With the announcement on Saturday (Jan. 8) of the death of Oscar- and Grammy-winning lyricist Marilyn Bergman at age 93, it’s a good time to look back on one of the most impressive feats in Oscar history.
When the nominations for the 55th annual Academy Awards were announced on Feb. 17, 1983, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman accomplished an unprecedented feat: They had three of the five nominees for best original song. What’s more, all three songs were from different films and were written with with different composers.
In the nearly four decades since then, four other songwriters or songwriting teams have landed three best original song nods in the same year, but, in each case, all were from the same film. The Bergmans did it the hard way, with songs from three different films.
The Bergmans were nominated for “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” from the Burt Reynolds/Goldie Hawn film Best Friends (Michel Legrand, composer); “If We Were in Love” from Yes, Giorgio, opera star Luciano Pavarotti’s only venture into film (John Williams, composer); and “It Might Be You” from the box-office smash Tootsie, which starred Dustin Hoffman (Dave Grusin, composer).
The Pavarotti film was a commercial and critical dud, so the Bergmans lucked out with that nod. But the other two nominations were for significant songs. Stephen Bishop’s recording of the yearning “It Might Be You” reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” was never a big hit; a single version by James Ingram and Patti Austin, who sang it over the end credits, stalled at No. 45 on the Hot 100. Nonetheless, it has been covered by such top vocalists as Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams and Celine Dion. More than just about any other song from the 1980s, it seems destined to take up permanent residency in the Great American Songbook.
The other two best original song nominees that year were both No. 1 hits on the Hot 100. They were Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III (music and lyric by Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan III) and Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ “Up Where We Belong” from An Officer and a Gentleman (music by Jack Nitzsche and Buffy Sainte-Marie; lyric by Will Jennings).
At the Academy Awards ceremony on April 11, 1983, Pavarotti didn’t perform the song from his film; Melissa Manchester, hot off winning a Grammy for “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” filled in for him. And Survivor didn’t perform the song they made famous; in a move that still has Oscar fans scratching their heads, The Temptations and actress Sandahl Bergman filled in for the pop/rock group. The three other songs were performed by the artists who performed them on the film soundtracks: Cocker & Warnes, Ingram & Austin and Bishop.
Olivia Newton-John presented the best original song award, which went to “Up Where We Belong.”
In the nearly four decades since, four other songwriters or songwriting teams have landed three best song nods in the same year, but in each case, all of the songs were from the same film. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were nominated with three songs from Beauty and the Beast (1991). Elton John and Tim Rice were nominated with three songs from The Lion King (1994). Henry Krieger was nominated for composing (with different lyricists) three songs for Dreamgirls (2006). And Menken and Stephen Schwartz were nominated with three songs from Enchanted (2007).
In June 2008, the Academy changed its rules so no more than two songs can be nominated from a film. That has made it harder, but not impossible, for a songwriter to receive three best song nominations in a given year. The Bergmans proved it’s possible — just very, very hard to do.
Alan Bergman, 96, and Marilyn Bergman won twice for best original song — for “The Windmills of Your Mind from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and “The Way We Were” from the Streisand/Robert Redford film of the same name (1973).
The Bergmans amassed 15 nominations in the category, more than any other songwriting team in Oscar history. Their other nominated songs include such gems as “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?,” “Pieces of Dreams” and “The Last Time I Felt Like This.”
The Bergmans were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1980. They received that organization’s top honor, the Johnny Mercer Award, in 1997. They received a trustees award from the Recording Academy in 2013.