Bergman, Alan and Marilyn (Keith)

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Bergman, Alan and Marilyn (Keith)

Bergman, Alan and Marilyn (Keith), Ameri can lyricists. Husband-and-wife lyric-writing team. Alan Bergman (b. Brooklyn, Sept. 11, 1925) and Marilyn Bergman (b. Brooklyn, Nov. 10, 1929) wrote lyrics for songs used in at least 50 feature films released between 1960 and 1996. Usually known for wistful romantic ballads, they were particularly associated with Barbra Streisand, and their work with her on the films The Way We Were and Yentl brought them both of their Grammys and two of their three Academy Awards; their first Oscar came for the standard “The Windmills of Your Mind.” They worked with many different composers, finding greatest success with Michel Legrand and Marvin Hamlisch.

Alan Bergman was the son of Samuel Bergman, a clothing salesman, and Ruth Margulies Bergman. In 1942 he enrolled at the Univ. of N.C. at Chapel Hill, majoring in music and theater arts. In 1943 he joined the army, where he wrote and directed shows in the Special Services division during World War II. Discharged in 1945, he returned to college; he graduated with a B.A. degree in 1948 and earned a master’s degree from U.C.L.A. in 1949. That year he moved to Philadelphia, where he became a television director. He began writing songs, and after receiving encouragement from Johnny Mercer, he moved to Los Angeles in 1953, later becoming a writer of special material on the variety series Shower of Stars and other programs. He met Marilyn Keith through composer Lew Spence, with whom both had collaborated.

Bergman and Keith had similar backgrounds: both were born and raised in Brooklyn, and Keith’s father, Albert A. Katz, also worked in the clothing business. Keith had private study in the piano as a child, intending to become a concert pianist. By the time she enrolled at N.Y.U. in 1945 she was a premedical student, but later concentrated on English and psychology. She left without a degree after being injured in a fall and joined her family, which had moved to Los Angeles. Encouraged by lyricist Bob Russell, she began to write lyrics and had amassed enough credits to join ASCAP by 1953.

Bergman and Keith teamed up, initially finding work writing television theme songs for such series as Oh! Susanna (1956) and The Nat King Cole Show (1956). Their first song success came with “Yellow Bird,” a song adapted by Norman Luboff from a West Indian folk tune, for which they provided lyrics. The Norman Luboff Choir recorded it for their 1957 chart album Calypso Holiday. The Mills Brothers’ single entered the charts in January 1959, but the song became best known for an instrumental version by the Arthur Lyman Group that reached the Top Ten in July 1961. Meanwhile, the lyricists married on Feb. 9, 1958, and had a daughter in 1960.

Frank Sinatra recorded the Bergmans’ “Nice ’n’ Easy” (music by Lew Spence) and used it as the title track for a chart-topping, gold-selling album in 1960. It was also released as a single that made the charts, and it earned the songwriters their first Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. That December, along with Spence, they had the title song in the film The Marriage-Go-Round, sung on the soundtrack by Tony Bennett.

Although they continued to place songs with middle-of-the-road performers, the Bergmans had trouble scoring hits during the 1960s, when the charts

were dominated by rock acts who generated their own material. Collaborating with composer Sammy Fain, they wrote the songs for a Broadway musical, Something More, in 1964, but it closed after 15 performances. They began to focus more on Hollywood, and from 1966 to 1996 they averaged between one and two films per year. In an era when film musicals were becoming rare, this usually meant writing a title or theme song heard under the credits or in a key sequence in a nonmusical film. Teaming up with Quincy Jones, they wrote a title song for the drama In the Heat of the Night (1967), performed on the soundtrack by Ray Charles, whose recording peaked in the Top 40 in September 1967.

The Bergmans diverged from their usually romantic lyrics with “The Windmills of Your Mind,” written for the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, which marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration with Michel Legrand. The abstract lyric’s extended series of similes for round objects suggested the influence of rock writers such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. On April 14, 1969, it won them their first Academy Award, for Best Song. Two months later, Dusty Springfield’s recording peaked in the Top 40.

