OscarWinning lyricist Marilyn Bergman died at her home in Los Angeles on Saturday at the age of 93.
Bergman, who teamed up with husband Alan Bergman for clues The way we were, and How do you keep the music going? died of respiratory failure unrelated to Covid, according to her representative, Jason Lee. Her husband was at her bedside when she died.
The Bergman family, who married in 1958, were among the most enduring, successful and productive songwriting partnerships, specializing in introspective ballads for film, television and the stage that combined the romance of Tin Pan Alley with contemporary pop polishing.
They worked on some of the world’s best tunes, including Marvin Hamlisch, Cy Coleman and Michel Legrand, and were covered by some of the world’s greatest singers, from Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand to Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson.
“If you’re really serious about wanting to write songs that are original, that really speak to people, you’ll feel like you’ve created something that was not there before – which is the ultimate achievement, right?” MarilynBergman told The Huffington Post in 2013.
“And to make something that was not there before, you must know what came before you.”
Their hundreds of other songs included the sentimental Streisand-Neil Diamond duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, Sinatra’s snapped “Nice ‘n’ Easy” and Dean Martin’s dreamy “Sleep Warm”.
They helped write the uptempo themes for the 1970s sitcoms “Maude” and “Good Times” and collaborated on words and music for the 1978 Broadway show “Ballroom.”
But they were best known for their contributions to film, and it turned out that themes could sometimes be remembered more than the films themselves. Among the highlights: Stephen Bishop’s It could be you, from Tootsie; Noel Harrisons The windmills of your mind, from The Thomas Crown case; and for Best friends, James Ingram-Patti Austin duet How do you keep the music going?
Their highlight was The way we were, from Streisand-Robert Redford’s romantic drama of the same name.
Set to Hamlisch’s humorous, thoughtful melody with Streisand’s voice, it was the best-selling song of 1974 and an instant standard, proof that well into rock age, the public still embraced an old-fashioned ballad.
Fans would have struggled to identify a picture of Bergmans or even recognize their names, but they had no trouble calling the words “The Way We Were”:
“Memories, can be beautiful and yet / What is too painful to remember / We simply choose to forget / So it is laughter / We will remember / When we remember / That is how we were.”
The Bergmans won three Oscars – for The way we were, Windmills in your mind and the soundtrack to Streisands Yentl – and received 16 nominations, three of them alone in 1983. They also won two Grammys and four Emmys and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Marilyn Bergman was the first woman elected to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and later served as president and president. She was also the first chair of the National Recorded Sound Preservation Board in the Library of Congress.
Streisand worked with them throughout his career, recording more than 60 of their songs and dedicating an entire album, What matters most, to their material. The Bergman family met her when she was 18, a nightclub singer, and quickly became close friends.
“I just love their words, I love the feeling, I love their exploration of love and relationships,” Streisand told The Associated Press in 2011.
Like Streisand, the Bergmans were Jews from lower middle-class families in Brooklyn. They were born in the same hospital, Alan four years earlier than Marilyn, whose unmarried name was Katz, and they grew up in the same neighborhood and have been fans of music and movies since childhood.
They both moved to Los Angeles in 1950 – Marilyn had studied English and psychology at New York University – but only met a few years later when they worked for the same composer.
Bergmans seemed to be free from the boundaries and tensions of many songwriting teams. They compared their chemistry to housework (a washer, a dryer) or to baseball (pitching and catching), and were so in tune with each other that they struggled to remember who wrote a given text.
“Our partnership as writers or as husband and wife?” Marilyn told The Huffington Post when asked about their relationship. “I think the aspects of both are the same: Respect, trust, all that is needed in a written partnership or a business partnership or in a marriage.”
In addition to her husband, Bergman leaves behind their daughter, Julie Bergman.