Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Exclusive Interview - Terre Blair Hamlisch Talks PBS's MARVIN HAMLISCH: WHAT HE DID FOR LOVE

The love story of Terre Blair Hamlisch and her husband, the late composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch, plays like a Hollywood movie. The couple courted over the phone, never coming face to face until the day Hamlisch proposed to her from the other side of a hotel room door, sight unseen. According to the legendary musician himself, his love for Terre blossomed purely through the sound of her voice.

Today, Terre Blair Hamlisch speaks exclusively to BWW about the wonderful years she spent alongside the multi-talented, Pulitzer Prize-winning musical genius, which will be doucmented in American Masters' Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love, premiering nationally Friday, December 27, 2013, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

One of the things which struck me in the documentary was the observation that Marvin heard music in everything, even the raindrops. It's just such a beautiful sentiment and I was wondering if you also found that to be true.

It is true. And it's interesting that you would pick that up because that's probably one of the most interesting things about him. In fact, Marvin had a children's book which he wrote right before he died called, 'Marvin Makes Music,' and It's all about the sounds and everything he heard.

He heard the world much, much differently than you and I heard it. He heard the rustling of the leaves in the trees, but he also heard the pitch of it. If we were driving and there would be the sound of a car screeching he would go, 'E Flat,' and so it's very interesting. He was a child prodigy, he was a genius, and geniuses in whatever field they're in, see and hear things very differently. He heard music all the time in his head, and he would say to me that it was a blessing and a gift, but it was also a curse because he would hear the music non-stop. In fact, we were once in Salzburg, going to the the opera and there was a bee or a fly or some sort of insect that had a buzz to it in our room and I think we almost had to change rooms because he heard it as if it were a 747 landing beyond the window sill. His ear was that finely tuned.

Marvin was such a huge fan of Broadway and of show tunes. What was it like to sit next to him in the audience as he watched a Broadway show? Was he always watching with a critical eye or could he just sit back and enjoy it.

(laughing) Very good question! Well to start with, to go with him and to sit with him in the movies was very trying

Photo Courtesy of The Hamlisch Family

because he could hear when the score was manipulating us as a viewer for an emotional reaction. So for example he could hear the musical cue coming and he knew someone was about to get killed or someone was about to be sad, and that would drive him nuts, that someone would be that obvious in leading the audience. And often he would be so busy listening to the score while I'd be trying to enjoy the movie that he could really ruin the movie experience. When I first married him, oh my goodness, I remember I would say, 'Stop - you're ruining the movie!"

But with Broadway, it was a lot different. Marvin loved the movies, don't get me wrong, but going to Broadway shows for him was just wonderful because of the insight he had. And he always was so supportive of young composers, of his colleagues, he really enjoyed it and loved it. And in the Broadway theater, he was much more of a visionary and a leader for me because his enthusiasm for that forum was so great. Broadway music to him was his life, composing music of course was too, but the love and affinity that he had for Broadway, he wanted to see everything. And he always found good in everything and he always supported everyone.

And speaking of Broadway, A Chorus Line is of course synonymous with Marvin Hamlisch. And as they mention in the documentary, the show wasn't merely about a group of ensemble dancers, it was really a story about following your dreams and your passions, which is why it is so relatable to everybody. Did Marvin consider it his masterpiece?

Photo Credit: Len Prince

You know, Rupert Holmes has a quote about how Marvin thought about all of his works as if they were adopted children, he never talked about one more so than the other. And I don't think that he loved one more than another. But I do think that he felt with A Chorus Line and Sweet Smell of Success, those two works, he felt more like he was running on all cylinders. He used to say that sometimes he felt like the porsche in the garage that he wasn't able to use. Because the work that he chose to do could be limiting and confining in its nature, and because Marvin had so much integrity for the work that he was able to do, he serviced the work. But I don't believe he felt that A Chorus Line had those limitations. I believe, as I said, he felt like he was running on all cylinders.

For me, the most touching part of the documentary was when you spoke about your unusual courtship. It almost sounds like something you'd see in a Hollywood movie. Did it feel like that at the time?

(laughing) You know I guess it didn't feel like it when I was in the middle of it. Marvin's version would be, and after twenty three years of marriage I always say he's right on this because he was so honest, that he listened with his ears, he didn't go with his eyes. We had so many phone calls before we met each other, and maybe now, with and E-Harmony it's not that unusual, but in that time, we hadn't seen each other when he asked me to marry him, it was sight unseen. And why it didn't seem like a movie at the time was because I was nervous, I was scared. You know I consider myself a grounded person and I thought, 'Wow, this a big decision.' But my heart had fallen totally in love with this man and my heart was speaking and it was speaking loudly. And I couldn't ignore it. And the greatest thing I ever did was say 'yes'!

That's so beautiful.

But getting married was a little bit like a Hollywood movie. My parents came from Ohio and my college friends, and they found themselves sitting next to Carly Simon and Liza - that was really like a Hollywood movie for all of us!

Yes, talk about surreal! The thing that was so interesting in the documentary was the consistency in the wonderful things people had to say about Marvin. And one of the things you hear over and over again is that he didn't compose music for money and fame. He wrote it for the people.

