and Marilyn Bergman are a lyric-writing team who have
won three Academy Awards, two Grammys, one Ace Award
and three Emmy Awards. In 1995, Marilyn and Alan were
recipients of Honorary Doctorates from the Berklee College
of Music, and also received the National Academy of
Songwriters Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1980, they
were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and
in June of 1997 received the organization's Johnny Mercer
Award. Among many other accolades, Alan and Marilyn
have been nominated for sixteen Academy Awards, and
in 1983, they became the first songwriters ever to be
nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Song out
of the five nominated songs.
In 1985, Marilyn became the first woman to be elected
to the Board of Directors of ASCAP, and in February
of 1994, after serving five terms, she was elected President
and Chairman of the Board of ASCAP. In September of
1996, she received France's highest cultural honor,
Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters Medal. Alan
and Marilyn both serve on the Executive Committee of
the Music Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences. Alan is the President of the Academy's
Some of Alan and Marilyn's credits include: "The
Windmills of Your Mind," "The Way We Were,"
"You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Yellow
Bird," "Nice n' Easy," "How Do You
Keep The Music Playing?," "What Are You Doing
The Rest Of Your Life?," "Ordinary Miracles,"
the score to the film Yentl, and "Moonlight,"
from the film Sabrina. Their long list of television
credits includes the theme songs for Maude, Good
Times, Alice, and Brooklyn Bridge.
Alan and Marilyn were born in the same hospital, and
were raised in the same area of New York City. They
met in Los Angeles and later married while working independently
with the same composer.
The following is excerpted from the Bergmans'
guest spot at the ASCAP Extended Songwriters' Workshop,
held in November, 1996. It appears in three installments.
What is your process? Do you
write in the same room, or...
Marilyn Bergman: When we're working
on a film, it's very different from writing a song out
of context. We see the film with the composer, and then
we speak with the director to discuss the song's reason
for being and function in the film. Then we meet with
the composer and decide what style the song should be,
from whose point of view, and then sometimes we'll start
the process in the same room together, with one of us
coming up with a line or a phrase. But ultimately we
find ourselves alone in a room with a cassette.
And the melody can change with the
flow of the lyrics?
MB: Oh, absolutely. Although it rarely
does with Michel Legrand, a composer with whom we work
a lot. Maybe it's because of the way he writes. He writes
sequential tunes, a sequence that repeats and repeats,
and if you take out one brick, it all collapses. We
might suggest small adjustments, to which he is always
Do you and Alan work together?
MB: Always. We're thinking separately
when we're not together, so we'll bring something different
into the room when we get together to work.
How many projects are you
working on at one time?
MB: It depends. When you're working
on a show, you really have tunnel-vision and that's
your whole world. As you all know, you have to have
a lot of balls in the air, because you can't depend
on any one piece of work landing where you hope it's
going to land. So unless you like to get your heart
broken over and over, it's a good idea to have a few
things going. But if you're working on an all-consuming
project, it's different.
How quickly do you have to write?
Alan Bergman: When you write in a
dramatic context as much as we do, we've never had more
than a week or two weeks to write a song. Sometimes
a weekend. If you've seen the Barbra Streisand picture,
A Star Is Born, the song that makes her a star,
"I Believe In Love," we wrote that overnight
with Kenny Loggins. One night. But, we don't like to
MB: When you have to, you have to.
The bad thing about that is, you don't really have time
to explore other possibilities, or to let something
sit. You have to go with the first thrust.
Which do you think is better,
the first impulse, or when something has time to sink
AB: What really separates the amateurs
from the professionals is the ability to rewrite.
"One of the cornerstones
of collaboration is that you're both pleased..."
MB: I believe that's essential, not
feeling that anything you write is the only way to say
something, particularly when you're collaborating. One
of the cornerstones of collaboration is that you're
both pleased, and sometimes I'll come up with something,
and Alan will indicate that he thinks there's something
better. I may make a case for it, but not a terribly
AB: Our collaboration is so long-standing,
and there's such trust and respect here, that I really
believe there's a reason why something doesn't hit her,
and if it's right we'll come back to it eventually.
But in the meantime, her way might not be right and
mine might not be right, but there's a third or a fourth
way somewhere that's better.
