Alan Bergman was born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York, in 1925, and studied at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned his master's degree in music at UCLA. Marilyn Bergman was born in 1929, coincidentally at the same Brooklyn hospital where Alan had been born four years earlier, and studied music at The High School of Music & Art in New York before studying psychology and English at New York University. Alan worked as a television director and songwriter at Philadelphia's WCAU-TV in the early 1950s. Johnny Mercer encouraged Alan to move to Los Angeles and become a professional songwriter. Despite the geographical proximity of their upbringing in New York, the Bergmans did not meet until they had both moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. Marilyn had moved to California and was friends with songwriter Bob Russell and his wife, Anna, and later described "drif[ing] into songwriting really by accident because I had a fall and broke my shoulder and couldn't play piano so I started writing lyrics". Marilyn also felt that she lacked the discipline or talent required to become a concert pianist. The Bergmans had both become collaborators with composer Lew Spence, and only met when Spence suggested they all work together. The Bergmans married in 1958, and have a daughter, Julie Bergman Sender, who works as an independent film producer.
With Spence the Bergmans wrote the lyrics for the title tracks for Dean Martin's 1958 album Sleep Warm and Frank Sinatra's 1960 album Nice 'n' Easy. In 1961 the Bergmans wrote their first title song for a motion picture, for The Right Approach, composed by Spence. In 1964 the Bergmans wrote lyrics to their first Broadway musical, Something More!, to music by Sammy Fain.
The Bergmans wrote lyrics for "In the Heat of the Night" with music by Quincy Jones for the 1967 film of the same name, which has been described as their "breakthrough". The couple would later work with Jones on Michael Jackson's soundtrack album for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), for which they wrote the lyrics for "Someone In the Dark", and the 2007 Ennio Morricone tribute album We All Love Ennio Morricone for which they wrote lyrics to "I Knew I Loved You", which was sung by Celine Dion.
The Bergmans long relationship with the French composer Michel Legrand began in the late 1960s. The couple wrote English lyrics for Legrand's song "The Windmills of Your Mind" featured in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), which won them their first Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 41st Academy Awards in 1969. The Bergmans and Legrand were subsequently nominated for the Best Original Song award in the following two years for "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" from The Happy Ending (1969) and "Pieces of Dreams" from the 1970 film of the same name. The couple's minor work with Legrand in this period included "Listen to the Sea" from Ice Station Zebra (1968) and "Nobody Knows" and "Sweet Gingerbread Man" from The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970). Legrand would also feature eight of the Bergman's lyrics on his 1972 album with Sarah Vaughan.
In 1983 at the 55th Academy Awards, the Bergmans work on "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" composed by Legrand for the film Best Friends would be nominated for the Best Original Song award. The 55th Academy Awards was also significant as the Bergmans became the first songwriters ever to have written three of the five nominations for the Academy Award for Best Song, being nominated for "It Might Be You" from Tootsie (composed by Dave Grusin), and "If We Were in Love" from Yes, Giorgio (composed by John Williams), in addition to "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?". At the subsequent Academy Awards, their work with Legrand on the 1983 film Yentl won them the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score, with the songs "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" and "The Way He Makes Me Feel" from the film also being nominated for the Best Original Song award.
The Bergmans were also co-writers of "An American Reunion", the opening ceremony of the inaugural festivities at Washington D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial that marked Bill Clinton's first term as President of the United States in January 1993. In the late 1990s the Bergmans received their most recent nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, for "Moonlight" (composed by John Williams) for the 1995 film Sabrina, and "Love Is Where You Are" (music by Mark Isham) for the 1999 film At First Sight. 1999 was the same year that the Bergmans received their most recent Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for "A Time to Dream"" (music by Hamisch) for the AFI's AFI's 100 Years 100 Movies Special.
The Kennedy Center commissioned the Bergmans to write a song cycle in 2001, they chose to collaborate with the composer Cy Coleman. The resulting work, Portraits in Jazz: A Gallery of Songs was performed on May 17, 2002. The Bergmans wrote the lyrics to Billy Goldenberg's television musical Queen of the Stardust Ballroom which won the couple their third Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Achievement in Special Musical Material, it was later the couple's second Broadway show, Ballroom, which opened in 1978.
In 2007 Alan Bergman released his first album as a vocalist, Lyrically, Alan Bergman, featuring lyrics written by him and his wife and arranged by Alan Broadbent and Jeremy Lubbock. Reviewing the album for Allmusic, John Bush praised Bergman's "excellent interpretive skills" and Christopher Loundon in the JazzTimes described Bergman's voice as a "...revelation, suggesting both the wise, elder Sinatra and the astutely mellow Fred Astaire, with a touch of the offbeat dreaminess of Chet Baker."
The Bergmans have had a long professional relationship with the singer and actress Barbra Streisand. In addition to their work on the films Yentl and The Way We Were, in which Streisand starred, the Bergmans wrote Streisand's "One Voice" concert which was released as a live album in 1987. Marilyn also served as the executive producer of the "One Voice" concert. The Bergmans' song "Ordinary Miracles" from Streisand's 1994 concert tour and HBO special won the couple their third Emmy Award, with the couple's script for the tour also being nominated for a CableACE Award. The Bergmans received their fifth Emmy nomination for the song "On the Way to Becoming Me" (music by Marvin Hamlisch) from the AFI tribute to Streisand. The Bergmans have also served as board members of Streisand's charitable foundation. Streisand's 2011 album What Matters Most was recorded in tribute to the Bergmans, and featured ten songs by the couple that she had not previously recorded.
