By Steven Suskin
25 Dec 2013
|Photo by Len Prince|
Marvin Hamlisch, who by the age of 31 had won a Tony, three Oscars, four Emmys and a Pulitzer, died during the summer of 2012 at the age of 68. Hamlisch's life and times, as well as his successes and failures, are examined in "Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love," which will premiere on the PBS American Masters series Dec. 27. Taking a cue from her subject, Dori Berinstein's documentary is filled tot he brim with his music and his irrepressible zest for living.
The coddled son of a pair of Austrian immigrants — the father was a professional accordionist in the old country — Hamlisch was born in New York in 1944. His mother, who makes numerous appearances in the documentary through film clips, insists that he was listening to music and beating out the rhythms in his crib when he was eight — eight months, that is. At six-and-a-half years old, he was admitted to Juilliard as an apparent prodigy. Instead of playing Mozart for his audition, he tells us, he played the pop song "I'm Yours" — but he demonstrated that he could play it in any and all keys. Groomed to be the next Vladimir Horowitz, Hamlisch quickly realized that he wasn't interested in classical music. The contemporary world was his area, and Broadway was the goal.
Hamlisch's early musical facility and destined-for-greatness enthusiasm is attested to in comments from classmates at Juilliard and Professional Children's School, including Lorin Hollander (the pianist), Christopher Walken and Leslie Uggams. As a teenager, he wrote a song for the girlfriend of a classmate who wanted to make a private record to prove to her mother that she could sing. That was, of course, Liza with a "Z." At 19, the musically-adept prodigy got a job as rehearsal pianist for a new Broadway show, which starred Barbra without the "A." (Streisand, who offers comments in several sections of the documentary, recalls with delight a day when Marvin — on a rehearsal break — went out to get coffee and brought her back not one but two chocolate donuts.) At the same time, he wrote his first song hit: "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Roses." Quincy Jones explains how he recognized the young Hamlisch's talent and produced the recording.