The death last week of my friend songwriter Lou Spence couldn't help but awaken in me memories of the one occasion when I met Marilyn Bergman, one-half of the lyric-writing duo of, well. . . The Bergmans. The twosome were erstwhile writing partners of Lew, and to note that there was not a lot of love lost between Spence and the couple is more than an understatement; something to do with the not-uncommon show biz issues of money and credits. So what else is nu?
To read Marilyn Bergman's rather patronizing posthumous remarks about Lew in the L.A. Times' Spence obit should give one a sense of why this was, perhaps, ultimately a bad professional pairing. Saying something to the effect that poor dear Lew should have become so much more famous than he was (and as "we ARE" was the implication). To which I can only respond with EEEEEEEK! But I digress as is my wont. The subject at hand is my (mercifully) one-and-only meeting with Marilyn Bergman.
Twenty-some years ago I was at a Michel Legrand scoring session. I no longer recall the name of the movie but the date was here in Hollywood. Also present was my friend Nat Shapiro, Michel's manager (though Legrand tended to refer to Nat as "my brother" rather than "my manager"). The session took place only a couple of days after I had interviewed Jo Stafford and Paul Weston for the paper, "The L.A. Reader." And, lo and behold, who should be seated directly next to me, in the control booth, but Marilyn Bergman who was there not for professional reasons but had just dropped by to say hello to Legrand. Since I come from the "old school" and happen to know how to make rudimentary conversational sallies (mind you, Bergman was seated directly to one side of me), and inasmuch as I was aware that Jo Stafford and Marilyn were friends, I thought that my proximity to the latter that day was not without its small-worldish aspects. And so I turned to her and introduced myself, adding that I happened to have just interviewed "a good friend of yours." I then waited for the inevitable:
"Who?" OR even a nice, salty:
"How should I know who you're talking about?", etc.
The kind of things that they teach you in Basic Conversationalese 101. But nothing was forthcoming other than a most horrifying, withering look that was as if to say:
"Who gave you permisson to approach the throne?"
Now I knew just how Margaret O'Brien felt in "Meet Me in St. Louis" when she knocked on the old crone's door.
Perhaps I should have cut my losses and just got up and walked away. . .certainly that would have been no ruder than Bergman's behavior. But basic civility got the better of me. Surely, I thought, if I am able to spit out the name of Bergman's friend, that will clear the air and allow her to appear as something other than the harridan that she was rapidly becoming in my eyes. And so. . .I muddled on with my conversational gambit and stammered "J-j-jo S-s-stafford." Surely Bergman would at least muster up the politesse to respond with something along the lines of:
"Oh, yes, dear Jo. How is she?" OR:
"Isn't she great?" OR:
"Seems like I've known her forever." OR:
"Wonderful singer." OR:
"That reminds me, I should give her a call." OR:
"How did the interview go?" OR:
"I didn't know they were back from Tahoe." OR:
"How's her hangnail?" OR:
. . .well, you catch my drift.
But there was no reaction whatsoever. In the immortal words of Lenny Bruce, "Nada, zip, Mount Rushmore, nothing!" Perhaps just the faintest hint crossed her face, as if to say: "If you wanna talk with me, buster, you're gonna have to do better than that." She just turned away. I felt as if I had just STEPPED on the proverbial ping-pong ball.
Okay, so maybe Lew didn't end up as famous as the Bregmans, but at least he managed to hang onto his soul and a sense of basic human decency. He was the exception to the C.B. DeMille axiom in "Sunset Boulevard" that proves the rule that "a dozen press agents working overtime can do horrible things to the human spirit."
Lew's sister says that the first song her brother ever wrote, while still an adolescent, was entitled "Daddy's Home 'Cause the Toilet Seat's Up." Let's see the Bergmans try and top that!