Adolph Green, the Broadway lyricist who, with longtime collaborator Betty Comden, wrote such valentines to New York as “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town,” as well as the screenplay for the classic movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” died Wednesday. He was 87. Green, who had been in poor health for some time, died at his Manhattan home, his son, Adam, said.
“He was the quintessential New Yorker: buoyant, optimistic and resilient,” said Harold Prince, who directed the 1978 Comden and Green musical “On the Twentieth Century.” “And he shared all that, not only on Broadway and in film, but with his friends. To the end, he remained a generous kid.”
Comden and Green worked with some of Broadway’s best composers including Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, and Cy Coleman. They wrote lyrics and often the books for more than a dozen shows, featuring some of the biggest stars — Rosalind Russell, Judy Holliday, Phil Silvers, Bert Lahr, Lauren Bacall, and Carol Burnett.
“Adolph loved all aspects of the theater,” said George Wolfe, who directed the 1998 Broadway revival of “On the Town.” “He loved performing, he loved writing for it and he loved the process of making it. He and Betty were this amazing, smart, stylish, playful team. The great thing about their lyrics was their wonderful combination of elegance and joy.”
Comden and Green’s lyrics were brash and buoyant, best exemplified by the song “New York, New York” — “the Bronx is up and the Battery down” — which celebrated their favorite city. The duo had surprisingly few pop hits — the best-known being “The Party’s Over,” “Just in Time,” and “Make Someone Happy” — because their lyrics were tied directly to the shows they wrote.
It was “On the Town,” a musical comedy expansion of Jerome Robbins’ ballet “Fancy Free,” that introduced Comden and Green to Broadway in 1944. The story of three sailors on a 24-hour leave in wartime New York was tailor-made for the time. The music was by Bernstein, an old friend of Green’s. Comden and Green wrote the book and lyrics, and included two roles for themselves.
They won five Tony Awards, with three of their shows — “Wonderful Town,” “Hallelujah, Baby!,” and “Applause” — winning the top prize for best musical.
On film, their most celebrated work was the screenplay for “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), considered by many to be the finest movie musical ever made. The story of the silent movie industry’s transition to talkies starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor.
In 1953, they had another film hit with “The Band Wagon,” starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. That same year, Comden and Green reunited with Bernstein on Broadway for “Wonderful Town,” a musical version of “My Sister Eileen,” which starred Russell.
A succession of collaborations with Styne followed, including the 1954 Mary Martin “Peter Pan,” in which the pair were brought in to augment an already existing score; “Bells Are Ringing” (1956), written specifically for Holliday; and “Do Re Mi” (1960), a raucous look at the jukebox industry that featured Silvers and comedian Nancy Walker.
One of their biggest Broadway successes was “Applause” (1970), a show for which they wrote the book but not the lyrics. The two tailored the film “All About Eve” to the talents of Bacall.
Their longest-running show, “The Will Rogers Follies,” opened in 1991, a Ziegfeld-styled retelling of the life of the famous humorist. Keith Carradine played Rogers in the lavish production directed by Tommy Tune with music by Coleman.
Green was born Dec. 2, 1914 in the Bronx. After high school, he worked as a runner on Wall Street as he tried to make it as an actor. He met Comden through mutual friends in 1938 while she was studying at New York University. They formed a troupe called the Revuers, which performed in the Village Vanguard, a club in Greenwich Village. Out of necessity, Comden and Green began writing their own material.
For the movies, Comden and Green wrote screenplays for “Good News,” starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford, and the film version of “On the Town,” which scrapped most of Bernstein’s melodies in favor of music by Roger Edens. The film even sanitized the lyrics to “New York, New York.” Yet the movie, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, was a huge hit.
Green married actress Phyllis Newman, who had been Holliday’s understudy in “Bells Are Ringing,” in 1960. He is survived by his wife, son and a daughter, Amanda.
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