BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Pops leader Marvin Hamlisch died a year ago this week at age 68, leaving behind a musical legacy that included composing "The Way We Were" and "A Chorus Line." His artistry will be remembered later this year on PBS's "American Masters" presentation, "Marvin Hamlisch: The Way We Were" (9 p.m. Dec. 27).
At the time of his death, he was also principal pops conductor for orchestras in Milwaukee, Dallas, Pasadena, Calif., Seattle and San Diego. But his widow, Terre Blair Hamlisch, said he considered Pittsburgh his second home.
"He had the strongest connection there for various reasons," she said in an interview Wednesday before a PBS press conference. "I think, one, the quality of the orchestra. ... And it was the quality of the musicians."
The composer, who grew up on Manhattan's West Side, felt an affinity for the people of Pittsburgh.
"I don't know if Pittsburgh knows how good it has it sometimes," Mrs. Hamlisch said. "He fell in love with the city, whether he was throwing out the first ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates or speaking to children at an elementary school or playing a benefit at the zoo. It was his city, too."
During PBS's "American Masters" press conference, Lucie Arnaz, who starred on Broadway in "They're Playing Our Song" with music by the composer, described him as "one of the most charming, funniest, most genuinely, organically talented people I'd ever met." Filmmaker Dori Berinstein said making the "American Masters" film taught her more about his giving spirit.
"I was just blown away by his giant heart and stories, not just from all the celebrities and colleagues that he worked with, but literally stories about [how] Marvin would get in a cab, and by the time he was uptown, he had committed to doing a benefit for the cab driver's son, who was ill and needed some money for surgery," she said. "Those stories were constantly coming out of the woodwork and, I think, took us all by surprise."
Certainly Mrs. Hamlisch was unprepared for the outpouring of sympathy and thanks for her late husband's generosity.
"We received tens of thousands of letters from people, a lot from Pittsburgh," she said. "I had no idea what he had done; he never told me about all the things he did for people, and in Pittsburgh it was for the manicurist at the hotel, it was the doorman, it was the parking lot attendant, the man who cleans the floors at the symphony hall."
Mrs. Hamlisch said she received one letter from a Pittsburgher who had a subscription to the Pops series with a friend for years. One day the woman handed the conductor a note, telling him that her friend was in the hospital.
"Marvin went to the hospital in Pittsburgh and visited her, sent her flowers and called her every day until she was out of the hospital and back in Heinz Hall," Mrs. Hamlisch said. "I hope Pittsburghers are aware of how much Marvin loved them back. I hope the musicians are well aware of his deep affection and respect and gratitude to them over years and what he also learned from them."
Mrs. Hamlisch's appearance at the PBS press conference came one year and one day after her husband's death, and the emotions of that anniversary were palpable in conversation.
"How do you give back in words to a city and to its people that gave so much to Marvin Hamlisch?" she said. "How does one do that? It must be something very big if I don't have the words for it."
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published August 10, 2013 4:00 AM