Marilyn Bergman dies: Oscar-winning co-composer of “The Way We Were” was 93

NEW YORK – Marilyn Bergman, the Oscar-winning lyricist who teamed up with husband Alan Bergman on “The Way We Were”, “How Do You Play Music?” and hundreds of other songs, died Saturday at her Los Angeles home. She was 93 years old.

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

The Bergmans, 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 the polish of contemporary pop. They have worked with some of the world’s best melodists including Marvin Hamlisch, Cy Coleman and Michel Legrand, and have been covered by some of the world’s greatest singers, from Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand to Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson.

“If someone really wants to write original songs, that really speak to people, you have to feel like you’ve created something that wasn’t there before – which is the ultimate accomplishment, right? not ?” Marilyn Bergman told the Huffington Post in 2013. “And to create something that didn’t exist before, you have to know what came before you.”

Their songs included the sentimental Streisand-Neil Diamond duo “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, the lively “Nice ‘n’ Easy” by Sinatra and the dreamy “Sleep Warm” by Dean Martin. They helped write the rhythmic themes for the 1970s sitcoms “Maude” and “Good Times” and collaborated on the lyrics and music for the Broadway show “Ballroom”.

But they were best known for their contributions to films, producing themes that were sometimes more memorized than the films themselves. Highlights include “It Might Be You” by Stephen Bishop from “Tootsie”; “The Windmills of Your Mind” by Noel Harrison, from “The Thomas Crown Affair”; and, for “Best Friends”, the James Ingram-Patti Austin duo “How Do You Keep the Music Playing? “

Their climax was “The Way We Were”, from the Streisand-Robert Redford romantic drama of the same name. On Hamlisch’s brooding and thoughtful tune, with Streisand’s vocals rising everywhere, it was 1974’s best-selling song and an instant standard, proof that although in the rock age, audiences still embraced a ballad in the old one.

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

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

The Bergmans have 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 which were in 1983 alone. They have also won two Grammys and four Emmys and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Another composer, Quincy Jones, called the news of his death overwhelming. “You, along with your beloved Alan, were the embodiment of Nadia Boulanger’s conviction that ‘an artist can never be more or less than he is as a human being” “, a- he tweeted.

“For those of us who liked the words of the Bergmans, Marilyn is taking our heart and soul with her 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 subsequently served as its president. She was also the first chair of the National Recorded Sound Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

Streisand has worked with them throughout his career, recording over 60 of their songs and devoting an entire album, “What Matters Most”, to their material. The Bergmans met her when she was 18, a nightclub singer, and quickly became close friends.

“I love their words, I love the feeling, I love their 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 behind the scenes of a small nightclub and have never stopped loving each other and working together,” Streisand wrote. “Their songs are timeless, just like our love. May she rest in peace. “

Like Streisands, 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 single name was Katz, and they grew up in the same neighborhood and were fans of music and movies since their childhood. They both moved to Los Angeles in 1950 – Marilyn had studied English and Psychology at New York University – but didn’t meet until a few years later, when they were working for the same composer.

The Bergmans seemed to be free from the boundaries and tensions of many songwriting teams. They compared their chemistry to housework (a lava, a dryer) or baseball (throwing and catching), and were so in tune with each other that they struggled to remember who wrote a given word. .

“Our partnership as writers or as husband and wife? Marilyn told The Huffington Post when asked about their relationship. “I think aspects of both are the same: respect, trust, all of that is needed in a writing partnership or a business partnership or in a marriage.”

Besides her husband, Bergman is survived by their daughter, Julie Bergman.

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