Marilyn Bergman, Oscar- and Emmy-winning 'The Way We Were' lyricist, dies at 93
Marilyn Bergman, the songwriter who penned the lyrics for such iconic tunes as "The Way We Were" and "The Windmills of Your Mind" with her husband, Alan Bergman, died Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 93.
Bergman died of respiratory failure — unrelated to COVID-19 — early Saturday morning with her husband and daughter by her side, says her spokesperson Ken Sunshine.
The Bergmans were a decorated songwriting team, winning three Academy Awards — two for Best Original Song, for "The Way We Were" and "The Windmills of Your Mind," and one for the song score of Barbra Streisand's Yentl.
The pair also won two Grammys, including for Song of the Year in 1975 for "The Way We Were," and four Emmys, among many other honors. They were nominated for a total of 16 Oscars, for songs including "It Might Be You" from Tootsie, "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" from Best Friends, and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" from The Happy Ending.
Born Marilyn Katz in Brooklyn in 1928, Bergman attended Manhattan's High School of Music and Art but ultimately "drifted into songwriting... by accident," as she put it in a 2002 interview.
"I had a fall and broke my shoulder and couldn't play piano, so I started writing lyrics," she recalled. "The first song I wrote was published and I got an advance and I thought, 'This is easy.' And then it was a long time before I got another one cut."
Both Bergmans worked regularly with songwriter Lew Spence in Los Angeles, who ultimately introduced the two when he suggested they all work together. The three penned Frank Sinatra's "Nice 'n' Easy," with Spence writing the music. Alan and Marilyn married in 1958.
Other well-known songs with lyrics by the couple include the Neil Diamond-Streisand duet "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and the theme songs for the sitcoms Maude, Alice, and Good Times. But the Bergmans always preferred to write songs for movies.
"In the movie theater with larger-than-life images, [the audience is] looking first and listening secondarily," Marilyn Bergman told The New York Times in 1982. "The image is so predominant that if you repeat it, you're going to get wiped out. We found we must be more abstract when writing for film, because film really speaks more to the preconscious part of the brain, the part of us that dreams."
Bergman was also a pioneer at a time when the songwriting business was dominated by men. In 1985, she became the first woman on the board of directors of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and was later elected president and chairman, holding the position from 1994 to 2009. She also co-founded the Hollywood Women's Political Committee (HWPC), a political action committee that raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates in the 1980s and '90s.
"I knew that I would be the odd woman out," Bergman said of becoming a lyricist during a 2007 interview on NPR's Fresh Air. "I would go to ASCAP membership meetings and it would be me and a lot of the widows of songwriters who were there representing their husbands' estates."
Streisand, who has performed countless songs written by the Bergmans across several decades, paid tribute Saturday, tweeting that they were "like family" and calling their work "timeless."
Bergman is survived by her husband, their daughter and son-in-law, and a granddaughter.