Adolph Green, lyricist whose six-decade collaboration with Betty Comden contributed to “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town” as well as the classic movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” has died at 87:
- On Broadway, Comden and Green (the billing was always alphabetical) worked most successfully with composers Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne and Cy Coleman. The duo wrote lyrics and often the books for more than a dozen shows, many of them built around such stars as Rosalind Russell, Judy Holliday, Phil Silvers, Carol Burnett and Lauren Bacall.
Their best lyrics were brash and buoyant, full of quick wit, best exemplified by “New York, New York,” an exuberant and forthright hymn to their favorite city. Yet the songwriters’ biggest pop hits – “The Party’s Over,” “Just in Time” and “Make Someone Happy” – were simple, direct and heartfelt.
It was “On the Town,” a musical comedy expansion of Jerome Robbins’ ballet “Fancy Free,” that introduced Comden and Green to Broadway in 1944. The story of three sailors on a 24-hour leave in wartime New York was tailor-made for the time.
The music was by Bernstein, an old friend of Green’s. Comden and Green wrote the book and lyrics, and included two plum roles for themselves.
It wasn’t the only time they combined performing and writing, most notably in their two-person show “A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green,” first done on Broadway in 1958 and periodically revived over the years.
They won five Tony Awards, with three of their shows – “Wonderful Town,” “Hallelujah, Baby!” and “Applause” – winning the top prize for best musical. The duo received Kennedy Center honors in 1991.
On film, their most celebrated work was the screenplay for “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), considered by many to be the finest movie musical ever made.
The story of the silent movie industry’s transition to talkies starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
In 1953, they had another film hit with “The Band Wagon,” starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. That same year, Comden and Green reunited with Bernstein on Broadway for “Wonderful Town,” a musical version of “My Sister Eileen.” Russell scored a personal triumph as plain-Jane magazine writer Ruth McKenny. Edie Adams was her winsome sister Eileen.
A succession of collaborations with Styne followed, including the 1954 Mary Martin “Peter Pan,” in which the pair were brought in to augment an already existing score; “Bells Are Ringing” (1956), written specifically for Holliday; and “Do Re Mi” (1960), a raucous look at the jukebox industry that featured Silvers and comedian Nancy Walker.
One of their biggest Broadway successes was “Applause” (1970), a show for which they wrote the book but not the lyrics. The two did an expert job tailoring the film “All About Eve” to the talents of Bacall. And with Coleman, they wrote “On the Twentieth Century” (1978), which starred John Cullum, Madeline Kahn and Imogene Coca.
….Green was born in 1914 – some references give a later date – in the Bronx, the son of Daniel and Helen Green. After high school, he worked as a runner on Wall Street as he tried to make it as an actor. He met Comden through mutual friends in 1938 while she was studying at New York University.
They formed a troupe called the Revuers, which performed in the Village Vanguard, a club in Greenwich Village. Out of necessity, Comden and Green began writing their own material. Among the members of the company was a young comedian named Judy Tuvin, who changed her name to Judy Holliday when she got to Hollywood.
….Green married actress Phyllis Newman, who had been Holliday’s understudy in “Bells Are Ringing,” in 1960. He is survived by his wife, son and a daughter, Amanda. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.