Marvin Hamlisch was a wonderful, sweet, funny man. I knew him. I treasure my memories of him, and his contribution to my life will never be forgotten.
I don’t have that many people who served as loving, appropriate, father figures. Note to any actual biological parental units checking in: that statement isn’t meant to be a knock or slight, but rather it’s a celebration of others who showed up for me in ways large and small that will be with me forever.
Marvin Hamlisch showed up for me, and his passing has left me feeling empty and joyous, regretful and grateful.
I might as well get the guilt out of the way first, because as you will see, Marvin meant so much to me, yet for reasons that are still somewhat mystifying, I didn’t pursue a lasting relationship with him over the past decade. I thought there would always be more time and truthfully I had been getting closer over the last year to picking up the phone.
In my core belief system, which many of you can relate to, I wasn’t in a good enough place, maybe wasn’t important enough, didn’t have enough followers on FB, or wasn’t hosting my own TV show yet . . . I wasn’t “enough” and of course, that’s not true. It never was true and Marvin Hamlisch wouldn’t have cared, because he wasn’t that guy. Let me take a step back and explain.
The first time I met Marvin was at an intimate cabaret evening honoring one of his dear friends, another musical luminary, Alan Bergman, at the famed Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. It was a summer’s eve during a vague time somewhere between my first and second marriages.
It’s funny how I can’t remember the significance of the relationship I had with whatever man was sucking out my life force back then, but I can remember almost every detail of my first real face-to-face with Marvin.
I had been waiting to meet him since I was 12 years old. That was the year my mother surprised me with tickets to my first show, a Broadway touring company production of A Chorus Line playing at Philadelphia’s Shubert Theatre.
My longing to become a performer mirrored the aspirations of the on-stage characters. But I wanted more. I wanted to meet Marvin Hamlisch – to have a connection to the man who had written melodies that could so perfectly underscore my budding dreams of stardom.
And now here I was, a grown woman, standing right next to him!
Maintaining my composure, I introduced myself as a huge fan who also happened to be the Cantor of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue. In true Marvin fashion, he responded, “I guess it’s probably a sin or something for me to be eating this ham sandwich in front of you.”
That interaction was so significant and satisfying that I carried it until the next time we would meet – a stretch of several years. I was in yet another interesting “in-between” phase of relationship – this time between husbands two and three – yes, for those of you unaware of my history, my marital inspiration isn’t Zsa Zsa, but you’d never know it.
It was December, 1999, and I was hired to be a last minute replacement for a soprano who had fallen ill. The gig was with the world-renowned Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for the Holiday Pops concerts and though Marvin was not conducting the event, his name was on the marquis as Music Director of the PSO Pops.
With eternal gratitude to the Assistant Conductor of the Symphony and his wife, both dear friends who recommended me for the job, I took every last frequent flyer mile I had and hopped on the first plane I could. Hours after landing in Pittsburgh, I stepped on stage. Gazing out at the almost 2,700 seats of the illustrious Heinz Hall, I was 12 again, and playing in my head were lyrics from A Chorus Line . . .
“Throw me a rope to grab on to.
Help me to prove that I’m strong.
Give me the chance to look forward to sayin’:
“Hey, listen, they’re playing my song.”
By the time the week of concerts had ended, a new and most unfortunate love affair had begun for me. I had been seduced (actually conned) by the man who worked directly for Marvin, the manager of the PSO. Four months later, when this soon-to-be-revealed-sociopath invited me to fly back from LA to Pittsburgh to attend the Symphony Ball and meet Marvin again. . .well, let’s just say that’s where the best part of the story begins.
Standing in Marvin’s luxurious penthouse hotel suite I was dressed the part, in a glittery svelte ball gown, with hair and makeup done to the max. I was going to meet the Maestro, but this time I wasn’t just the Cantor from Malibu, I was the soloist who had graced his stage for the Holiday Pops just a couple of months before.
As usual, Marvin was friendly and funny and I felt like I was living a dream. And maybe I was, because that night everything changed. In addition to the gift of reconnecting with Marvin, I more than reconnected with the man who hired me – and not long after, we married.
Nine months later I was in labor when I saw Marvin again . . . this time at intermission while I sat, cross legged, on his dressing room couch timing out my contractions while eating a Subway tuna sandwich. By his own admission, for the first time Marvin felt like a nervous parent as he paced slightly backstage.
“Shouldn’t you be going to the hospital?”
Fwoo – fwoo . . . I focused on my breathing.
“No, not yet. The contractions aren’t that strong and my midwife said I should sit tight until they get more intense. Then she’ll meet me at the hospital.”
“Well, they’re looking pretty intense to me,” he offered.
I smiled and reassured Marvin that my bag was in the car and the hospital was literally two minutes away. With a somewhat perplexed look, he half shrugged, waved and returned to the podium to conduct the second half of his program. In inimitable Marvin fashion, he didn’t miss a beat, joking to the audience that he’s sorry he was late, but that there was a woman in labor in his dressing room.
Early afternoon on January 19th, 2001, I gave birth to my daughter Emma in Allegheny General Hospital, right near Three Rivers Stadium and the Andy Warhol Museum. From the time my water had broken through Marvin’s concert to an undesired but unavoidable C-section, I had technically been in labor for 22 hours. After such an ordeal I half expected the baby would come out wearing a satiny tux fashioned from mother of pearl and fuschia feathers.
That night, immediately after his second concert and still in HIS tux, Marvin entered the hospital, well after hours, to check on me. I was alone in the room and had been feeling more than a little bit alone in the world.
My new husband — not close to a genuine or caring type, yay me — had left. I had no siblings or parents anywhere near Pittsburgh. My couple of dear friends had gone home to their families, so there was nobody sitting by my bedside oohing and ahhing over my first born child.
The man who quietly walked into my room to join me was Marvin Hamlisch. He oohed and ahhed. We talked. He made me laugh, and he made me feel like somebody cared.
Marvin was that rarest kind of human being who just showed up, offering the best part of himself without any expectation of outcome. In that moment and forever in my heart, Marvin Hamlisch became Uncle Marvin.
My daughter is now exactly the age I was when I first heard of Marvin Hamlisch. I still have the baby outfit he and his lovely wife Terre gave her.
With genetics, talent and a little bit of kismet at work, my daughter is now starting to find her voice and has her own even more powerful dreams of stardom.
I wish she could have known Marvin. She would have loved his passion, his personality, his heart, as I did.
I have to believe that somewhere, somehow, Uncle Marvin will always be there to watch over, guide and inspire her as he had done for me – at least in my heart.
Uncle Marvin, you are loved and will be sorely missed.
May your memory eternally be for a blessing.
Photo Credit: Marvin Hamlisch from Marvin Hamlisch.com and Heinz Hall from FlickRiver.com