Betty Comden

Betty Comden (born Basya Cohen, May 3, 1917 – November 23, 2006) was one-half of the musical-comedy duo Comden and Green, who provided lyrics, libretti, and screenplays to some of the most beloved and successful Hollywood musicals and Broadway shows of the mid-20th century. Her writing partnership with Adolph Green, called "the longest running creative partnership in theatre history",[1] lasted for six decades, during which time they collaborated with other leading entertainment figures such as the famed "Freed Unit" at MGM, Jule Styne, and Leonard Bernstein, and wrote the musical comedy film Singin' in the Rain.

Betty Comden
Betty Comden
Comden circa 1939
Born
Basya Cohen

May 3, 1917
DiedNovember 23, 2006 (aged 89)
OccupationActress, librettist, lyricist, screenwriter
Years active1944–2005

Early life

Betty Comden was born Basya Cohen[2] in Brooklyn, New York,[3] to Leo (Sadvoransky) Cohen, a lawyer, and Rebecca, an English teacher. Both were Russian immigrants and observant Jews. Basya "attended Erasmus Hall High School and studied drama at New York University, graduating in 1938," according to The New York Times.[4]

In 1938, mutual friends introduced her to Adolph Green, an aspiring actor. Along with the young Judy Holliday and Leonard Bernstein, Comden and Green formed a troupe called the Revuers, which performed at the Village Vanguard, a club in Greenwich Village.[5] Due to the act's success, the Revuers appeared in the 1944 film Greenwich Village,[6][7] but their roles were so small they were barely noticed, and they returned to New York.

Comden and Green's first Broadway show was in 1944, with On the Town, a musical about three sailors on leave in New York City that was an expansion of a ballet entitled Fancy Free on which Bernstein had been working with choreographer Jerome Robbins. Comden and Green wrote the book and lyrics, which included sizable parts for themselves (as "Claire" and "Ozzie"). Their next musical, Billion Dollar Baby in 1945, with music by Morton Gould was not a success, and their 1947 show Bonanza Bound closed out-of-town and never reached Broadway.[5][8]

Broadway and film success

Comden and Green headed to California and soon found work at MGM. They wrote the screenplays for Good News and The Barkleys of Broadway (which reunited Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), and then adapted On the Town for Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, scrapping most of Bernstein's music at the request of Arthur Freed, who did not care for the Bernstein score. The duo reunited with Gene Kelly for their most successful project, the classic Singin' in the Rain, about Hollywood in the final days of the silent film era. Comden and Green provided the story and screenplay; the songs were hits from the late 1920s and early 1930s by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown.[6]

They followed this with another hit, The Band Wagon, in which the characters of Lester and Lily, a husband-and-wife musical-writing team, were patterned after themselves. They were Oscar-nominated twice, for their screenplays for The Band Wagon and It's Always Fair Weather. They earned three Screen Writers Guild Awards: for the two aforementioned movies as well as On the Town.[6]

Comden and Green's stage work of the 1950s included Two on the Aisle, starring Bert Lahr and Dolores Gray, with music by Jule Styne; Wonderful Town, a musical adaptation of the play My Sister Eileen, with music by Bernstein; and Bells Are Ringing, which reunited them with Judy Holliday and Jule Styne. The score, including the standards "Just in Time", "Long Before I Knew You", and "The Party's Over", proved to be one of their richest.[9]

The duo contributed additional lyrics to the 1954 musical Peter Pan, translated and streamlined Die Fledermaus for the Metropolitan Opera, and collaborated with Styne on songs for the play-with-music Say, Darling. In 1958, they appeared on Broadway in A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, a revue that included some of their early sketches. It was a critical and commercial success, and they brought an updated version back to Broadway in 1977.

The pair wrote the screenplay for Auntie Mame in 1958. The New York Times movie review from that year lays it out as follows:

In its superficial racing across several strata of rich society, it does catch some glimpses of behavior that flash a few glints of irony. The picture is every bit as potent, if not a good deal more so, than the play. Actually, the stage play, as written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee from the novel of Patrick Dennis, was more like a movie script in its pile-up of pictorial business and its multiplicity of scenes. The invitation to expansion was hand-engraved in the play. Now it has been accepted by screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green and by the director, Morton DaCosta, who has reveled in the greater physical range.

