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

Marilyn Bergman, the Oscar-winning lyricist who worked with husband Alan Bergman on “The Way We Were,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” and hundreds of other songs, died Saturday at her Los Angeles home. She was 93.

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

The Bergmans, who married in 1958, were among the most enduring, successful and prolific songwriting partnerships, specializing in introspective ballads for film, television and the stage that combined the romance of Tin Pan Alley with the brilliance of contemporary pop. They have collaborated 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 you’re really serious about writing songs that are original, that really appeal to people, you have to feel like you’ve created something that wasn’t there before — which is the ultimate achievement, isn’t it?” Marilyn Bergman told The Huffington Post in 2013. “And to make something that wasn’t there before, you need to know what came before you.”

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

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

FILE – Alan Bergman, left, and Marilyn Bergman arrive at two of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, September 9, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

Their highlight was “The Way We Were”, from the romantic drama Streisand-Robert Redford of the same name. Set to Hamlisch’s moody, pensive melody, with Streisand’s voice soaring throughout, it was the best-selling song of 1974 and an instant standard, proof that well into the rock era audiences still embraced an old-fashioned ballad.

Fans would have struggled to identify a photo of the Bergmans, or even recognize their names, but they had no qualms invoking the words to “The Way We Were”:

“Memories, maybe beautiful and yet / What’s too painful to remember / We just choose to forget / So it’s the laugh / We’ll remember / When we remember / As 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 which in 1983 alone. They also won two Grammys and four Emmys and were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Fellow composer Quincy Jones called the news of her death crushing. You, along with your beloved Alan, were the embodiment of Nadia Boulanger’s belief that ‘an artist can never be more or less than they are as human beings,'” he tweeted.

“For those of us who loved Bergmans lyrics, Marilyn takes a little bit of our heart and soul with her today,” tweeted Norman Lear, creator of “Maude” 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 chairman and president. She was also the first chair of the Library of Congress’s National Recorded Sound Preservation Board.

Streisand 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 met her when she was 18, a nightclub singer, and quickly became good friends.

“I just love their words, I love the sentiment, 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 copywriters.

“We met backstage in a small nightclub over 60 years ago and have never stopped loving each other and working together,” Streisand wrote. “Their songs are timeless, and so is our love. May she rest in peace.”

Like Streisand, 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 unmarried name was Katz, and they grew up in the same neighborhood and have been fans 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 didn’t meet until a few years later, when they were working for the same composer.

The Bergmans seemed free from the confines and strains of many songwriting teams. They compared their chemistry to housework (one washes, the other dries) or to baseball (toss and catch), and were so attuned that they had trouble remembering who wrote certain lyrics.

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

Besides her husband, Bergman leaves behind their daughter Julie Bergman.


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