Marilyn Bergman, Oscar-winning composer, dies at age 93

NEW YORK (AP) – Marilyn Bergman, the Oscar-winning lyricist who joined her husband Alan Bergman on “The Way We Were,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” and hundreds of other songs, he died at his Los Angeles home on Saturday. She was 93 years old.

He died of respiratory failure unrelated to COVID-19, according to a representative, Jason Lee. Her husband was at her bedside when he died.

The Bergmans, who married in 1958, were among the longest-running, most successful, and productive songwriting associations, specializing in introspective ballads for film, television, and stage that combined the romance of Tin Pan Alley with the polish of contemporary pop.

They worked with some of the best melodists in the world, including Marvin Hamlisch, Cy Coleman, and Michel Legrand, and were performed by some of the best singers in the world, from Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand to Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson.

“If you really want to write original songs, that really speak to people, you have to feel that you created something that did not exist before, which is the greatest achievement, right?” Marilyn Bergman told The Huffington Post in 2013: “And to do something that wasn’t there before, you have to know what came before you.”

His songs included Streisand-Neil Diamond’s sentimental duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” Sinatra’s nimble “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 the lyrics and music for the 1978 Broadway show “Ballroom.”

But they were best known for their contributions to movies, producing themes sometimes remembered more than the movies themselves. Among the highlights: Stephen Bishop’s “It Might Be You” from “Tootsie”; “The Windmills of Your Mind” by Noel Harrison, from “The Thomas Crown Affair”; and, for “Best Friends,” the James Ingram-Patti Austin duet “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”

Its heyday was “The Way We Were,” from the Streisand-Robert Redford romance drama of the same name.

Featuring Hamlisch’s brooding, brooding melody voiced by Streisand, it was the best-selling song of 1974 and an instant standard, proof that well into the rock age, audiences still embraced an old-fashioned ballad.

Fans would have had trouble identifying an image of the Bergmans, or even recognizing their names, but they had no trouble invoking the words of “The Way We Were”:

“Memories, they can be beautiful and yet / What is too painful to remember / We just choose to forget / So it’s laughter / We will remember / As long as we remember / The way we were.”

The Bergmans won three Oscars, for “The Way We Were,” “Windmills of Your Mind,” and the soundtrack to Streisand’s “Yentl,” and received 16 nominations, three of them in 1983 alone. They also won two Grammy Awards and four Emmy Awards and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Also composer Quincy Jones said the news of his death was overwhelming. “You, along with your beloved Alan, were the epitome of Nadia Boulanger’s belief that ‘an artist can never be more or less than he is as a human being,'” she tweeted.

“For those of us who love Bergman’s lyrics, Marilyn carries our hearts and souls with her a little bit today,” tweeted Norman Lear, creator of “Maude” and “Good Times.”

Marilyn Bergman became 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 president of the National Board for the Preservation of Recorded Sounds of the Library of Congress.

Streisand worked with them throughout their career, recording more than 60 of their songs and dedicating an entire album, “What Matters Most”, to their material. The Bergmans met her when she was 18 years old, she was a nightclub singer, and they soon became close friends.

“I love his words, I love the sentiment, I love his exploration of love and relationships,” Streisand told The Associated Press in 2011.

On Saturday, she posted a photo of herself with the Bergmans on Twitter, saying they were like family, as well as brilliant lyricists.

“We met over 60 years ago backstage at a small nightclub and we never stopped loving and working together,” Streisand wrote. “His songs are timeless, as is our love. Rest in peace.”

Like Streisand, the Bergmans were Jews from lower-middle-class families in Brooklyn. Born in the same hospital, Alan four years before Marilyn, whose maiden name was Katz, grew up in the same neighborhood and were fans of music and movies since childhood.

The two moved to Los Angeles in 1950 (Marilyn had studied English and psychology at New York University), but they didn’t meet until a few years later, when they were working for the same composer.

The Bergmans seemed to be free from the limits and tensions of many songwriting teams. They compared their chemistry to housework (one washes, one dries) or baseball (pitching and catching), and they were so in tune with each other that they struggled to remember who wrote which lyrics.

“Our association 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 of that is necessary in a written partnership or a business partnership or in a marriage.”

In addition to her husband, Bergman is survived by her daughter, Julie Bergman.


AP media writer David Bauder contributed to this report.


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