Marilyn Bergman, Oscar-Winning Lyricist, Dies at 93
Lyricist Marilyn Bergman, who teamed with her husband, Alan Bergman, to win three Academy Awards as one of the most revered writing tandems in the annals of movie music history, has died. She was 93.
Bergman, whose work includes such classics as “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “Nice ’n’ Easy,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “The Way We Were,” died peacefully early Saturday morning in her Los Angeles home, according to family rep Ken Sunshine. The cause of death was respiratory failure (non-COVID related). Her husband, 96, survives her.
They won Academy Awards for the best original songs “The Way We Were” (shared with Marvin Hamlisch) from the 1973 Barbra Streisand film of that name and “Windmills of Your Mind” (shared with Michel Legrand) from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). (Watch them accept their Oscar here). They received another trophy for their score for Streisand’s Yentl (1983).
The prolific lyric team worked extensively for the movies, writing the lyrics for three of the five songs nominated for the best song Academy Award in 1983 — “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (from Best Friends), “If We Were in Love” (from Yes, Giorgio), and “It Might Be You” (from Tootsie).
They netted three more noms the following year, all for their work with Legrand on Yentl.
In all, the Bergmans received 16 Oscar nominations. During the period from 1969-74, they received one Academy Award nom each year, which they shared with their composing partners: “Windmills of Your Mind,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” “Pieces of Dreams,” “All His Children,” “Marmalade, Molasses and Honey” and “The Way We Were.”
They teamed with an array of composers: Legrand (“Windmills of Your Mind”), Neil Diamond (“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”), Quincy Jones (“The World Goes On), Sergio Mendes (“Look Around”) and Hamlisch (“The Way We Were”), among others.
Their collaborations with Hamlisch were particularly rich. In addition to an Oscar and a Grammy for The Way We Were, they garnered an Oscar nom with Hamlisch on “The Last Time I Felt Like This” from Same Time Next Year.
The Bergmans also won three Emmy Awards, two shared with Hamlisch for Barbra: The Concert and AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies and one for Sybil, shared with composer Leonard Rosenman.
They had a luminous association with Streisand, meeting the singer (and fellow Brooklynite) when she was still a teenager after they watched her perform at a club in New York. Their work with her included “On Rainy Afternoons,” “After the Rain,” “One Day” and “Evergreen.”
“Marilyn and Alan Bergman were like family, as well as brilliant lyricists,” Streisand said in a statement posted to her Twitter Saturday. “We met over 60 years ago backstage at a little night club, and never stopped loving each other and working together. Their songs are timeless, and so is our love. May she rest in peace.”
They were voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980.
In 1985, Marilyn became the first woman elected to the board of directors of ASCAP and served as president and chairman of the performance-rights organization for 15 years through 2009.
“It is with deep sadness that I personally, and all of ASCAP, mourn the passing of Marilyn Bergman, one of the greatest lyricists who ever lived and truly ASCAP royalty,” ASCAP president, chairman and Oscar-winning songwriter Paul Williams said in a statement.
“She was a brilliant songwriter who together with her husband gave us some of the most beautiful and enduring lyrics of all time. She was a tireless and fierce advocate for music creators not only during her term as president and chairman of ASCAP but throughout her life. Our community will miss her intelligence, her wit and her wisdom. Alan — we mourn with you.”
The couple also were the lyricists for the theme songs for such shows as Bracken’s World, Good Times, Maude, Alice and Brooklyn Bridge.
“We’ve had enough experience to know that a compromise is going to be worked out,” Marilyn said in a 1980 interview with People magazine. “If one of us feels strongly about something, we’ll let it go for the moment, come back to it the next day and look for a third way to do it.”
Legendary TV producer Norman Lear, whose short-lived series All That Glitters was originally slated to feature the duo’s hit “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” said “there was only one Marilyn Bergman” in a statement posted to Twitter.
“No one knew that more than her husband and partner in music, Alan,” Lear continued. “To those of us who loved the Bergman’s lyrics, Marilyn takes a bit of our hearts and souls with her today.”
Music icon Tony Bennett also remembered the duo’s work and Marilyn on Saturday, writing, “Marilyn and Alan Bergman with Michele Legrand wrote my favorite song, ‘How Do You Keep The Music Playing?’ We lost Marilyn today, but her music keeps playing.”
The Bergmans were born in the same Brooklyn hospital (she three years after him; Streisand was born at the Jewish Hospital, too) and grew up near each other, but they did not meet until they had moved west.
The daughter of a clothing manufacturer, she was born Marilyn Katz on Nov. 10, 1928. She studied concert piano at New York’s High School of Music and Art and then psychology and English at NYU. While in college, she broke both shoulders when she fell down a flight of stairs; while recuperating at her parents’ home in L.A. and unable to write, she began speaking song lyrics into a tape recorder.
She was introduced to Alan at a party in 1956 by composer Lew Spence. That first day, they wrote a song together: “I Never Knew What Hit Me,” which they said was awful) and married two years later.
They and Spence teamed on Fred Astaire’s “That Face” in 1957, Dean Martin’s “Sleep Warm” in 1958 and Frank Sinatra’s “Nice ’n’ Easy” in 1960. (“That Face” also served as Alan’s engagement present to her.)
They recently wrote two more film songs, one with Legrand for the release “Hurry Home” for Jerry Lewis’ Max Rose (2013) and one with Dave Grusin, “Just Getting Started,” for the documentary If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017).
In 1974, the AFI created the Women’s Directing Workshop, and Marilyn, along with Anne Bancroft, Dyan Cannon and Randa Haines, were invited to participate in the class of ’75.
She and 10 other women founded The Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, which raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and was described as the “single most powerful entertainment group in politics.”
Survivors include their daughter, producer Julie Bergman Sender (Major League, G.I. Jane, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Six Days Seven Nights), son-in-law iLan Azoulai and granddaughter Emily Sender.