Curtain Call: What Marvin Hamlisch Did for Love

“Marvin would be in traffic and a car would screech. He would hear the exact note.”

On New Year’s Eve 2012, the New York Philharmonic held a concert called One Singular Sensation: Celebrating Marvin Hamlisch. The composer had been scheduled to conduct the event but he died in August of that year. As 2013 comes to a close, Hamlisch’s work is being explored by PBS’ American Masters in a new documentary called Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love. While artists such as Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Quincy Jones, and Steven Soderbergh offer their comments, the most personal insights come from his widow, Terre Blair Hamlisch.

Hamlisch was the rarest of all birds, a PEGOT: Someone who has won a Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. He wrote the music for A Chorus Line, Sophie’s Choice, and The Sting as well as such songs as “The Way We Were” and “Nobody Does It Better.”

“To him, the world was a symphony of sound,” Terre says during a very emotional conversation. “He heard the note and the pitch in everything. His ears were so finely tuned. It was going on 24/7. So if we were to play music outside the music in his head, it would conflict.”

In watching the documentary Terre was surprised to learn the level of his generosity. “I knew that music was in his veins. I knew most of his childhood stories. But I did not know the extent of what he had done for others,” she says. “He once said, ‘Do you think people are aware that I don’t say no unless there’s a scheduling conflict?’ I was sort of stunned. He never told me he was doing these things.”

“The honest or most truthful response [to the film] is it’s difficult to hear his voice because he’s telling his own story. I’m not used to having his voice around.” Terre pauses for an extended moment before continuing. “To hear his voice is very powerful. It can be very painful but also very loving and very reassuring.”

At the time of his death, Hamlisch was working on a musical adaptation of the classic Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor. Will we see it in the future? “When Marvin died it all stopped,” Terre says. “But it’s picking up again. It’s going to go to Broadway. It’s his last musical, but it’s wonderful. It’s strong. Hearing “’While I Still Have the Time’ from that show is the hardest.”

Terre, who by her own admission isn’t doing too many interviews, speaks movingly of her life since his death. “The house is awful quiet. Sometimes I try to stay away from music for a while. The irony is a song of his will come on and I can actually hear his heart in the notes. Memories, I guess. The hardest thing is to find solace in the quiet. One time we were on a mountain. It was perfectly still. Marvin said, ‘I think I just heard the note in quiet.’ I’ll never forget it. I have Marvin in my heart. I’ll never be the same. He was the great love of my life. I was lucky. I was married to a genius with a phenomenal heart.”