Betty Comden and Green (right), circa 1966
|Born||(1914-12-02)December 2, 1914
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 23, 2002 (2002-10-23) (aged 87)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Adolph Green (December 2, 1914 – October 23, 2002) was an American lyricist and playwright who, with long-time collaborator Betty Comden, penned the screenplays and songs for some of the most beloved movie musicals, particularly as part of Arthur Freed’s production unit at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, during the genre’s heyday. Many people thought the pair were married, but in fact they were not a romantic couple at all. Nevertheless, they shared a unique comic genius and sophisticated wit that enabled them to forge a six-decade-long partnership that produced some of Hollywood and Broadway’s greatest hits.
Adolph and Betty Comden
Green was born in the Bronx to Hungarian Jewish immigrants Helen (née Weiss) and Daniel Green. After high school, he worked as a runner on Wall Street while he tried to make it as an actor. He met Comden through mutual friends in 1938 while she was studying drama at New York University. They formed a troupe called the Revuers, which performed at the Village Vanguard, a club in Greenwich Village. Among the members of the company was a young comedian named Judy Tuvim, who later changed her name to Judy Holliday, and Green’s good friend, a young musician named Leonard Bernstein, who he had met in 1937 at a summer camp where Bernstein was the music counselor, frequently accompanied them on the piano. The act’s success earned them a movie offer and the Revuers traveled west in hopes of finding fame in Greenwich Village, a 1944 movie starring Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche, but their roles were so small they barely were noticed, and they quickly returned to New York.
Their first Broadway effort teamed them with Bernstein for On the Town, a musical romp about three sailors on leave in New York City that was an expansion of a ballet entitled Fancy Free on which Bernstein had been working with choreographer Jerome Robbins. Comden and Green wrote the lyrics and book, which included sizeable parts for themselves. Their next two musicals, Billion Dollar Baby (1945) and Bonanza Bound (1947) were not successful, and once again they headed to California, where they immediately found work at MGM.
On the Town – Broadway
They wrote the screenplay for Good News, starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford, The Barkleys of Broadway for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and then adapted On the Town for Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, scrapping much of Bernstein’s music at the request of Arthur Freed, who did not care for the Bernstein score.
They reunited with Kelly for their most successful project, the classic Singin’ in the Rain, about Hollywood in the final days of the silent film era. Considered by many film historians to be the best movie musical of all time, it ranked #10 on the list of the 100 Best American Movies of the 20th Century, compiled by the American Film Institute in 1998. They followed this with another hit, The Band Wagon, in which the characters of Lester and Lily, a husband-and-wife team that writes the play for the show-within-a-show, were patterned after themselves. They were Oscar-nominated twice, for their screenplays for The Band Wagon and It’s Always Fair Weather, both of which earned them a Screen Writers Guild Award, as did On the Town.
Their stage work during the next few years included the revue Two on the Aisle, starring Bert Lahr and Dolores Gray, Wonderful Town, an adaptation of the comedy hit My Sister Eileen, with Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams as two sisters from Ohio trying to make it in the Big Apple, and Bells Are Ringing, which reunited them with Judy Holliday as an operator at a telephone answering service. The score, including the standards “Just in Time”, “Long Before I Knew You,” and “The Party’s Over” proved to be one of their richest.
In 1958, they appeared on Broadway in A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, a revue that included some of their early sketches. It was a critical and commercial success, and they brought an updated version back to Broadway in 1977.
Among their other credits are the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan for both Broadway and television, a streamlined Die Fledermaus for the Metropolitan Opera, and stage musicals for Carol Burnett, Leslie Uggams, and Lauren Bacall, among others. Their many collaborators included Garson Kanin, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne, and André Previn.
The team was not without its failures. In 1982, A Doll’s Life, an attempt to figure out what Nora did after she abandoned her husband in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, ran for only five performances, although they received Tony Award nominations for its book and score.
In 1980, Green was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. And, in 1981, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
In 1989 he appeared as Dr. Pangloss in Bernstein’s Candide.
Comden and Green received Kennedy Center Honors in 1991.
Green’s third wife was actress Phyllis Newman, who had understudied Holliday in Bells Are Ringing. They had two children, Adam and Amanda, both of whom are songwriters.
His Broadway memorial, with such luminaries as Lauren Bacall, Kevin Kline, Joel Grey, Kristin Chenoweth, Arthur Laurents, Peter Stone, and, of course, Betty Comden in attendance was held at the Shubert Theater on December 4, 2002.
These shows are collated from the biography above.
- A Doll’s Life (1982)
- Die Fledermaus (1954)
- Peter Pan (1954)
- Broadway in A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green (1958)
- Bells Are Ringing (1956)
- Wonderful Town (1953)
- Two on the Aisle (1951)
- Bonanza Bound (1947)
- Billion Dollar Baby (1945)
- On the Town (1944)
Additional Broadway Credits
- The Will Rogers Follies (1991)
- Singin’ in the Rain (1985)
- The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979)
- On the Twentieth Century (1978)
- Lorelei (1974)
- Applause (1970)
- Hallelujah, Baby! (1967)
- Fade Out – Fade In (1964)
- Subways Are For Sleeping (1961)
- Do Re Mi (1960)
- Say, Darling (1958)
- Greenwich Village (1944) as Revuer (uncredited)
- Simon (1980) as Commune Leader
- My Favorite Year (1982) as Leo Silver
- Lily in Love (1984) as Jerry Silber
- I Want to Go Home (1989) as Joey Wellman
- Candide (1991) (TV) as Dr. Pangloss / Martin
- Frasier (1994) (TV) as Walter (episode: Burying a Grudge)
- The Substance of Fire (1996) as Mr. Musselblatt
Theatre Awards and Nominations
- 1991 Tony Award for Best Original Score (The Will Rogers Follies, winner)
- 1986 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical (Singin’ in the Rain, nominee)
- 1983 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical (A Doll’s Life, nominee)
- 1983 Tony Award for Best Original Score (A Doll’s Life, nominee)
- 1978 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical (On the Twentieth Century, winner)
- 1978 Tony Award for Best Original Score (On the Twentieth Century, winner)
- 1970 Tony Award for Best Musical (Applause, winner)
- 1968 Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist (Hallelujah, Baby!, winner)
- 1968 Tony Award for Best Musical (Hallelujah, Baby!, winner)
- 1961 Tony Award for Best Musical (Do Re Mi, nominee)
- 1957 Tony Award for Best Musical (Bells Are Ringing, nominee)
- 1953 Tony Award for Best Musical (Wonderful Town, winner)
- Adolph Green at the Songwriters Hall of Fame
- The New York Times, March 3, 1981 – 26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame
- “Adolph Green, Playwright and Lyricist Who Teamed With Comden, Dies at 87”The New York Times, October 25, 2002
- “A Broadway Memorial? That’s Entertainment”The New York Times, December 4, 2002
- Off Stage, a memoir by Betty Comden published in 1995
- Adolph Green at the Internet Broadway Database
- Adolph Green at the Internet Movie Database
- Adolph Green at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Adolph Green papers, 1944–2002, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Comden and Green papers, 1933–2003, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- New York Public Library Blog on Comden and Green’s Unproduced Screenplay Wonderland
Adolph Green Broadway Playwright – Songwriter 1914 – 2002