Lyricist Adolph Green dead at 86

Oct. 24, 2002 at 7:43 PM
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NEW YORK, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Adolph Green, the screenwriter-lyricist whose six-decade collaboration with Betty Comden resulted in such classic Broadway and movie musicals as "Singing' in the Rain," "On the Town" and "The Will Rogers Follies" died in his sleep at his home in New York early Thursday. He was 86.

Green was born Dec. 2, 1915 -- although some sources list the date at 1914 -- in New York. After high school, he worked as a messenger on Wall Street and pursued a career in show business.

He first partnered with Comden and a young performer named Judy Tuvin -- who later changed her name to Judy Holliday -- in the late 1930s, as a trio called The Revuers, performing music and comedy at the Village Vanguard in New York's Greenwich Village. Collaborating with Leonard Bernstein, they had their first Broadway success in 1944 with "On the Town," the story of three sailors on a 24-hour leave in wartime New York.

Bernstein composed the music. Comden and Green not only wrote the book and the lyrics -- they also gave themselves plum roles. "On the Town" established their reputation on Broadway.

Comden and Green went on to work with such leading composers as Cy Coleman and Jule Styne, collaborating on hit shows for stars such as Lauren Bacall ("Applause"), Judy Holliday ("Bells Are Ringing") and Phil Silvers ("Do Re Mi"). Their collaboration resulted in such standards as "New York, New York," "The Party's Over," "Just in Time" and "Make Someone Happy."

With Styne, they created the 1954 production of "Peter Pan," starring Mary Martin. The show was adapted for TV in 1955, in a production that became a family favorite and was rebroadcast several times during the 1950s and '60s.

Marilyn Bergman, president and chairman of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), called Green one of the "most eloquent voices" in American music.

"Adolph Green, in his long collaboration with Betty Comden, created some of the most enduring classics in our music literature," said Bergman. "He will personally and professionally be missed by us and we mourn his passing."

Comden and Green were nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning seven times. They won for best musical in 1953 ("Wonderful Town", 1968 ("Hallelujah, Baby!"), 1970 ("Applause") and 1991 ("The Will Rogers Follies").

In 1958, the partners staged a two-person show on Broadway, "A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green." They revived it from time to time over the years.

In Hollywood, Comden and Green were honored three times for best written musical by the Screenwriters Guild of America -- later the Writers Guild of America -- for "On the Town" (1949), "Singin' in the Rain" (1951) and "Bells Are Ringing" (1960).

They received Kennedy Center Honors in 1991, and the Writers Guild of America's highest honor, Screen Laurel Award, in 2001.

In one of his last public appearances, Green appeared with Comden and other principals from "Singin' in the Rain" at a 50th anniversary screening of their film classic at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The movie is ranked No. 10 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, but Green said when he and Comden first began work on the project he was sure it wouldn't work.

Arthur Freed -- who had produced MGM musicals including "On the Town" (1949) and the 1951 best picture Oscar-winner, "An American in Paris" -- assigned Comden and Green to write a screenplay around a stack of songs he had written over the years,

"We thought we were sunk," said Green.

Instead, he and Comden came up with the crown jewel of their legendary career.

Comden and Green also collaborated in Hollywood on "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949), "The Band Wagon" (1953 and "Auntie Mame" (1958). Green also appeared occasionally as an actor in Hollywood. His screen credits included "The Substance of Fire" (1996) and "My Favorite Year" (1982).

Green is survived by his wife, actress Phyllis Newman, his son Adam and daughter Amanda.

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