Betty Comden Biography

Bells Are Ringing
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On The Town
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Elizabeth Basya Cohen, 3 May 1915, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA, d. 23 November 2006, New York, USA. After graduating with a degree in science, Betty Comden strove to find work as an actress. During this period, the late 30s, she met Adolph Green (b. 2 December 1915, the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA, d. 24 October 2002, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA), who was also seeking work in the theatre. Unsuccessful in their attempts to find acting jobs, Comden and Green formed their own troupe, together with another struggling actress, Judy Holliday. In the absence of suitable material, Comden and Green began creating their own and discovered an ability to write librettos and lyrics. At first their success was only limited, but in the early 40s they were invited by a mutual friend, Leonard Bernstein, to work on the book and lyrics of a musical he planned to adapt from his ballet score Fancy Free. The show, in which Comden and Green also appeared, was retitled On The Town (1944), and became a huge success.

Comden and Green never looked back. On The Town was followed by Billion Dollar Baby (1945, music by Morton Gould), the flop Bonanza Bound (1947), and an assignment in Hollywood for the musical films Good News (1947), The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949), On The Town and Take Me Out To The Ball Game (both 1949). In the 50s and 60s Comden and Green were back on Broadway, collaborating with Bernstein again on Wonderful Town (1953), and with Jule Styne on Two On The Aisle, Peter Pan, Say, Darling, Do Re Mi, Subways Are For Sleeping, Fade Out-Fade In, Halleluja, Baby!, and most notably, Bells Are Ringing (1956), in which the leading role was played by their former associate Judy Holliday. Among their films were Singin’ In The Rain (1952), for which they wrote the screenplay, incorporating the songs of Nacio Herb Brown, and The Band Wagon (1953), again contributing the screenplay which was peppered with the songs of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. For It’s Always Fair Weather (1955) they wrote the screenplay and lyrics (music by André Previn) and later in the 50s and into the 60s wrote screenplays for Auntie Mame (1958) and Bells Are Ringing (1960), among others. From the late 50s they also performed their own accomplished two-person stage show. After writing the libretto for Applause (1970) they continued to make sporadic returns to the musical stage with Lorelei (1974), On The Twentieth Century (1978), A Doll’s Life (1982) and The Will Rogers Follies (1991).

Among their best-known songs are ‘Just In Time’, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Lonely Town’, ‘Some Other Time’, ‘Never Never Land’, ‘It’s Love’, ‘Long Before I Knew You’, ‘Lucky To Be Me’, ‘New York, New York’, ‘The Party’s Over’ and The Right Girl For Me’. Regarded as the longest-running creative partnership in theatre history, Comden and Green gained several Tony Awards, a Grammy and Kennedy Center Awards. They were elected to the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame and the Theatre Hall Of Fame. Albums celebrating their work have been released by Sally Mayes and Blossom Dearie, among others.

In 1993, 40 years after they wrote one of their most famous numbers, ‘Ohio’, for On The Town, the Governor of that US State threw an opulent anniversary party, The Show Must Go On: Fifty Years Of Comden And Green, in their honour. As well as seeing their musical On The Town return to Broadway, the duo continued to receive tributes and awards throughout the 90s, including the ASCAP Richard Rodgers Lifetime Achievement Award and the Stage Directors And Choreographers President’s Award for Outstanding Contribution To The Theatre. A revue of their songs, Make Someone Happy, opened the Bay City season in 1997, and a year later they wrote a new book and English dialogue for the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. In 1999, a two-night Carnegie Hall tribute to Comden and Green featured an all-star line-up which included Faith Prince, Lilias White, Elaine Stritch, and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ragtime).

The partnership was finally ended with the death of Adolph Green in October 2002. Comden died four years later of heart failure.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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