Talk about the ultimate engagement gift. When young Brooklynite Alan Bergman wanted to mark his upcoming marriage to fiancé Marilyn Katz, he wrote a song for her called “That Face,” and arranged for Fred Astaire to record it.
The Bergmans, now three-time Academy Award winners for their song lyrics, have been married for 54 years. And for many of them, there has been another woman in their life — the singer they call their “muse” and close collaborator, Barbra Streisand.
Later this month, Streisand releases a new album of all Bergman songs, ranging from her previous hits such as “The Way We Were,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and “Papa Can You Hear Me?” to Bergman classics that she has never recorded before, including “So Many Stars,” popularized by Sergio Mendes, and the Sinatra favorite, “Nice ‘n’ Easy.” It aims to be her 10th No. 1 album over five decades of recording.
“They have the most profound way of expressing affairs of the heart,” Streisand said about her friends in announcing the album, entitled What Matters Most — Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
“Barbra mines the truth in every song,” said Marilyn Bergman, in an exclusive interview from her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Without exception, she finds things that we didn’t even know were there.”
When asked what inspired the album title, What Matters Most, Marilyn and Alan Bergman completed each other’s sentence. “What matters most is the love and the relationship,” said Alan. “That’s the unifying glue,” added Marilyn. Every song on the album is, in fact, about affairs of the heart.
Two cars with the license plates “WORDS1” and “WORDS2” sit in their driveway, playful testimony to their careers as film, Broadway and TV lyricists. They met the 18-year-old Streisand when she was the opening act for Phyllis Diller’s Manhattan nightclub show. Since then, Streisand has recorded more than 60 Bergman songs, including the new album.
The Bergmans snuggle with Barbra Streisand. — Bergman Family Photo
For the new album, the Bergmans described how Streisand winnowed down the final song choices by listening to and singing dozens of possibilities in the rehearsal space called “Grandma’s House” at her Malibu, Calif. home. “She would call every few weeks and ask if we had any more,” laughed Alan Bergman. The final cut includes a haunting version of “Windmills of Your Mind” with an a cappella opening that demonstrates Streisand’s voice at its purest.
After listening once again to the new version of “Windmills” on their home stereo, Marilyn Bergman paused and quietly noted, “It’s not just her voice. It’s her intelligence and her spectacular ability as an actress and director of herself to bring meaning to a song.”
Many people ask the Bergmans about their ability as husband and wife to spend almost every day, alone together, in the room over their garage, writing words to go along with music from composers such as Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Quincy Jones and John Williams. A surprising amount of that time, the couple said, was spent in silence — solving the riddle of the next line.
“It’s effortless,” said Alan Bergman. “In simple language, one washes, one dries. That’s the way it is.”