[10]

Comden and Green's Broadway work in the 1960s included four collaborations with Jule Styne. They wrote the lyrics for Do Re Mi, and the book and lyrics for Subways Are For Sleeping, Fade Out – Fade In, and Hallelujah, Baby! Their Hallelujah, Baby! score won a Tony Award.[9]

Comden and Green wrote the libretto for the 1970 musical Applause, an adaptation of the film All About Eve, and wrote the book and lyrics for 1978's On the Twentieth Century, with music by Cy Coleman. Comden also played Letitia Primrose in that musical when original star Imogene Coca left the show. Comden and Green's final musical hit was 1991's The Will Rogers Follies, providing lyrics to Cy Coleman's music.[9] The duo's biggest failure was 1982's A Doll's Life, an attempt to figure out what Nora did after she abandoned her husband in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, which ran for only five performances, although they received Tony Award nominations for its book and score.[9]

In 1980, Comden was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.[1] And, in 1981, she was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[11] In the early 1980s, Comden acted in Wendy Wasserstein's play Isn't It Romantic, portraying the lead character's mother.

In 1984, filmmaker Sidney Lumet directed a film about Greta Garbo, Garbo Talks, starring Anne Bancroft and Ron Silver. The producers of the film were sure that the real Garbo either could not be located or would refuse flatly to appear in a cameo. They asked a known associate of Garbo to ask the great actress if she would appear in the film, but the person never responded. So Comden was asked to appear in the film for the brief, pivotal 'over-the-shoulder' scenes.[12][13]

Comden and Green received Kennedy Center Honors in 1991.[14] [15][16]

Family

Comden and Green were a creative partnership, not a romantic couple. In 1942, Comden married Siegfried Schutzman, a designer and businessman, who changed his name to Steven Kyle. He died in 1979 of acute pancreatitis. They had two children, a daughter, Susanna, and a son, Alan, who died in 1990.[17] [18][19] [20]

She never remarried.[4]

Death

Betty Comden died of heart failure following an undisclosed illness of several months at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2006, aged 89.[4][21] She was buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale, New York.[22]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
1950 WGA Award Best Written American Musical The Barkleys of Broadway Nominated
On the Town Won
1953 Singin' in the Rain Won
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award Best Musical Wonderful Town Won
1954 Academy Awards Best Writing, Story and Screenplay The Band Wagon Nominated
WGA Award Best Written American Musical Nominated
1956 Academy Awards Best Writing, Story and Screenplay It's Always Fair Weather Nominated
WGA Award Best Written American Musical Nominated
1961 Bells Are Ringing Won
Grammy Award Best Soundtrack Album or Recording of Original Cast from a Motion Picture or TV Nominated
1968 Tony Award Best Composer and Lyricist Hallelujah, Baby! Won
1978 Best Book of a Musical On the Twentieth Century Won
Best Original Score Won
1983 Best Book of a Musical A Doll's Life Nominated
Best Original Score Nominated
1986 Best Book of a Musical Singin' in the Rain Nominated
1991 Best Original Score The Will Rogers Follies Won
New York Drama Critics' Circle Award Best Musical Won
1995 National Board of Review Award Distinction in Screenwriting Won
2001 WGA Award Laurel Award for Screen Writing Achievement Won

References

  1. ^ a b Betty Comden at the Songwriters Hall of Fame
  2. ^ "Corrections", The New York Times, February 26, 2007.
  3. ^ Profile theatredb.com; accessed June 10, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Berkvist, Robert. "Betty Comden, Lyricist for Musicals, Dies at 89", The New York Times, November 23, 2006
  5. ^ a b "Betty Comden" jewishvirtuallibrary.org, accessed August 25, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Betty Comden on IMDb
  7. ^ Greenwich Village (film), tcm.com, accessed May 2, 2016
  8. ^ "Betty Comden and Adolph Green" pbs.org, accessed August 25, 2012
  9. ^ a b c d Betty Comden at the Internet Broadway Database
  10. ^ "Screen: Auntie Mame", The New York Times, December 5, 1958.
  11. ^ "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame", The New York Times, March 3, 1981; accessed June 10, 2014.
  12. ^ Erickson, Glenn. "'Garbo Talks' ", tcm.com, accessed May 2, 2016
  13. ^ Erickson, Hal. Garbo Talks, allmovie.com, accessed May 2, 2016
  14. ^ Kilian, Michael. "For Gregory Peck, Oscar Can't Compare To Kennedy Center Honors", Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1991, accessed May 2, 2016
  15. ^ Holden, Stephen. "Review/Television; A Big Round of Applause at the Kennedy Center", The New York Times, December 26, 1991, accessed May 2, 2016
  16. ^ "The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1991)", tcm.com, accessed May 2, 2016
  17. ^ Ackerman, Alan. "Betty Comden", jwa.org, accessed May 2, 2016
  18. ^ Clark, Amy. "Broadway Lyricist Betty Comden Dies At 89", cbsnews.com, November 24, 2006
  19. ^ Lefkowitz, David. "Betty Comden Getting AIDS-Fighting Award Oct. 16", Playbill, October 16, 1996
  20. ^ Brozan, Nadine. "Chronicle", The New York Times, October 14, 1996
  21. ^ Death of Betty Comden, reuters.com; accessed May 2, 2016.
  22. ^ Resting Places

External links

Further reading

  • Off Stage, a memoir by Betty Comden published in 1995
A Doll's Life

A Doll's Life is a musical with a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Larry Grossman. It is among the most notorious flops in Broadway theatre history.

