Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BERGMAN, Alan and Marilyn

Lyricists Alan Bergman (b 11 September 1925) and Marilyn Keith (b 10 November 1929) were both born in the same Brooklyn hospital four years apart; they did not meet until they had both moved to Los Angeles. Johnny Mercer was a mentor for Alan; Marilyn was close friends with Bob Russell and his wife. They started writing lyrics separately, with composer Lew Spence in the mid-1950s, (Marilyn: 'That's Him Over There' for Peggy Lee ‘54, later covered by Nina Simone; Alan: 'That Face' for Fred Astaire ‘59), then as a team writing lyrics for Spence ( 'Sleep Warm' for Dean Martin ’58 and 'Nice 'n' Easy' for Frank Sinatra ’60, both title songs of hit albums), also with Norman Luboff ('Yellow Bird' ‘57, covered by the Mills Brothers) and Paul Weston (Jo Stafford’s album Ballad Of The Blues ‘59). They married in 1958.

They wrote a Broadway musical with Sammy Fain, Something More ‘64, then mainly wrote for the movies: title song for In The Heat Of The Night with Quincy Jones ’67, then for a string of films with French composer Michel Legrand: The Thomas Crown Affair ‘68 (winning an Oscar for 'The Windmills Of Your Mind'), The Happy Ending ’69 (song 'What Are Doing The Rest Of Your Life?', Pieces of Dreams ’70 (title song), The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart ‘70 ('Sweet Gingerbread Man'), Summer of ’42 ’72 ('The Summer Knows'), Best Friends ’82 ('How Do You Keep The Music Playing?', Yentl ’83 (title song, for their second Academy Award), Never Say Never Again ’83, and English lyrics for Legrand’s song You Must Believe in Spring from the French movie Les Demoiselles de Rochefort ‘67.

At their peak, for two years in a row the Bergmans had written the lyrics for no fewer than three of the songs nominated for Oscars, including the year they won for 'Yentl': three of their songs from that film had been nominated. They also wrote film songs with Henry Mancini (Sometimes a Great Notion ’71), Johnny Mandel (Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams ’73), Marvin Hamlish (The Way We Were ’73: title song and 'Same Time Next Year' ‘78), John Williams (Sabrina ’95: 'Moonlight') and others.

They wrote a second Broadway show, Ballroom ’78, with Billy Goldenberg. In 2002 there was a song cycle with Cy Coleman, Portraits in Jazz: A Gallery of Songs, performed at the Kennedy Center. They had a long association with Barbra Streisand, whose 2011 album What Matters Most is a tribute to the Bergmans.

Alan sang their songs on his album Lyrically, Alan Bergman on Verve in 2007, his vocal style compared to those of Sinatra and Fred Astaire, fittingly, because they all belonged to the best of mainstream American culture. Gene Lees had written in 2002, 'They have managed to continue writing literate songs at the highest level well into our age of ubiquitous garbage.'

In 2017, with playwright Josh Ravetch, they wrote Chasing Mem'ries: A Different Kind of Musical, based on their classic songs and some new ones, making the songs the inner monologues of the characters. The show was a hit at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.