The lights dim in a glittering ballroom. Everything is perfect; the tables, the flowers, the chandeliers, the sparkling crystal flutes of fine Champagne, and the people. Dressed to the nines, these people have fabulous tans, fabulous hair; well, they're just fabulous. Each couple has paid nearly five figures for the privilege of attending this gala (to benefit the Democratic National Committee). There are about three hundred couples there.

A spotlight focuses on stage in front of the tuxedo-clad cadre of musicians. Tony Bennett walks into the spotlight and breaks into song. It's a splashy, dated ballad but very familiar; "The Windmills of Your Mind," lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and music by Michel Legrand. The tune made the pop charts when "adult contemporary" pop was on its deathbead. Rock 'n Roll in many subgenres and urban R&B had taken over. Back when this song was written, the folks in tonight's audience were, with their finely manicured fingernails, scratching and clawing their way up the gritty slopes toward Hollywood fame and fortune.

Bennett finishes with a flourish, on a high note, to raucous applause. Liza Minnelli struts on next, in a fabulous Bob Mackie gown covered with sequins. Her tune is "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?" penned by the same lyricists and again composer Legrand. The lyrics feature such memorable rhymes as:

What are you doing the rest of your life;
North and south and east and west of your life...

I want to see your face in every kind of light;
In fields of green and forests of the night;

More musicians come and present their own treatments of Bergman-worded tunes. They partnered with Legrand for many of these compositions, but the famous lyricists have worked with many others of note including Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Marvin Hamlisch, Lew Spence, John Williams and Sergio Mendes.

Apparently not a single soul has left the banquet early. They're here, they're waiting. But who could possibly upstage the talent that's performed the last eight songs? There's a pregnant pause. The spotlight goes off, and very, very slowly fades up to bright as the final performer begins to sing her contribution to the evening's show:

Memories, like the corners of my mind;
Misty water-colored memories,
Of the way we were.

Scattered pictures, of the smiles we left behind;
Smiles we gave to one another,
Of the way we were.

Oy, forgive me a moment. I'm all verklempt. It's a Barbra Streisand moment. (Dabs tear from eye - breathes deeply). I'm okay. I'll be okay.

In Hollywood, where who you know is just about as important as what you do, there are few more popular, powerful people than Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Married in 1958, the Bergmans spent years (writing childrens' music to pay the bills) before scoring a major motion picture, The Right Approach. Their major milestone was "In the Heat of the Night," sung by Ray Charles for the movie of the same name, with music penned by Quincy Jones. Their stars were rising fast and they churned out hit after catchy pop hit (mostly for movie scores), including those mentioned above as well as "Always You," "America: The Dream Goes On" (written for William Jefferson Clinton's first inaugural ceremony), TV theme song "And Then There's Maude," "Brian's Song," "Call Me A Fool," "Cinnamon and Clove," "Dance With Me," "How Do You Keep The Music Playing," "The Look of Love," "Nice 'N Easy" (Which is featured on the Frank Sinatra Album of the same name), "Ode to Billy Joe," "Papa Can You Hear Me?," "So Many Stars," "Summer Me Winter Me," "(Theme From) The Thomas Crown Affair," "Tootsie," "Where Do You Start?" "You Must Believe In Spring," and myriad more; over 500 complete tunes in all, and another hundred bits of music for movies and special presentations, including Barbra Streisand's record-breaking "One Voice" concert in 1986, and the tour and concert Streisand sponsored by HBO that Streisand gave in 1994.
 

It Sells. So What Could Be So Bad?

Critics call some of the Bergmans' work kitsch. And certainly more than one hotel lounge singer has leaned heavily on some of their more familiar, catchy, Muzak-esque tunes. Singer Shirley Bassey has certainly gone over the top with some of the earlier hits, as has Ms. Streisand. But whatever the timbre of their tune, the Bergmans consistently produce material that is popular and works for its purpose, whether film, television, or merely by itself.

However, the jazzier numbers in their collection are considered Standards and have been performed by literally hundreds of stars and up-and-coming young performers. Perhaps it's the versatility of the lyricists to work with their collaborating composers that makes them so special. They certainly don't pigeon-hole themselves into one particular category of music. "Nice 'N Easy" was a big hit for Sinatra and is now performed by swinging jazz vocalists and instrumentalists with great frequency. Shirley Horn, the last person one would think would record a Bergman tune, chose "Where Do You Start?" and "Dance With Me" for her smash album with Johnny Mandel's Orchestra Here's To Life, considered by many to be one of the finest jazz recordings ever made.

The Bergmans also seem to be quite popular with Barbra Streisand, who has recorded nearly all of their songs. Particularly successful for all concerned have been Streisand performances of the Bergmans' collaborations with composer Michel Legrand. "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?" with its soaring, lovely composition and emotional metaphor for love is indeed a show-stopper which is very difficult to sing. The song has been performed on two very important, successful albums, Tony Bennett's The Art Of Excellence and Barbra Streisand's The Movie Album, among many others.
 

Powerful Forces To Reckon With

In 1985, Marilyn became the first woman to be elected to the board of ASCAP and was elected its President and Chairman of the Board in 1994. Marilyn won France's Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters Medal in 1996. Alan and Marilyn both serve on the Executive Committee of the Music Brach of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Alan is President of the AMPAS Foundation.

They've earned three Oscars and been nominated for sixteen more, won two Grammys, one ASCAP ACE award, honorary Doctorates from the Berklee College of Music, and were inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1980 and were given the prestigious Johnny Mercer Award from that group.

An interesting aside, they were born in the same hospital in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the same neighborhood. It wasn't until years later that they met in Los Angeles while collaborating with a composer individually. The couple married after a three year courtship. They have a daughter, who is a producer of independent films. In 2006 the 50th Anniversary of their collaboration was celebrated by a star-studded cast featuring Tony Bennett, at New York's Lincoln Center.
 

SOURCES:

  • Official Website: http://www.alanandmarilynbergman.com/ (Accessed July 31, 2007)
  • ASCAP Website "Alan and Marilyn Bergman on Songwriting" (No Author Credited) http://www.ascap.com/musicbiz/bergman-part1.html (Accessed July 31, 2007)
  • Songwriters' Hall of Fame Website: http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/exhibit_bio.asp?exhibitId=1 (Accessed July 31, 2007)
  • The Oscar Site: http://theoscarsite.com/whoswho5/bergman_a.htm (Accessed July 31, 2007)
  • All Music Guide: Biography by Jason Ankeny: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:kcfqxqt5ldhe~T1 (Accessed July 31, 2007)
  • MarketWire: Press Release "Alan and Marilyn Bergman Celebrate their 50-Year Collaboration at a Sold-Out Lincoln Center Evening" http://www.marketwire.com/mw/release.do?id=711056&sourceType=1 (Accessed July 31, 2007)

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