Marilyn Bergman: She Was Half of an Oscar-Winning Songwriting Duo

From a New York Times obit by Anita Gates headlined “Marilyn Bergman, Half of an Oscar-Winning Songwriting Duo, Dies at 93”:

Marilyn Bergman, who with her husband, Alan Bergman, gave the world memorable lyrics about “misty watercolor memories” and “the windmills of your mind” and won three Academy Awards, died at her home in Los Angeles….

The Bergmans’ lyrics, set to melodies by composers like Marvin Hamlisch and Michel Legrand, were not everywhere, but it sometimes seemed that way. For many years their words were also heard every week over the opening credits to hit television shows like “Maude,” “Good Times” and “Alice.”

The Bergmans and Mr. Hamlisch won the 1974 best-song Academy Award for “The Way We Were,” from the Robert Redford-Barbra Streisand romance of the same name. Their other best-song winner, “The Windmills of Your Mind” (“Like a circle in a circle/Like a wheel within a wheel”), was written with Mr. Legrand for the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Their third Oscar was for the score of Ms. Streisand’s 1983 film “Yentl,” also written with Mr. Legrand.

Aside from the Oscar winners, their other popular songs included the title track of Frank Sinatra’s album “Nice ’n’ Easy,” written with the songwriter Lew Spence; the poignant ballad “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” from the 1969 movie “The Happy Ending,” with music by Mr. Legrand; and “Where Do You Start?,” written with Johnny Mandel and covered by artists like Tony Bennett, Michael Feinstein and Ms. Streisand.

Ms. Streisand released an album of the Bergmans’ songs, “What Matters Most,” in 2011. The compilation “Sinatra Sings Alan & Marilyn Bergman” was released in 2019.

Television was a significant part of the Bergmans’ careers as well. They won three Emmy Awards: for the score of the 1976 TV movie “Sybil,” written with Leonard Rosenman; the song “Ordinary Miracles,” written with Mr. Hamlisch and performed by Ms. Streisand in a 1995 concert special; and “A Ticket to Dream,” another Hamlisch collaboration, written for the American Film Institute’s 1998 special “100 Years … 100 Movies.”

But their lyrics were probably heard far more often by viewers of popular late-20th-century television series. They wrote the words to the bouncy theme songs for the hit sitcoms “Maude,” “Alice” and “Good Times,” as well as the themes for the nostalgic comedy series “Brooklyn Bridge” and the drama series “In the Heat of the Night.” Their hit “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” best known as a duet by Neil Diamond and Ms. Streisand, was originally written for Norman Lear’s short-lived series “All That Glitters.”

Early in her career, Ms. Bergman was one of relatively few women in the songwriting business. In a 2007 interview with NPR, she recalled attending meetings of the performance rights organization ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) at which the only women “would be me and a lot of the widows of songwriters who were representing their husbands’ estates.” She was the first woman to serve as president of ASCAP….

Marilyn Katz was born in 1928 in the same Brooklyn hospital where Alan Bergman had been born four years earlier….She attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, now LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.

A school friend introduced her to an uncle, Bob Russell, who wrote the lyrics to the Duke Ellington hit “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and would later write the lyrics to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” Marilyn regularly went to his home after school to play piano for him as he wrote.

By the time she had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from New York University, she had set aside ideas of a music career and planned to become a psychologist. But a fateful accident sent her back to the arts.

In 1956 she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her shoulder. Seeking help during her recuperation, she flew to Los Angeles to stay with her parents, who had moved there. So had Mr. Russell, and when she looked him up he suggested that she do some songwriting herself. Unable to play the piano because of her injury, she could not compose and so decided to write lyrics instead.

Working under the name Marilyn Keith, she took a job with Mr. Spence, who also worked with Alan Bergman. Mr. Spence introduced the two, and their musical partnership began immediately. They were married two years later.

Asked in 2010…how she and Mr. Bergman managed to work together while staying married, she said: “The way porcupines make love. Carefully.”…

In a 2002 interview with American Songwriter magazine, Ms. Bergman defined the difference between an amateur and professional songwriter as “the ability to rewrite” and “not to have fallen so in love with what you have written that you can’t find a better way,”

The Bergmans were inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980 and jointly received a Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2013.

Although best known for their movie and television work, the Bergmans did try writing for the Broadway stage, although they did not have much success….

“Our experiences in the theater and film,” Ms. Bergman told The New York Times in 1982, “have shown us that the two require entirely different kinds of writing.” And movies were always the couple’s first love.

“We found we must be more abstract when writing for film,” she said, “because film really speaks more to the preconscious part of the brain, the part of us that dreams.”

Also see the Washington Post obit by Tim Greiving headlined “Marilyn Bergman, Oscar-winning lyricist of ‘The Way We Were,’ ‘The Windmills of Your Mind,’ dies at 93.” The opening grafs:

Marilyn Bergman, an Oscar-winning lyricist who collaborated with her husband, Alan Bergman, on some of the most enduring pop songs heard at the movies, among them “The Way We Were” and “The Windmills of Your Mind,” died Jan. 8 at her home in Los Angeles.

The Bergmans wed in 1958 and spent a lifetime marrying memorable words to melodies by Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Quincy Jones, John Williams and Dave Grusin. Their songs, many of them full of romance and regret, were interpreted by entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Neil Diamond and — most frequently — Barbra Streisand.

“Their spectacular marriage gives their lyrics an authenticity,” Streisand wrote in the liner notes of her 2011 album “What Matters Most,” filled with Bergman-penned songs, “making them both deeply personal and, at the same time, completely universal.”

“Memories light the corners of my mind / misty watercolor memories / of the way we were,” Streisand sang to Hamlisch’s bittersweet melody during the opening titles for the 1973 film “The Way We Were,” which starred the singer as a political Jewish firebrand in love with Robert Redford’s complacent WASP writer.

“How do you keep the music playing?” asked another of the Bergmans’ songs, written with Legrand for the 1982 film “Best Friends” and kept alive as Tony Bennett’s concert closer for decades. “How do you make it last? How do you keep the song from fading too fast?”…

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