The Bergmans have been the recipients of numerous academic honors and lifetime achievement awards. The couple were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980 and subsequently received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Hall of Fame in 1997. The Bergmans were awarded honorary doctorates by the Berklee College of Music in 1995, they also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Songwriters that year. In 1996 the couple were the recipients of the inaugural Fiorello Lifetime Achievement Award from New York City's Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. The Bergmans were later inducted into the LaGuardia High School's Hall of Fame. In 1986 Marilyn was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award. Marilyn was later appointed an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture in 1996. In 1998 Marilyn received an Honorary doctorate from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and in 2011 Alan was presented with a Distinguished Alumnus award from his alma mater, the University of North Carolina. The Bergmans were the recipients of the National Music Publishers Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, Marilyn was also the recipient of the Creative Arts Award from the Kaufman Cultural Center that same year.
The Bergmans have held several executive positions in organizations connected with the arts. Marilyn served as the president and chairman of the board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for fifteen years, from 1994 to 2009. Bergman was elected president and chairman after having served five terms as the since 1984 as the first woman ever to serve on ASCAP's board of directors. Marilyn completed her term as president in April 2009 and has since continued to serve on the board of ASCAP. Marilyn also served two terms as president of CISAC, The International Confederation of Performing Rights Societies. Alan has served on the boards of directors of The Johnny Mercer Foundation, The Artists' Rights Foundation and The Jazz Bakery. The Bergmans have also served on the executive committee of the Music Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and have been board members of the National Academy of Songwriters. Marilyn also served as the president of the National Recording Preservation Board.
The Bergman's notable lyrics and compositions include:"Sleep Warm" (music by Lew Spence) for Dean Martin's 1958 album Sleep Warm
"Yellow Bird" written for Norman Luboff's arrangement of the creole song "Choucoune"
"Nice 'n' Easy" (music by Lew Spence) for Frank Sinatra's 1960 album Nice 'n' Easy
"You Don't Bring Me Flowers" (music by Neil Diamond), originally written for the All That Glitters but unused, was expanded by Diamond and released on his 1977 album I'm Glad You're Here with Me Tonight. Streisand later recorded it in duet with Diamond after the release of her solo version, from her 1978 album Songbird
"Someone In the Dark" (music by Rod Temperton) for Michael Jackson's soundtrack album for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
"The Playground" (music by Bill Evans) for Tony Bennett's album The Playground (1998)
"I Knew I Loved You" (music by Ennio Morricone) recorded by Céline Dion for the Morricone tribute album We All Love Ennio Morricone (2007)
Something More! (1964, composed by Sammy Fain)
Ballroom (1978, composed by Billy Goldenberg)
"The Right Approach" (music by Lew Spence) – The Right Approach (1961)
"In the Heat of the Night" and "Foul Owl on the Prowl" (music by Quincy Jones) – In the Heat of the Night (1967)
English lyrics for "The Windmills of Your Mind" (music by Michel Legrand) – The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
"What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" (music by Michel Legrand) – The Happy Ending (1969)
"Pieces of Dreams" (music by Michel Legrand) – Pieces of Dreams (1970)
"Listen to the Sea" (music by Michel Legrand) – Ice Station Zebra (1968)
"Nobody Knows" and "Sweet Gingerbread Man" (music by Michel Legrand) – The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart (1970)
"All His Children" (music by Henry Mancini) – Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)
"Marmalade, Molasses & Honey" (music by Maurice Jarre) – The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
"Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" (music by Johnny Mandel) – Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973)
"The Way We Were" (music by Marvin Hamlisch) – The Way We Were (1973)
"Sybil" (music by Leonard Rosenman) – Sybil (1976)
"The Last Time I Felt Like This" (music by Marvin Hamlisch) – Same Time, Next Year (1978)
"I'll Never Say Goodbye" (music by David Shire) – The Promise (1979)
"It Might Be You" (music by Dave Grusin) – Tootsie (1982)
"If We Were In Love" (music by John Williams) – Yes, Giorgio (1982)
"How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" (music by Michel Legrand) – Best Friends (1982)
Lyrics for Michel Legrand's score for Yentl (1983)
"Never Say Never Again" – (music by Michel Legrand) − Never Say Never Again (1983)
"The Girl Who Used to Be Me" (music by Marvin Hamlisch) – Shirley Valentine (1989)
"Moonlight" (music by John Williams) – Sabrina (1995)
"Love Is Where You Are" (music by Mark Isham) – At First Sight (1999)
With Dave Grusin the Bergmans wrote the theme songs for the television series The Sandy Duncan Show (1972), Maude ("And Then There's Maude", 1972) and Good Times (1974). The Bergmans wrote "Worlds" for the series Bracken's World (1969), and wrote the theme for Alice ("There's a New Girl In Town", 1976), with David Shire.
Lyrics for Billy Goldenberg's score for Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975)
"Ordinary Miracles" for Barbra Streisand's HBO special Barbra Streisand: The Concert (1994)
"A Ticket to Dream" (music by Marvin Hamlisch) for the AFI 100 Years 100 Movies Special (1999)