About the author:
After filming the award-winning documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, Dori Berinstein jumped to a equally exciting and challenging project: capturing on film the life and legacy of EGOT winner Marvin Hamlisch, who died in August 2012 at age 68. The result, Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love, debuts on PBS’ American Masters on December 27. For Broadway.com, Berinstein, a Tony-winning producer whose documentary credits also include Gotta Dance and ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway, explained how her new documentary came together and shared personal insights into what made the Chorus Line composer such a special person.
Of course there had to be a film about legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch…one of the greatest artists of our time.
Declared a musical prodigy at four years old, Marvin enrolled at Juilliard at age six. He had a pop hit at 19 and was hired as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand at 21. He won three Oscars for The Way We Were and The Sting by the time he was 29 and received the Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line when he was 34.
A prolific songwriter, Marvin went on to compose a myriad of pop hits, (including “Nobody Does It Better” and “The Theme from Ice Castles), many Broadway shows (including They’re Playing Our Song and Sweet Smell of Succes) and a full symphony (Anatomy of Peace). He entertained the world as guest conductor with symphonies all over the world and served as a go-to performer for every President since Ronald Reagan.
Where to start?! But that’s not why I wanted to make this film….or at least, that’s not the only reason.
Marvin had the biggest heart of anyone I ever knew. He loved every second of life and dug in full steam, with arms wide open. He was deeply dedicated to making the world a better place through music and through endless acts of kindness. As I made the film, I heard story after story from famous colleagues as well as taxi drivers, anyone and everyone, eager to share how Marvin—quietly, without telling anyone—raised money for their sick child, donated his time to help an important cause, flew across the country to console a friend….on and on and on.
This selflessness extended to his work process. It was always about what was right for the Broadway show, or what song best supported the film when writing a film score. It was never about “This is a great opportunity for me to write a hit song and win some fabulous awards.” That kind of thinking never crossed his mind. It was always about the music and, just as much, about the collaboration. Marvin adored the creative process.
Trying to capture Marvin’s extraordinary life in an 82-minute film was deeply daunting, terribly humbling and exceedingly ambitious. How could I ever do justice to this magnificent life? The colleagues, friends and family who wanted to share stories—from Barbra Streisand and Idina Menzel to Joe Torre, Carly Simon, Quincy Jones and Christopher Walken, just for starters—was astonishing. I knew I could never fit all these great storytellers in our film. Every day, I would think, “This should really be a miniseries.”
So, as much as we’ve packed in the film, there is so much that remains on “the cutting room floor” (and in our DVD extras!). I’ll close with two favorite stories not in the film:
Marvin and the First Chorus Line Review: Margaret Styne shared an incredible story about the night the first review hit for A Chorus Line when the show opened off-Broadway at the Public Theater. Marvin was out to dinner at Sardi’s with legendary composer Jule Styne (his mentor), Jule’s wife, Margaret, and director/choreographer Michael Bennett. They read the review together, and it was “horrible”! The reviewer declared that Marvin was good only when he used other people’s music. Michael Bennett was described as a poor man’s Bob Fosse. Margaret said the two men turned as white as the tablecloth, and Jule consoled a distraught Marvin for hours.
Concerts With Groucho Marx: When Marvin was in his early 30s, he was approached by Groucho Marx’s assistant and asked to come over and play some of the songs Groucho used to perform…just for fun. Of course, Marvin said yes. These “jam sessions” evolved into three concert performances with Marvin as Groucho’s sidekick and pianist. Of course, Marvin’s impeccable comic timing and sense of humor was greatly influenced by his association with Groucho…who Marvin called “the grandfarther he never had.”
Marvin’s musical genius and humanitarianism inspired me greatly. I just hope this film gives others the chance to appreciate his remarkable musical legacy and his irrepressible generosity.