Comden, Betty, and Adolph Green
COMDEN, Betty, and Adolph GREEN
COMDEN. Writer and Lyricist. Nationality: American. Born: Betty Cohen in Brooklyn, New York, 3 May 1919.
GREEN. Writer and Lyricist. Nationality: American. Born: The Bronx, New York, 2 December 1918. Family: Married 1) the actress Allyn McLerie (divorced); 2) Phyllis Newman, 1960.
Career: 1940–44—Comden and Green performed with Judy Holliday, John Frank, and Alvin Hammer in cabaret group The Revuers; 1944—wrote first Broadway musical, On the Town (later musicals include Billion Dollar Baby, 1945, Bonanza Beyond, 1947, Two on the Aisle, 1951, Wonderful Town, 1953, Bells Are Ringing, 1956, Say Darling, 1958, Do Re Mi, 1960, Subways Are for Sleeping, 1961, Fade Out—Fade In, 1964, Hallelljah Baby, 1967, Applause, 1970, Lorelei, or Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes, 1974, By Bernstein, 1975, and On the Twentieth Century, 1978); 1947—first film as writers, Good News. Awards: Writers Guild Award, for On the Town, 1949, Singin' in the Rain, 1952, and Bells Are Ringing, 1960.
Films as Writers and Lyricists:
Good News (Walters)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Everybody's Cheering) (Berkeley) (lyricists only); The Barkleys of Broadway (Walters) (sc only)
On the Town (Donen and Kelly)
Singin' in the Rain (Donen and Kelly)
The Band Wagon (Minnelli) (sc only)
It's Always Fair Weather (Donen and Kelly)
Auntie Mame (da Costa) (sc only)
Bells Are Ringing (Minnelli)
What a Way to Go! (Lee Thompson)
Films as Actress: Comden:
Greenwich Village (W. Lang)
Garbo Talks (Lumet)
Slaves of New York (Ivory) (as Mrs. Wheeler)
Films as Actor: Green:
Greenwich Village (W. Lang)
Simon (Brickman) (as commune leader)
My Favorite Year (Benjamin) (as Leo Silver)
Lily in Love (Makk) (as Jerry Silber)
I Want to Go Home (Resnais)
The Substance of Fire (Sullivan) (as Mr. Musselblatt)
By COMDEN and GREEN: books—
Singin' in the Rain (script), New York, 1972.
Comden and Green on Broadway, New York, 1981.
On the Twentieth Century (play), New York, 1981.
By COMDEN and GREEN: articles—
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1966, translated in Cahiers du Cinéma in English, no. 2, 1966.
Positif (Paris), no. 343, September 1989.
Films in Review (Denville), vol. 43, no. 3–4, March-April 1992.
Films in Review (Denville), vol. 43, no. 5–6, May-June 1992.
On COMDEN and GREEN: article—
Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.
Laffel, Jeff, "Betty Comden and Adolph Green (part 1)," in Films in Review (Denville), March-April, 1992.
Laffel, Jeff, "Betty Comden and Adolph Green (part 2)," in Films in Review (Denville), May-June, 1992.
Isherwood, Charles, "Carnegie Hall Celebrates Betty Comden and Adolf Green," in Variety (New York), 27 September 1999.
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Betty Comden and Adolph Green came to Hollywood from New York, where as two-fifths of a group called The Revuers they wrote and performed songs and sketches in a series of cabaret, radio, and theater shows in the early 1940s. When the group disbanded, Comden and Green wrote the book and lyrics for the Broadway production of On the Town, in which they also acted and which, five years later, they adapted for the screen, their roles now played by Ann Miller and Jules Munshin.
The experience gained and associations formed in this early period of their partnership—despite the decision to play a mostly backstage, offscreen role in their later ventures—significantly influenced their writing. They prepared their own material because The Revuers were originally too poor to hire writers, while the group's gradual word-of-mouth success at a Greenwich Village cellar nightclub assumed certain musical-comedy proportions of its own and influenced plot developments in a number of Comden-Green screenplays. ("Within the measure of possibility," they once told an interviewer, "we always make use of elements in our personal lives." The writing couple played by Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray in The Band Wagon provides perhaps the wittiest testimony to that practice.) Moreover, the episodic nature of the sketch form and Comden and Green's ability to integrate it with satiric songs proved particularly adaptable to the more extended requirements of musical comedy, whose heyday at MGM they magically helped to shape. Their original screenplays for Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon, for example, emerged from sets of songs they were told to incorporate into each film's story line, not an uncommon process in the making of a musical.
The genre of musical comedy is thus particularly dependent upon the world of show business itself, as screenwriters seek contexts for their characters to perform production numbers from a "realistic" base in an essentially unrealistic art form. As in Singin' in the Rain and Band Wagon, lead characters in a musical tend to be performers in rehearsal for a musical play or film within the film. (Note Comden and Green's delicious parody of the writer's desperate search for musical excuses within the story line as Cosmo Brown—Donald O'Connor—transforms Singin' in the Rain's dueling cavalier into a dancing one.) In this regard, even when (as in On the Town) their main characters are not literally performers, Comden and Green's work is infused with the exhilarating appearance of that "Hey kids, let's put on a show" spontaneity so endemic to the spirit of the classic Hollywood musical. (Consider, for example, the madcap element of carnival embedded in the Singin' in the Rain and Band Wagon dialogue, or the joyous sense of liberation captured in their lyrics to "New York, New York" as the three sailors disembark for shore leave in On the Town.)
But the deep affection for the world of entertainment that shines through their work is wittily balanced by Comden and Green's satiric pleasure in the industry's absurdities. Their screenplays abound with pretentious directors (Jeffrey Cordova in The Band Wagon), dollar-hungry movie moguls (R. F. Simpson in Singin' in the Rain), and egomaniacal stars (Astaire/Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway, Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain) all courting potential comic disaster. Television provides the target for their nastiest satire in It's Always Fair Weather, a film considerably ahead of its time and predating such brilliantly bitter musicals as Cabaret, All That Jazz, and Pennies from Heaven.
—Mark W. Estrin