NEW YORK (Associated Press) — Marilyn Bergman, the Academy Award-winning songwriter who collaborated with her husband Alan Bergman on “The Way We Were,” How Do You Keep the Music Playing? And hundreds of other songs, she died at her home in Los Angeles on Saturday. She was 93 years old.
She died of respiratory failure unrelated to COVID-19, according to actor Jason Lee. Her husband was at her bedside when she died.
The Bergmans family, who married in 1958, were among the most enduring, successful and producing partnerships of songwriting, specializing in introspective poems for film, television, and theater that combined the romance of Tin Pan Alley with the polish of contemporary pop.
They have worked with some of the world’s best musicians, including Marvin Hamlich, 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 one is really serious about wanting to write original songs, that really speak to people, you have to feel like you’ve created something that wasn’t there before — the ultimate achievement, right?” Marilyn Bergman told The Huffington Post in 2013. “To make something that wasn’t there before, you have to know what came before you.”
Their songs included the emotional Streisand-Neil Diamond Duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, the gentle Sinatra “Nice ‘n’ Easy” and the dreamy Dean Martin “Sleep Warm”. They helped write the uptempo themes for the 1970s sitcom “Maude” and “Good Times” and collaborated on lyrics and music for the 1978 Broadway show “Ballroom.”
But they are best known for their contributions to films, bringing out themes that are sometimes remembered more than the films themselves. Notable highlights include: “It Might Be You” by Stephen Bishop, of “Tootsie”; Noel Harrison “The Windmills in Your Mind”, from “The Thomas Crown Affair”; And on Best Friends, James Ingram duo Patti Austin’s “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.
Set to Hamlich’s moody, musing tune with Streisand’s voice, it was the best-selling song of 1974 and an instant standard, proof that in the age of rock, audiences still embraced an old-fashioned song.
Fans would have struggled to identify Bergman’s photo, or even recognize their names, but had no trouble calling out the words to “the way we were”:
“Memories, they may be beautiful however / What is too painful to remember / We simply choose to forget / So it’s laughter / We will remember / When to remember / The way we were.”
The Bergmans have won three Oscars – for “The Way We Were”, “Windmills of Your Mind” and the soundtrack for Streisand’s movie “Yentl” – and have received 16 nominations, three of them in 1983 alone. They have also won two Grammy Awards and four Emmy Awards and been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Fellow composer Quincy Jones described the news of her death as heartbreaking. “You and your sweetheart Alan were the epitome of Nadia Boulanger’s belief that ‘the artist can’t be more or less than he is now,'” he wrote on Twitter.
“For those of us who loved Bergman’s words, Marilyn takes a little bit of our hearts and souls with her today,” tweeted Norman Lear, creator of Mode and Good Times.
Marilyn Bergman became the first woman to be 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 Council for the Preservation of Recorded Voice of the Library of Congress.
Streisand has worked with them throughout her career, recording over 60 of their songs and dedicating an entire album, “What Matters Most” to their material. The Bergmans family met her when she was eighteen, she was a nightclub singer, and she quickly became close friends.
“I just love their words, I love feelings, I love their exploration of love and relationships,” Streisand told The Associated Press in 2011.
Like Streisand, Bergman was Jews from lower middle-class families in Brooklyn. They were born in the same hospital, Alan four years before Marilyn, her unmarried name is Katz, they grew up in the same neighborhood and have been a fan of music and movies since childhood.
They both 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 both working with the same composer.
The Bergmans family seemed free from the boundaries and tensions of many songwriting teams. They likened their chemistry to chores (one washing, one drying) or baseball (throwing and catching), and they were so in tune with one another that they struggled to remember who wrote a particular poem.
“Our partnership as a writer or as husband and wife?” Marilyn told The Huffington Post when asked about her relationship. “I believe the aspects of both are the same: respect and trust, all necessary in a clerical partnership or a business partnership or in a marriage.”
Besides her husband, Bergman is survived by their daughter Julie Bergman.
Associated Press press writer David Bauder contributed to this report.