You're picking up on things that are very important in my opinion. In today's world, if you win three Oscars, your

Photo Credit: Photofest

agent's going to tell you, 'hey capitalize on that - you'll make a heck of a lot of money doing film.' But to leave Hollywood at the pinnacle of when you have all that capital to use, to parlay into a financially lucrative film career and instead, to come home to New York for just an idea -nobody knew at the time that Chorus Line was going to be such a success. At the time it was barely a bunch of dancers telling their stories, it really was just an idea. But Marvin knew he wanted to work with Michael Bennett, and he knew he loved Broadway, and he knew that he wanted to do this, so he gave up all that money. And then you hear again, in The Way We Were, where he himself paid to redo the ending, taking the money out of his paycheck. And then you hear again in the documentary Steven Soderbergh saying, 'Marvin never took on projects for money.'

One of the things that so impressed me about Marvin, and even more so today as I'm more aware of it, was the decisions that he made were never ever based on money or fame. They were based on one hundred percent true integrity for the music, the composition and for the project. And I'm so proud of him for that. He would always tell us, he would tell my sister, my nieces, my family, 'have your passion, follow your hearts and do it with integrity, where you find the challenges, where your heart tells you to go, have the self confidence to be able to do it." That's extremely rare in today's world. And I try to be inspired by that every day that he's been gone.

Photo Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

About American Masters - Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love:

Composer, conductor, genius, mensch: Marvin Hamlisch (June 2, 1944 - Aug. 6, 2012) earned four Grammys, four Emmys, three Oscars, three Golden Globes, a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize before his untimely death, making him one of only two PEGOT winners ever. Hit after hit - "The Way We Were," "Nobody Does It Better" and scores for The Sting, Sophie's Choice and the Broadway juggernaut A Chorus Line - made him the go-to composer and performer for film, Broadway, every U.S. President since Reagan and concert halls worldwide. With exclusive access to Hamlisch's personal archival treasure trove and complete cooperation from his family, Dramatic Forces and THIRTEEN's American Masters explore his prolific life and career in the series' Season 27 finale, Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love, premiering nationally Friday, December 27, 2013, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

In the first film biography about Hamlisch, award-winning filmmaker and four-time Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Dori Berinstein (Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, Gotta Dance,ShowBusiness: The Road To Broadway) presents a deeply personal, insider portrait of one of the greatest artists of our time. Candid new interviews with Hamlisch's family, friends and A-list collaborators include wife Terre Blair Hamlisch, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, Steven Soderbergh, Quincy Jones, Christopher Walken, Sir Tim Rice, Joe Torre, Woody Allen, John Lithgow, Lucie Arnaz, Ann-Margret, Sir Howard Stringer, Kelli O'Hara, Brian D'Arcy James, Idina Menzel, Melissa Manchester, songwriter Carole Bayer Sager and many others.

"Marvin Hamlisch was a consummate artist: gifted, creative and personable. His music is part of the essential soundtrack to so many of our lives," said Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters.

"Marvin's astounding musical genius was certainly breathtaking, but it was his irrepressible joy for life and his unending generosity that constantly had me in awe. What a tremendous honor and challenge to Capture the magic of this singular sensation," said Berinstein, who was friends with Hamlisch and collaborated with him on a new Broadway musical before his death. She is working to finish the musical, which will feature his final score.

A musical prodigy accepted to Juilliard at age six, Hamlisch defied classical expectations to create his own music, dedicating his talents to musical theatre and pop music composition. By age 31, he achieved unprecedented success and honors with a string of smash hits, and then his streak ended. Faced with overwhelming pressure and sky-high expectations to repeat his hits, Hamlisch fell into a self-described "period of suffocating despair," before rebounding to find true love worthy of a Broadway musical and renewed passion for creation. Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love reveals the events that led to both his staggering success and, ultimately, his even greater humanity: his creative process, struggles, inner turmoil and breakthroughs.

Since its 1986 premiere, American Masters has earned 26 Emmy Awards - including nine for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special - 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, and two Producers Guild Awards. Now concluding its 27thseason on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York's public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For 50 years, THIRTEEN has been making the most of the rich resources and passionate people of New York and the world, reaching millions of people with on-air and online programming that celebrates arts and culture, offers insightful commentary on the news of the day, explores the worlds of science and nature, and invites students of all ages to have fun while learning.

To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the companion website ( offers streaming video of select films, interviews, essays, photographs, outtakes, and other resources. American Masters is also seen on the WORLD channel, a 24/7, full-service multicast channel featuring public television's signature nonfiction documentary, science and news programming, broadcast in nearly two-thirds of the United States.

Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love is a production of Dramatic Forces and THIRTEEN'sAmerican Masters in association with WNET. Dori Berinstein is director, producer and writer. Alan Deutsch and Jimmy O'Donnell are directors of photography. Penelope Falk is editor. Music by Marvin Hamlisch. Music arranged and adapted by Matthew Sklar. Motion graphics are by Brian Oakes. Andrew Herwitz and Mitchell Cannold are executive producers. Susan Lacy is American Masters series creator and executive producer.

American Masters is a production of THIRTEEN. The series is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.

Watch a trailer for MARVIN HAMLISCH: WHAT HE DID FOR LOVE below!


Related Stories

From This Author - Caryn Robbins

Caryn Robbins is a Senior Editor and daily contributor to BroadwayWorld, Follow her daily podcast "The Broadway Scoop" at  http://www.buzzs... (read more about this author)