The Couple Behind Some Of Hollywood’s Classic Tunes


Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and even Fred Astaire have all recorded their songs: Husband and wife Marilyn and Alan Bergman have been writing irresistible music together for 50 years.

Their songs include the theme song from Maude, “Nice & Easy,” “In the Heat of the Night” (recorded by Ray Charles), “That Face,” “You Must Believe in Spring,” “The Way We Were” and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”. They’ve written the lyrics for music featured in films as diverse as Tootsie, Yentl and the original Thomas Crown Affair — and received Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes and Grammys in the process.

What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” was written for the 1969 film The Happy Ending. Richard Brooks, the director, had asked the Bergmans to compose a song that could be used twice in the film: once at the beginning, when two young lovers were planning to get married, and then again at the very end, after the couple split up.

“And he said, ‘I don’t want you to change a note or a word, but I want the song to mean something very different when you hear it the second time,'” Alan Bergman said. “So that was a very interesting, challenging assignment.”

The Bergmans sat with Michael Legrand, their composer, at a piano and started to go over various tunes for the piece. “While he was writing music, we were sitting trying to solve the dramatic question of what the song should be about — we [asked what] happens if the first line of the song is ‘What are you doing for the rest of your life?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I like that,'” Marilyn Bergman said. “And he put his hands on the keys, and as long as it takes to play that song, that’s what he played from beginning to end, and he said, ‘You mean something like that?’ And we said, ‘No, we mean exactly like that.’ And Alan said to him, ‘Play it again.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I don’t remember quite what I played.’ Luckily, we had the tape machine going, so we had the music. And then we zipped through it.”

Alan and Marilyn Bergman were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980. They have also received several honorary doctorates. In 2002, Marilyn was appointed the first Chairman of the Library of Congress National Sound Recording Preservation Board. Alan serves as a member of the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board.

Donald Ryan and I recorded “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” on our Rhythms & Rhymes project. It is truly one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I hope you enjoy it!

Download this track from iTunes by clicking on the Rhythms & Rhymes image on the right panel.

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