Betty Comden: 1917-2006
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We'll have tributes to Anita O'Day and Betty Comden on Sunday's Music of the Stars.
Betty Comden: 1917-2006
Lyricist behind landmark musicals
New York Times News Service
November 24, 2006
NEW YORK -- Betty Comden, who with her longtime collaborator Adolph Green wrote the lyrics and often the librettos for some of the most celebrated musicals of stage and screen, died Thursday. She was 89.
During a professional partnership that lasted more than 60 years and ended with Green's death in 2002, the Comden-Green blend of sophisticated wit and musical know-how lit up stage shows like "On the Town," "Wonderful Town," "Peter Pan" and "Bells Are Ringing." Their Hollywood credits included the screenplays for two landmark film musicals, "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Band Wagon."
Through the years they worked with composers like Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne and Andre Previn, creating songs like "New York, New York," "The Party's Over," "It's Love" and "Some Other Time."
Slim, dark-haired and composed, Ms. Comden was the ideal counterbalance to the often rumpled, wild-haired and restless Green. Sometimes, during discussions, she would finish one of his sentences, or vice versa. Songs and shows grew that way too, although the story was always the starting point.
The starting point for their partnership was Greenwich Village where, in the late 1930s, they joined up with another aspiring entertainer named Judy Holliday and two other friends to form a cabaret act. They called themselves the Revuers and persuaded Max Gordon, the owner of a club called the Village Vanguard, that their act would be good for business. It was.
The Revuers opened at the Vanguard in 1939, performing material that included freewheeling sketches like "The Banshee Sisters" and "The Baroness Bazooka," a zany operetta, and frequently accompanied at the piano by one of Green's friends, a talented young musician named Leonard Bernstein.
The act's success earned them a movie offer, and the Revuers traveled west in hopes of finding instant fame in "Greenwich Village," a 1944 movie starring Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche, in which the newcomers turned out to be virtually invisible. Ms. Comden and Green came back to New York, where they resumed working at the Vanguard and other clubs.
It wasn't long before they heard from Bernstein, their erstwhile accompanist, who said he'd been working on a ballet with Jerome Robbins and that the two of them had decided that the ballet, "Fancy Free," had the makings of a Broadway show. They were looking for someone to write the book and lyrics.
Ms. Comden and Green jumped at the chance. The result, "On the Town," the story of three sailors on shore leave in New York, opened late in 1944 and was a smash.
Ms. Comden married Steven Kyle, a designer and businessman, in 1942. He died in 1979, and she never remarried. They had two children, a daughter, Susanna, and a son, Alan. Their son, a drug addict, contracted AIDS and died of complications of his addiction in 1990. Ms. Comden is survived by her daughter.
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