Bedford’s Dori Berinstein is a professional noticer.
Noticing a newspaper blurb about the New Jersey Nets drafting a senior-citizen hip-hop dance team, she made a documentary on the process, 2008’s “Gotta Dance.”
Working alongside composer Marvin Hamlisch, Berinstein (inset) — also an award-winning Broadway producer (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Fool Moon”) — noticed a refreshing lack of ego from a man who had every reason to be full of himself.
Hamlisch, who died Aug. 6, 2012, is one of two people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and a Pulitzer Prize. The other is Richard Rodgers.
Berinstein has created a love song to a lost friend — “Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love” — to premiere at 9 p.m. Dec. 27 on PBS’s “American Masters.” In it, she interviews dozens of friends, colleagues and collaborators to capture Hamlisch’s style and story.
“Marvin’s is remarkable life to focus on,” Berinstein says. “He was a musical genius who deserved a film, but the main reason I wanted to do it was because I think Marvin the man was equally extraordinary.”
Contributors include singers Barbra Streisand, Idina Menzel, Melissa Manchester and Carly Simon, actors Raul Esparza, John Lithgow, Brian D’Arcy James and Christopher Walken, musicians Rupert Holmes, Quincy Jones, and Maury Yeston, filmmakers Woody Allen and Steven Soderbergh and, in a nod to Hamlisch’s lifelong love of the New York Yankees, former manager Joe Torre, whom Berinstein gets to sing a little.
They paint a picture of a man who went out of his way to be generous, a collaborator whose sole focus was on creating the best music or theatrical moment possible.
“Marvin was egoless,” Berinstein says. “It was always what is best for the show or the movie, about how to support the film, not how to be famous. For Broadway, it was about the collaboration, being in a room with other great creators and making something from a blank page.”
There are revelations:
+ Hamlisch was admitted to Juilliard at age 6;
+ He was a schoolmate of Christopher Walken and Leslie Uggams;
+ He won three Oscars in 1974, one for “The Sting” and two for “The Way We Were”;
+ When composing “A Chorus Line,” for which he won the Pulitzer, he would talk to each of the dancers and compose their songs as they spoke.
Hamlisch’s early success was meteoric — three Oscars before age 30, followed by taking Broadway by storm with “A Chorus Line” — but there were slack years, Broadway flops, failure to click with a single collaborator. Berinstein tells it all, including Hamlisch’s efforts to promote American composers and his outreach to school children. She draws on family films and mementos, supplied by Hamlisch’s widow, Terre Blair Hamlisch.
The portrait Berinstein paints is of a prodigy who was doted on by his parents, who wanted young Marvin to be the next Horowitz. What he became was the only Marvin Hamlisch, a man with a talent that required no filter. He could think of a melody and it would arrive immediately at his fingertips. There’s Hamlisch the showman on “The Tonight Show,” Hamlisch the baseball fan, Hamlisch the collaborator, the symphony conductor, the foodie. Through it all, he is portrayed as a man of enthusiasm and passion, whether for Scott Joplin or gelato.
Recalls Berinstein: “When we were working together we talked endlessly about food and about how, when our project was done, we’d dine at a specific restaurant on the Italian Riviera. He knew the menu by heart and we’d talk about what we’d order. It was a dinner I certainly was looking forward to.”
Hamlisch died Aug. 6, 2012, after a brief illness, their work unfinished.
“I probably will make sure that dinner happens when the work is done,” Berinstein says. “And we’ll all go and toast Marvin.”