B'way legend Comden, 89, dies


Betty Comden, who teamed with the late Adolph Green to write the books and lyrics for some of the most acclaimed and beloved musicals on stage and in film, including the classic "Singin' in the Rain," died Thursday in New York. She was 89.

Comden died of heart failure at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia, her attorney and executor Ronald Konecky told the Associated Press.

One of the most accomplished and enduring pairings in musical history, Comden and Green wrote books and lyrics for such musicals as "On the Town," "Wonderful Town," "Singin' in the Rain," "Bells Are Ringing" and "Subways Are for Sleeping."

As songwriters, they penned such memorable hits as "New York, New York," "Lonely Town," "The Party's Over," "Make Someone Happy," "Just in Time" and "Ohio," among others.

An integral part of Arthur Freed's production unit at MGM, Comden and Green also collaborated on the screenplays for "Singin' in the Rain," "The Band Wagon" and "It's Always Fair Weather." The duo's credits also include the screenplays for "The Barkleys of Broadway" and "Good News." They also wrote the nonmusical screenplay for "Auntie Mame" (1958) as well as "What a Way to Go!," their last screenplay.

Their musicals, "Band Wagon" and "Fair Weather," received Oscar nominations for their screenplays. They picked up WGA Awards for the screenplays for "On the Town," "Singin' in the Rain" and "Bells Are Ringing" and in 2001 were honored with the Laurel Award for Screen Writing Achievement.

In all, Comden and Green won seven Tonys, in addition to five other nominations. Their Tonys included: Best musical for "Wonderful Town"; lyrics and best musical for "Hallelujah, Baby!"; best musical for "Applause"; lyrics and best musical for "On the Twentieth Century"; and lyrics for "The Will Rogers Follies."

In 1991, Comden and Green received a special salute from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for their contributions to musical films and theater. The same year, they were honored at the Kennedy Center with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

During their collaboration, which ran mainly from the mid-'40s through the mid-'60s, they penned such other shows as "Two on the Aisle," "Peter Pan," "Say Darling" and "Do Re Mi," with music by Jule Styne. They wrote the lyrics for the Gene Kelly vehicle "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

Born as Elizabeth Cohen on May 3, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Comden backed into theater when she casually decided to take a dramatics course at NYU.

Comden and Green first got together in the late 1930s when they formed a trio called the Revuers with Judy Holliday (then known then as Judy Tuvin). Out of economic necessity, they wrote their own material, and were a hit in Greenwich Village. They were noticed by Leonard Bernstein during the early '40s, which resulted in the Bernstein-Comden-Green collaboration "On the Town," based on the 1943 Jerome Robbins ballet "Fancy Free." Comden and Green wrote the lyrics.

Comden also worked sporadically as a performer. She was featured in "On the Town," and she performed with Green in their revue "A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green," which they first performed in 1957. Forty years later, they performed an updated version at the Westwood Playhouse.

She made periodic film appearances: "Greenwich Village," "Garbo Talks" and, most recently, in "Slaves of New York" in 1989.

In 1995, Comden and Green received a National Board of Review Special Award. Green died in October 2002 at age 87.

Comden was married to accessories designer Steven Kyle until his death in 1979. The couple had a daughter, Susanna, and a son, Alan, who died in 1990.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.