Film celebrates the creative genius of Marvin Hamlisch

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Marvin Hamlisch, a musical child prodigy, was not only incredibly multitalented, but he was also extremely generous with his talent and resources and exceptionally kind and compassionate, a real mensch if ever there was one in show business. All of these elements in his remarkable and too-short life are explored in the PBS “American Masters” documentary “Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love.”

Dori Berinstein, the director and screenwriter of this highly entertaining and informative film, said   she made it because “I loved and was obsessed by ‘Chorus Line.’ ”

Born in New York City in 1944 to doting Jewish parents, Hamlisch’s remarkable career earned him four Grammy Awards, three Oscars, three Golden Globes, three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for “A Chorus Line.” He was one of only nine artists to have won all four of the major entertainment awards and one of only five to have added the rare fifth, the Pulitzer. Not surprisingly, he was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986.

His millions of fans were shocked Aug. 6, 2012, when he died suddenly in Los Angeles of an anoxic brain encephalopathy at the age of 68.

His early collaborator in music was Howard Liebling, and their pop song “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows,” recorded by Lesley Gore, became a Top 20 hit in 1965 when Hamlisch was just 21. After taking night classes at Queens College, Hamlisch began working days as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway shows. Soon he was composing his own songs for stage productions. He also started a parallel career composing musical scores, was co-producer of “The Entertainer” (1976) and in that same year won a Tony Award for the scoring of “A Chorus Line.”

Though trained at Juilliard to be a concert pianist, Hamlisch always was drawn to Broadway and Hollywood, lending his seemingly boundless musical genius to daunting musical projects such as “A Chorus Line” and working with Barbra Sreisand and Robert Redford on “The Way We Were.” Hamlisch took hours of tape-recorded comments by nervous young dancers auditioning for a Broadway chorus line and was able to create a musical that transformed the nature of Broadway productions for all time.

The film traces Hamlisch’s career from his early successes when he won numerous awards and much acclaim, through a patch of bad luck and his revived success after “A Chorus Line.” 

The movie also makes it clear that Hamlisch knew how to enjoy himself with friends on his down time. If he loved a flavor of ice cream or was smitten with a steak dinner, he could not wait to take his friends there to experience those “singular sensations” for themselves. 

“My whole life revolves around dessert,” he said.

‘Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love’

8 p.m., Monday, June 9

In English; Running time: 1:30