Comden, Betty

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COMDEN, BETTY (Elizabeth Cohen ; 1919– ), U.S. theatrical writer. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Comden studied drama at New York University and graduated with a B.Sc. While a student, she acted with the Washington Square Players. She was a member of "The Revuers," a satirical nightclub act that included, among others, Adolph *Green (1914–2002). Comden went on to write the Broadway scores for Wonderful Town (1953), Peter Pan (1954), and Do Re Mi (1960). She was also the co-librettist for On the Town (1944), Billion Dollar Baby (1945), Two on the Aisle (1951), Bells Are Ringing (1956), Say, Darling (1958), Subways Are for Sleeping (1961), Fade Out – Fade In (1964), and Hallelujah, Baby (1967).

Joining ascap in 1945, she teamed up with Adolph Green as her chief lyrics, libretto, and screenplay collaborator; her main musical collaborators were Leonard *Bernstein, Jule *Styne, Morton Gould, and Andre *Previn. The team of Comden and Green became the longest-running creative partnership in theater history. They wrote the book for the Broadway play Applause (1970) as well as the book and lyrics for On the Twentieth Century (1978) and A Doll's Life (1982). In 1991, they wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical The Will Rogers Follies. As performers, they appeared in On the Town, and later did an evening at the Golden Theater, entitled A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, composed of material from their own shows and movies, and from their act, "The Revuers."

Their many film musicals include Singin' in the Rain; The Band Wagon; On the Town; Bells Are Ringing; It's Always Fair Weather; Good News; and The Barkleys of Broadway. Much to the credit of Comden and Green, Singin' in the Rain has been named one of the ten best American films ever made and, by a vote of international film critics, was chosen as number three of the ten best films of all time.

Comden's string of longstanding popular songs includes "New York, New York," "Lonely Town," "The Party's Over," "Just in Time," "Ohio," "A Little Bit in Love," "The French Lesson," "Long before I Knew You," "Never-Neverland," "Make Someone Happy," and "I'm Just Taking My Time."

Comden and Green were members of the Council of the Dramatists' Guild, were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and received the Mayor of New York's Certificate of Excellence.

In 1953, they won the Writers Guild of America's Screen Award for Singin' in the Rain for Best Written American Musical and, in 1961, the same award for Bells Are Ringing. In 1991, they were the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001, they received the Writers Guild of America's Laurel Award for Screen Writing Achievement. And in 2002, the Dramatists' Guild presented the duo with its third Lifetime Achievement Award in Theatrical Writing (the previous recipients included Arthur Miller and Edward Albee).

Comden received the Theatre World Award (1945), the Woman of the Year Award from the Alumni Association of New York University, and the Kaufmann Center's Creative Arts Award (2003).

As for Comden's own work, Wonderful Town won a Tony Award for Best Musical (1953). A Party received an Obie Award when it was first performed (1958). Hallelujah, Baby won two Tonys – Best Musical, and Best Composer and Lyricist (1968). Applause won the Tony in 1970 for Best Musical. In 1978, On the Twentieth Century won Tonys for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. And in 1991, The Will Rogers Follies won a Tony for Best Original Score, and the cast recording won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show album. In 1995, Comden published her autobiography, entitled Off Stage.


A.M. Robinson, Betty Comden and Adolph Green: A Bio-Biography (1993).

[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]