Marilyn Bergman, lyricist for Barbra Streisand, dies at 93

Marilyn Bergman, the prolific lyricist who, as one half of a songwriting duo with her husband Alan, wrote the words for dozens of widely-performed songs, including “The windmills of your thoughts“, “What are you doing the rest of your life?‘ and the Oscar-winning subject from 1973’s ‘The Way We Were’ died on Saturday. She was 93.

Her death at her Beverly Hills home was confirmed by her spokesman, Ken Sunshine, who said the cause was non-COVID-related respiratory failure.

Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Bergman wrote about romance — her first high and her last breath — with a flair for striking visual imagery and an almost philosophical inclination: contemplate the “misty watercolor memories” of a couple’s happier days, like her be evoked in “The Way We Were” or by the growing existential questions facing two aging lovers in “How do you keep the music going?

“How do you lose yourself to someone and never get lost?” asks the latter song, best known in a lush 1982 rendition recorded by Patti Austin and James Ingram, “And since you know we’re always changing, how can it be the same?”

But Bergman addressed other themes vividly, as in “The Windmills of Your Mind,” a trippy evocation of a bank robber’s deranged state of mind, set to music by Michel Legrand, and “In the Heat of the Night‘, with his stark vision of America’s race strife: ‘Stars with evil eyes stare from the skys all mean and bright,’ sang Ray Charles in the gospel version he recorded with music by Quincy Jones for Norman Jewison’s 1967 film starring Sidney Poitier, who died on Thursday.

In a career spanning half a century, the Bergmans worked frequently with Legrand and Jones, and composers Henry Mancini and Marvin Hamlisch; Her songs have been recorded by countless stars including Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Dusty Springfield, Sting and Gladys Knight.

Featuring an evocative minor-to-major chord progression by Hamlish, “The Way We Were” – a commercial hit in Streisand’s rendition – inspired subsequent renditions by artists as diverse as Barry Manilow, Willie Hutch and Donna Summer. In 1993, the Wu-Tang Clan Knights covered the song for “Everything can be so simple‘, a haunting cut from the rap group’s groundbreaking debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

In addition to the Oscar for The Way We Were (written for Sydney Pollack’s tearful blockbuster starring Streisand and Robert Redford), the Bergmans won Oscars for The Windmills of Your Mind (sung by Noel Harrison in 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair). . and reissued as a sultry torch song by Springfield on their classic Dusty in Memphis) and their score for Streisand’s 1983 film Yentl. They also won four Emmys, two Golden Globes and two Grammys, including the coveted Song of the Year” for “The Way We Were”.

Marilyn Bergman

Marilyn Bergman in 1995.

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

On Instagram on Saturday, Streisand – who also recorded “Windmills,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and “Where do you start?” – described the Bergmans as “brilliant lyricists” and said the couple is “like family” to her. “We met backstage at a small nightclub over 60 years ago and we never stopped loving and working together,” she wrote. Songwriter Diane Warren thanked Marilyn Bergman on Twitter for writing “so many songs that will live forever,” and a post on Bennett’s social media identified “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”. as his favorite song.

Norman Lear, the veteran television writer and producer, tweeted, “There was only one Marilyn Bergman,” saying she “takes a little bit of our hearts and souls today.” In the late ’70s, the Bergmans wrote You Don’t Bring Me Flowers with Neil Diamond for Lear’s short-lived series All That Glitters; The song topped Billboard’s Hot 100 as a duet between Diamond and Streisand.

In 2011, Streisand released an album of Bergmans songs, What Matters Most. A collection of Sinatra’s recordings of the Bergmans’ music – including “LA is my lady” about his and the adopted home of the songwriters – was released in 2019.

Marilyn Katz was born in Brooklyn on November 10, 1928, in the same hospital where Alan Bergman had been born three years earlier. Alan, 96, is survived by his wife, along with their daughter Julie Bergman and one granddaughter.

Marilyn studied music in high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from New York University. After breaking her shoulder in a fall in 1956, she came to Los Angeles, where her parents had moved; Eventually she landed a gig as a songwriter for composer Lew Spence, who introduced her to Alan Bergman, with whom Spence also wrote. The couple married in 1958 after Alan wrote “That Face” with Spence as an engagement gift.

The three wrote the title track for Sinatra’s chart-topping “Nice and simple“-Album.

The Bergmans met Streisand, whom they call their muse, in the early 1960s after a concert the singer was performing at New York’s Bon Soir nightclub.

“As soon as she started singing, Marilyn started crying,” Alan recalled in a 2011 interview with The Times. Backstage, Marilyn said she asked the singer, “Do you know how wonderful you are?”

Stephen Sondheim receives a crystal sculpture by Barbra Streisand as Warren Beatty and Marilyn Bergman look on.

Marilyn Bergman (right) and Warren Beatty (left) watch as Barbra Streisand presents a crystal sculpture to Stephen Sondheim during the Hollywood Bowl tribute to Sondheim in 2005.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

In the ’70s, the couple wrote lyrics for the theme songs of TV shows such as “maude‘, ‘Alice’ and ‘Good Times’, but they did not consider this work less worthy of their imagination than music for the films. “Lady Godiva was a liberty rider / She didn’t care if the whole world was watching,” was “Maude’s” theme tune, memorably sung by Donny Hathaway.

“You have to reach for their songs — they don’t speak badly to you,” Lear, who created “Maude,” told The Times in 2008.

In 2009, Bergman retired as the first female president of performing rights organization ASCAP, a position she held for 15 years. She was also a founding member of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, which raised money for Democratic political candidates. In 1993, she and her husband wrote material for President Clinton’s first inauguration.

“More than one person has told me they were married to ‘What do you do with the rest of your life?’, split from ‘Where do you start?’ and divorced on ‘The Way We Were,'” Marilyn said in 2008. “It’s a huge responsibility to be the soundtrack to people’s lives.” Marilyn Bergman, lyricist for Barbra Streisand, dies at 93

Caroline Bleakley

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