The Bergmans earned Oscar nominations for Best Song for the next four years in a row. In 1969 they were nominated for “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” (music by Michel Legrand) from The Happy Ending; in 1970 for “Pieces of Dreams” (music by Michel Legrand) from Pieces of Dreams; in 1971 for “All His Children” (music by Henry Mancini) from Sometimes a Great Notion, sung on the soundtrack and recorded for a Top Ten country hit by Charley Pride; and in 1972 for “Marmalade, Molasses and Honey” (music by Maurice Jarre) from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. They earned a second Grammy nomination in 1972 for Song of the Year for “The Summer Knows” (music by Michel Legrand) from Summer of ’42 (1971).

The Way We Were, starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, was released in September 1973 with a title song written by the Bergmans with Marvin Hamlisch. Streisand’s recording of the song hit #1 in February 1974, selling two million copies. It went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song and the Grammy for Song of the Year, and the Bergmans also shared with Hamlisch the Grammy for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Special.

Turning to television, the Bergmans wrote songs with Billy Goldenberg for the highly rated and critically acclaimed television musical Queen of the Stardust Ballroom, broadcast in February 1975. It was adapted for the stage, opened on Broadway in December 1978 under the title Ballroom, and ran 116 performances.

While continuing to write for various films in the 1970s, the Bergmans enjoyed a special relationship with Barbra Streisand after “The Way We Were.” Their song “I Believe in Love” (music by Kenny Loggins) was featured in the Streisand-starring remake of A Star Is Born in 1976 and became a chart single for Kenny Loggins in 1977. Also in 1977, they collaborated with Neil Diamond on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a heart-breaking ballad featured on his album I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight. Streisand covered the song on her 1978 Songbird album, and after an enterprising disc jockey edited the two recordings together, the singers recorded a duet version that hit #1 in December 1978 and sold two million copies.

Meanwhile, after being shut out of Oscar nominations for five years, the Bergmans earned a 1978 nod for ’The Last Time I Felt Like This” (music by Marvin Hamlisch) from Same Time, Next Year. They were nominated again the following year for “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” (music by David Shire) from The Promise. In 1982 they occupied a remarkable three out of the five Best Song nominations—“It Might Be You” (music by Dave Grusin) from Tootsie, a Top 40 hit for Stephen Bishop; “If I Were in Love” (music by John Williams) from Yes, Giorgio; and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” (music by Michel Legrand) from Best Friends, a chart single for James Ingram and Patti Austin—without winning the Oscar.

In 1983 the Bergmans collaborated with Michel Legrand on a full-scale film musical, Barbra Streisand’s Yentl. Released in the fall, it spawned a million-selling soundtrack album. “The Way He Makes Me Feel” reached the Top 40 and topped the adult contemporary charts, and “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” was also an adult contemporary hit. Both songs earned Academy Award nominations, but the Bergmans instead won their third Oscar for the song score as a whole.

The Bergmans’ work was heard less often in films after the mid-1980s. They continued to work with Barbra Streisand, writing “Two People” (music by Barbra Streisand) for her 1987 film Nuts and “Places That Belong to You” (music by James Newton Howard) for 1991’s The Prince of Tides. In 1989 they earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Song for “The Girl Who Used to Be Me” (music by Marvin Hamlisch) from Shirley Valentine. Marilyn Bergman was elected president of ASCAP in March 1994, a position she still held five years later.


(only works for which Alan and Marilyn Bergman were the primary, credited lyricists are listed): STAGE (dates refer to N.Y. openings): Something More (Nov. 19, 1964); Ballroom (Dec. 14, 1978). FILM: Yentl (1983). television:Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (Feb. 13, 1975); Sybil (Nov. 14–15, 1976).

—William Ruhlmann

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Bergman, Alan and Marilyn (Keith)

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