If the words “Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman” showed in the credits, it was always a good sign. Sadly, Marilyn has passed away at the age of 93, according to Variety.
The partners in life and work, who were actually born at the same Brooklyn hospital, teamed up in the late 1950s. The list of their collaborators reads like a who’s who of 20th-century composers and singers. Their earliest work, setting words to music written by Lew Spence, can be found on albums by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.
Their first work on Broadway was the 1964 musical Something More!, working with composer Sammy Fain. In 1967, they scored their first film credit, collaborating with Quincy Jones on the title song to the Sidney Poitier-Rod Steiger classic In The Heat of the Night for Ray Charles. Their first Oscar came the following year, working with Michel Legrand on “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crowne Affair.
The couple would win two additional Oscars, both for collaborations with Barbra Streisand. The first was for writing the lyrics to Marvin Hamlisch’s composition The Way We Were (yes, a line like “misty watercolored memories” doesn’t fall from the sky, people have to create it), and the second was for the score to Streisand’s masterpiece Yentl (again, in collaboration with Legrand.)
All told, the Bergmans were nominated for 16 Oscars. In 1983, they were up for three of the five: for “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” from Best Friends (with Legrand), for “If We Were In Love” from Yes, Giorgio (with John Williams), and, in this writer’s opinion, the quintessential 1980s movie song, “It Might Be You” from Tootsie (with Dave Grusin). The winners ended up being Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Will Jennings for “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III was also a nominee. Hot damn, what a year!
The pair were nominated for eight Emmys and won four (among them for the television film Sybil and 1995’s Barbra: The Concert). They were also nominated for 12 Grammys and won two. (Song of the Year for The Way We Were and Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special for the same, plus a Trustees Award in 2013). Other hits that earned them nominations include “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” written in collaboration with Neil Diamond.
Then there are the songs everybody knows but doesn’t really think about, like the themes to Good Times (“Temporary layoffs! Easy credit ripoffs!”) and Maude (“And then there’s Maude!”).
Concerning the collaborative nature of her career, Marilyn said in an interview, “it’s unusual I know. Someone said it’s like three people making a baby.”
In 1994, Marilyn was elected President and Chairman of the Board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), after five terms as the first woman to serve on the board of directors. She stepped down in 2009.
News of her passing was met by fond remembrances from colleagues.
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