The musical is set at a rehearsal of Ibsen's A Doll's House in 1982.

A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green

A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green is a musical revue with a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, André Previn, Saul Chaplin, and Roger Edens.

The performance was composed of material written by Comden and Green for stage shows, films, and their former comedy troupe The Revuers.

Comden and Green originally performed the revue A Party Off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre for 5 performances in November 1958. The revue was then produced on Broadway by the Theatre Guild, opening on December 23, 1958, at the John Golden Theatre, where it closed on May 23, 1959 after 82 performances. It won the Obie Award for Best Musical An original cast recording was released by Capitol Records (LP# SWAO-1197).After four previews, a revival opened on Broadway on February 10, 1977, at the Morosco Theatre, where it remained for six weeks before transferring to the Little Theatre to complete its 92-performance run on April 30, 1977. This production included material written since the original 1958 show, including Do Re Mi and Subways Are For Sleeping. The duo then took the show on tour, starting in Washington, DC. A revival cast album was recorded live at the Arena Theatre in Washington, D.C. was released by DRG.

Billion Dollar Baby

Billion Dollar Baby is a musical with the book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and the score by Morton Gould. Comden and Green were fresh from their success with On the Town, and the production team was something of an On the Town reunion: once again, George Abbott directed and Jerome Robbins choreographed.

The musical is set on Staten Island and in Atlantic City during the late 1920s. It follows the adventures of an ambitious young woman, Maribelle Jones, in her quest for wealth during the Prohibition era.

Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green

Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green is a 1959 album by Blossom Dearie, focusing on the work of lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

Chee-Chee (musical)

Chee-Chee is a musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart based on the 1927 book, The Son of the Grand Eunuch, by Charles Pettit. Chee-Chee opened on Broadway September 25, 1928, and the show closed after 31 performances.In 1963 vocalist Betty Comden released an album that included some of the songs from the musical.

Comden and Green

Comden and Green refers to the 60-year writing partnership of Betty Comden (1917–2006) and Adolph Green (1914–2002)

Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical

The Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical is an annual award presented by Drama Desk in recognition of achievements in the theatre among Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions. The category was created in the 1994 ceremony and became a recurring award in the following years.

† - indicates the performance also won the Tony Award

‡ - indicates the performance was nominated but did not win the Tony Award

Hallelujah, Baby!

Hallelujah, Baby! is a musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, and a book by Arthur Laurents. The show is "a chronicle of the African American struggle for equality during the [first half of the] 20th century."The musical premiered on Broadway in 1967 and made a young Leslie Uggams a star. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Just in Time (song)

"Just in Time" is a popular song with the melody written by Jule Styne and the lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It was introduced by Judy Holliday and Sydney Chaplin in the musical Bells Are Ringing in 1956. Judy Holliday and Dean Martin sang the song in the 1960 film of Bells Are Ringing. Martin then recorded it for his 1960 album, This Time I'm Swingin'!.

Lorelei (musical)

Lorelei is a musical with a book by Kenny Solms and Gail Parent, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Jule Styne. It is a revision of the Joseph Fields-Anita Loos book for the 1949 production Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and includes many of the Jule Styne-Leo Robin songs written for the original.

The 1974 Broadway production of Lorelei, directed by Robert Moore and starring Carol Channing, ran for 320 performances.

New York, New York (On the Town)

"New York, New York" is a song from the 1944 musical On the Town and the 1949 MGM musical film of the same name. The music was written by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. A well known line of this song is:

"New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but The Battery's down."For the film version, the word "helluva" was changed to "wonderful" to appease the Production Code offices. In the film, the song was performed by Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin, and Frank Sinatra. In 2004, the film version finished at No. 41 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

It is not to be confused with the "Theme from New York, New York", originally performed by Liza Minnelli and later popularized by Sinatra ("Start spreadin' the news, I'm leaving today").

Ohio (1953 song)

"Ohio" is a song from the 1953 Broadway musical Wonderful Town, sung by the protagonists, bemoaning the fact that they had left Ohio for New York City.

