mind, once the pain subsided, was that I didn’t want to let my teacher down. The following evening, I was to play the Sussman living room. She was counting on me.

My mother tried her best to disguise the lump. She put a pancake base on the swelling, but it was still distended and discolored. But the show must go on. At the appointed hour I entered the Sussman domicile. My eye was a rhapsody in purple. A room-full of respectable teachers gasped when they saw my ravaged face. Miss Sussman ran to me.

Good Lord,” she said. “Who hit you?”

The teachers oohed and aahed their liberal  biases, and I never got the chance to explain that I owed my wound to Abner Doubleday, not to some young Bugsy Siegel. I crossed to the piano bench, sat down, and poured out a medley of pop and broadway music for the appreciative guests. Think of it‑a new category for the Oscars: “Best Performance by a Child Pianist in a Living Room with a Black eye.”

Guests looked on with expressions that said, “How brave of the little fellow to carry on. Such courage-and so talented.” — Marvin at 10 years of age — from the book: The Way I Was

Watch: Marvin Hamlisch at the Oscars — 1974 — Acceptance Speech (He won Three oscars that night)