MB: You can't fall in love with anything
thinking it's the only way -- there are always other
possibilities. Compromises. People say that writers
never really finish -- you abandon things or they are
dragged from you. You always think later that you could
have made it better.
AB: So make it as good as you can
MB: Or it comes back to haunt you!
Do you find that most of your
inspiration comes in flashes?
MB: You live for those flashes! You
can't count on them all the time -- if you need something
by a particular time, you can't wait for the flash.
You do it and you hope it's there, but if it's not,
you have to have enough craft so that you can do it
by sheer carpentry. That's painful and it's terrible
-- when you know that what you're doing is really journeyman
carpentry. It'll work and it'll be okay, there won't
be any terrible mistakes in it and it will sing and
it will be fine, but it'll be just another song, and
what the world doesn't need is just another song!. But
yes, you live for that inspiration, and you don't know
where it comes from, and you don't want to know!
When you're writing a lyric,
do you come up with the title first, or a verse, or...
AB: Well, our process has changed
over the years. Sometimes you'll get a line and build
a whole song around it. But we never know where we're
going to end up -- we used to need to know. Irving Berlin
is a perfect example of someone who knew exactly where
he was going in every song. He had an idea like, "I
got lost in his arms," and he knew that the last
line in the song was going to be, "But look what
I found." And he went from A to Z, and he knew
every step. If you analyze his songs, he did that over
and over again. We find it more fun just to follow wherever
the song takes us. MB: We figure if
there's a way in, there's usually a way out, and if
there's not, we start over again.
What if someone gives you
a melody and you can't fit anything to it? Do you ask
them to change the melody?
MB: That did happen once!
there are musical phrases that either don't sing
or don't want to be sung."
AB: Melodies are interesting things.
For instance, Michel came to us one day, and he had
just finished scoring a picture called Picasso Summer.
He played a melody to us [hums staccato melody] as a
march, and we said, "What if you played that as
a ballad?" He came back with [hums same melody
slower and easier], and we said, "Okay, we can
work with that."
MB: There's a funny story about "Little
Boy Lost," which we also wrote with Michel. It
had a metric pattern that -- if you were writing the
lyric in French with feminine endings, it would have
been simpler. [hums melody] Everything that we put on
that last note was like a thump. So we sat in the room
-- he stayed with us when he came to America to write
-- and every time he would walk by, he said he could
see us getting greener and greener. Two or three days
went by, and he finally said, "You're having so
much trouble, what can I do to help you?" So we
told him, and he said, how about [hums melody with different
meter], and that changed everything. So sometimes there
are musical phrases that either don't sing or don't
want to be sung.
I want to ask about "You
Don't Bring Me Flowers." It seems like a very contemporary
thing to say, you know, divorces were becoming very
common at the time. It was topical, but very classic
at the same time, and I was wondering how it came about.
MB: That's a very funny story. Neil
Diamond -- this sounds like a real Hollywood story,
but it's the truth -- was at a dinner party with Norman
Lear, the television producer, and he asked if Norman
had any great television series coming up, because he'd
like to write the theme song. And Norman said, "Yes,
I've got a show that we're getting ready to do a pilot
on called All That Glitters, and I don't have
main title for it. Neil offered to write it, and Norman
asked that he write it with us. So we wrote this 45-second
(because that's all the time we had for a theme) song
called "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." The show
was about the reversal of roles; a woman-dominated society
was the premise of the show. Now, between the time that
the song was written and the pilot was filmed, the premise
of the show changed, and the song didn't fit anymore.
So we scrapped it, and about six or eight months later
we ran into Neil, and he said that he was doing the
song on the road and that everybody liked it. We said,
"What song? It's 45 seconds long!" He said,
"Well, I do a little instrumental part, then I
come back," and we decided to finish the song,
and he recorded it. And I guess Barbra heard it and
liked it. She recorded it, and she and Neil had unknowingly
recorded it in the same key, and a disc jockey in...
Tulsa? Someplace like that... intercut the two versions
AB: He was getting divorced, and he
made it as a present for his wife. The station started
getting calls asking where they could get the record,
and of course there was no record, but Neil and Barbra
went in and recorded it. Anyway, the show died a very
quick death, and perhaps the song would have gone with
it if it had been used.
Part 2 >>>