It was written by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green.In the original 1953 Broadway production, the song was performed by Rosalind Russell and Edith Adams (as a duet). Bing Crosby recorded the song on February 9, 1953 with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra. A noteworthy recording of the song was made by Doris Day as part of her albums, Show Time (1960) and My Heart (2011).An additional noteworthy release was in November 2010 when it was sung by Carol Burnett and Jane Lynch on the popular U.S. television show Glee.

On the Town (musical)

On the Town is a musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on Jerome Robbins' idea for his 1944 ballet Fancy Free, which he had set to Bernstein's music. The musical introduced several popular and classic songs, among them "New York, New York", "Lonely Town", "I Can Cook, Too" (for which Bernstein also wrote the lyrics), and "Some Other Time". The story concerns three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime 1944. Each of the three sailors meets and quickly connects with a woman.

On the Town was first produced on Broadway in 1944 and was made into a film in 1949, although the film replaced all but three of the original Broadway songs with Hollywood-written substitutes. The show has enjoyed a number of major revivals. The musical integrates dance into its storytelling: Robbins made a number of ballets and extended dance sequences for the show, including the "Imaginary Coney Island" ballet.

Say, Darling

Say, Darling is a three-act comic play by Abe Burrows and Richard and Marian Bissell about the creation of a Broadway musical. Although the play featured nine original songs with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Jule Styne, all of the songs were presented as either rehearsal or audition material and not as the thoughts or feelings of the characters.

So Pretty (Leonard Bernstein song)

"So Pretty" is a 1968 anti-war song by Leonard Bernstein to lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, contributed to a Broadway for Peace fundraiser on January 21, 1968, at Lincoln Center's Philharmonic Hall. The song was performed by Barbra Streisand dressed in a gingham smock and fisherman's hat and accompanied by the composer at the piano.

The Party's Over (1956 song)

"The Party's Over" is a popular song composed by Jule Styne with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It was introduced in the 1956 musical comedy Bells Are Ringing by Judy Holliday. Nat King Cole, Smoking Popes and Lonnie Donegan recorded popular versions, and Doris Day's single stayed on the Billboard chart for 11 weeks in 1956. Shirley Bassey recorded the song for her first Columbia album "The Fabulous Shirley Bassey" (1959). Gene Ammons recorded it for Prestige Records Late Hour Special (1961). Robie Lester released a version as a single on the Interlude label in 1966. Lesley Gore included a version of the song on her 1963 debut album, I'll Cry If I Want To. Leslie Odom, Jr. ended his debut album Leslie Odom Jr. (album) (2016) with it. Seth MacFarlane included the song on his fifth album, Once in a While.

It was the closing theme song of Polly Bergen's short-lived comedy/variety show, The Polly Bergen Show, which aired on NBC in the 1957–1958 season.

The Will Rogers Follies

The Will Rogers Follies is a musical with a book by Peter Stone, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Cy Coleman.

It focuses on the life and career of famed humorist and performer Will Rogers, using as a backdrop the Ziegfeld Follies, which he often headlined, and describes every episode in his life in the form of a big production number. The Rogers character also performs rope tricks in between scenes. The revue contains snippets of Rogers' famous homespun style of wisdom and common sense and tries to convey the personality of this quintessentially American figure whose most famous quote was "I never met a man I didn't like."

Tony Award for Best Musical

The Tony Awards are yearly awards that recognize achievement in live Broadway theatre. The award for Best Musical is one of the ceremony's longest-standing awards, having been presented each year since 1949. The award goes to the producers of the winning musical. A musical is eligible for consideration in a given year if it has not previously been produced on Broadway and is not "determined... to be a 'classic' or in the historical or popular repertoire."

Best Musical is the final award presented at the Tony Awards ceremony. Excerpts from the musicals that are nominated for this award are usually performed during the ceremony before this award is presented.

This is a list of winners and nominations for the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Two on the Aisle

Two on the Aisle is a musical revue with a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Jule Styne.

The project marked Comden and Green's return to Broadway following their successful reign at MGM (where they penned the classic Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon, among others) and their first teaming with composer Styne. An evening of comedy routines and splashy musical numbers with Las Vegas-type showgirls, it was developed specifically to showcase the talents of Bert Lahr.

After one preview, the show, directed by Abe Burrows, and choreographed by Ron Fletcher, opened on July 19, 1951 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, where it ran for 276 performances. The marquee is briefly shown approximately 46 minutes into the movie, Pat and Mike. In addition to Lahr, the cast included Dolores Gray and Stanley Prager. Lahr and Gray disliked each other, with the trouble starting in New Haven. The lead spot (number 3 in the show) for the first star was given to Lahr, but Gray argued that she should have it; the director Burrows settled the matter by threatening to quit. The show became notorious for their efforts to upstage each other. An original cast album was released by Decca Records.

Musicals by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Awards for Betty Comden

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