Green longtime B'way and film composer
This article was corrected on Oct. 28, 2002.
Adolph Green, who with longtime collaborator Betty Comden supplied some of the wittiest, most sophisticated lyrics ever to grace the musical stage, died Wednesday at his Manhattan home. He was 87.
Comden and Green, who supplied book and lyrics for numerous Broadway musicals including “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town,” also wrote the screenplay for what many critics and film fans consider the greatest film musical of all time, “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Their inseparable careers began together in 1938 with a cabaret act called the Revuers, in which they appeared with Judy Holliday. The threesome was to make their screen debut shortly thereafter in “Greenwich Village,” but they were unceremoniously cut from the film. Undaunted, Comden and Green went on to collaborate that same year with newcomers Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins on the hit musical “On the Town.” Their next show, “Billion Dollar Baby,” did not fare as well.
But Arthur Freed at MGM fondly remembered their success with “On the Town” and brought them to Hollywood, where they wrote the screenplays for “Good News” (1947) and “The Barkleys of Broadway” (1949), as well as the songs for “Take Me out to the Ball Game” (1949). Eventually, there were scripts for other films, too, including “The Band Wagon” (1953), “Auntie Mame” (1958) and “What a Way to Go!” (1964).
But Comden and Green were always Broadway babies — and they eventually had five Tonys to prove it. In addition to Bernstein, with whom they also wrote “Wonderful Town” (1953), Comden and Green worked with Jule Styne on several shows including “Bells Are Ringing” (1956), “Do Re Mi” (1960), “Subways Are for Sleeping” (1961) and “Hallelujah, Baby” (1967).
Later, there were successful collaborations with Charles Strouse on “Applause” (1970) — for which they supplied only the book — and Cy Coleman on “The Will Rogers Follies” (1991) and “On the Twentieth Century” (1978).
“Working on a show with Jule was like collaborating with Lenny,” Green once said. “You never knew where you were going, but you had great fun getting there.”
But it was with Comden that he was forever linked. When they jointly received their lifetime achievement award at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1991, a few reporters mistook them for husband and wife. It was a common mistake.
In fact, Green met his future wife, Phyllis Newman, in a prototypical Comden-and-Green situation: backstage at a big Broadway musical. Newman was auditioning to be Judy Holliday’s standby in “Bells Are Ringing.” Newman and Green were married in 1960.
“I was immediately attracted to him,” the actress recalled, “but I was intimidated by his ego, his reputation as an intellectual, his success and most of all his mind-boggling eccentricity.”
Green said his close collaboration with Comden only occasionally interferred with his marriage.
“It’s been a problem in certain ways,” he said, “because so much of my time is taken up by my work. But (Phyllis) more than understands it, she encourages it. She tells me, ‘Work more, get over there!’ Betty and I have always been special kinds of friends, our relatonship is a unique one…”
Prior to Newman, Green had been married twice.
With few exceptions, the stage and film musicals of Comden and Green focused on the team’s two favorite subjects — show business and New York. In an art form often encumbered with sentimental gestures, the two writers could invariably be counted on to bring into play their signature sass and cutting-edge humor.
At home onstage
Green began as a performer and he never stopped. With Comden, he appeared in the original “On the Town” as well as the 1958 revue “A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green” and its revival in 1977, and the 1984 concert version of “Follies” at Lincoln Center, among other events. With Newman, he starred in Murray Schisgal’s Off Broadway play “The New Yorkers” in 1984. There were also featured roles in films including “My Favorite Year” and Alain Resnais’ “I Want to Go Home,” in which he portrayed a has-been American cartoonist.
Comden and Green never failed to entertain, never more so than when they received one of their many joint honors. Eschewing the standard laundry-list acceptance speech, they instead wrote lyrics and set them to song, which they delivered in their inimitable singing voices. As recently as this spring, they accepted lifetime achievement awards at the Dramatist Guild benefit in Gotham. They made precious few thank-yous, but brought down the house belting out hit tunes they had retooled especially for the event with French and German lyrics.
Green is survived by his wife, and two children.