Scores of talented film and stage composers, from Harold Arlen to Hans Zimmer, have made their marks in the entertainment industry. But only two so far have managed to receive all of the top five American arts awards: the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Pulitzer Prize and Tony. The first, Richard Rodgers (1902-1979), wrote the scores of many of the greatest Broadway musicals (which were later transferred to the screen). The second title holder would seem to be an unlikely equal to the dean of Broadway. After starting out as a composer of pop hits for teen thrush Lesley Gore (“Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows”), this composer moved on to scoring films (“The April Fools”) and musicals (“They’re Playing Our Song”) while serving as the occasional straight man/accompanist for legends such as Groucho Marx and Barbra Streisand.

Rodgers’ awards rival was Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012), who won three Oscars in one year (1974, for “The Sting,” adapted score, and “The Way We Were,” best song and original score), and topped that achievement with a Grammy (1975, “The Way We Were,” original film soundtrack), a Tony and Pulitzer Prize (1975, “A Chorus Line”). Nearly three years after his death at age 68, the Ravinia Festival will celebrate the composer’s legacy with “Play It Again, Marvin,” a concert July 26 featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conductor David Alan Miller, host-pianist-vocalist Kevin Cole, and vocalists Sylvia McNair, Maria Friedman and Jeremy Landon Hays.

Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) reaches for a dream in "The Swimmer" (1968), the first film scored by Marvin Hamlisch.

Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) reaches for a dream in “The Swimmer” (1968), the first film scored by Marvin Hamlisch.

On the program will be Hamlisch standards such as “Nobody Does It Better” (co-written with Carole Bayer Sager for the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me”), “Through the Eyes of Love” (from “Ice Castles,” 1978), and of course, “The Way We Were,” his best-known song. But Hamlisch aficionados will be especially pleased that one of his often-overlooked works, his score for “The Swimmer” (1968), is part of the Ravinia showcase. Based on the 1964 short story by John Cheever, “The Swimmer” depicts the anguish of a middle-aged ad exec (Burt Lancaster) as he slowly realizes that the American dream has fallen out of his grasp.

Hamlisch’s first score, commissioned by legendary producer Sam Spiegel after he heard the 22-year-old musical wunderkind playing the piano at a party, it captures the duality of upper-class suburban existence. Ranging from seemingly sunny optimism to dark melancholy hovering beneath the surface, the score encapsulates the tragedy of Ned Merrill (Lancaster), truly a man out of time. The allegorical drama follows Merrill as he decides to “swim home,” traveling from backyard pool to pool across a Connecticut county. “I wanted a massive tone,” recalled Hamlisch in his memoir The Way I Was. “I wanted the audience to feel yearning and anguish, as each pool stop peels back part of the hero’s life, revealing him as a fraud and a failure. I called on the size and power of a symphony orchestra to convey this man’s pain. … The theme of ‘The Swimmer’ was dramatic and despondent, but it was a theme that stayed with you. It was haunting.”

Despite Lancaster’s bravura performance (he regarded “The Swimmer” as his favorite role) and Hamlisch’s remarkable score, the film sank at the box office. Some critics, including Roger Ebert, who called it “a strange, stylized work, brilliant and disturbing,” raved about the film. Others expressed reservations. In the New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote: “Neddy’s self-delusion, bordering on madness, is portrayed with little patches of lyric, arty [photography], and the climax is punched home with a musical score that would sound overly passionate in a Verdi opera.”

Fortunately, “The Swimmer” managed to find an audience over the decades. (In 2014, it received a Blu-ray restoration from Grindhouse Releasing, complete with a 2.5-hour “making of” documentary by Chris Innis, an Oscar winner for the editing of “The Hurt Locker.”) Back in 1968, many filmgoers took the movie’s allegorical themes too literally. “It needs to be viewed almost surrealistically,” Hamlisch said in a French interview from 2010. “If you’re allowing the film to be about the end of an American dream, then the music is a continuation of the journey, with a man slowly descending into total disaster.”

The program for “Play It Again, Marvin!: A Marvin Hamlisch Celebration” at Ravinia:

A Chorus Line Concerto
“Dreamers” from Jean Seberg
“Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows”
Rehearsal Pianist Medley
“A Beat Behind” from The Goodbye Girl
“Sing!” from A Chorus Line
“High Energy” from Missing Pieces
“Smart Women” from Imaginary Friends
Theme from The Swimmer
“Nothing” from A Chorus Line
“A Mother’s Voice”
Themes from The Sting
“Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me
“They’re Playing My Song” from They’re Playing Our Song
“I Cannot Hear the City” from Sweet Smell of Success
“That’s How I Say Goodbye” from Sweet Smell of Success
“If You Really Knew Me” from They’re Playing Our Song
“Through the Eyes of Love” from Ice Castles
“At the Fountain” from Sweet Smell of Success
Theme from Sophie’s Choice
“If You Remember Me” from The Champ
“The Way We Were” from The Way We Were

Video interview with Marvin Hamlisch discussing “The Swimmer,” via YouTube: