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Betty Comden - RIP


JackBurley
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Betty Comden, whose more than 60-year collaboration with Adolph Green produced the classic musical On the Town, as well as Singin' in the Rain, has died at age 89. Comden had been ill for a few months and died Thanksgiving day of heart failure at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

 

On Broadway, Comden and Green (the billing was always alphabetical) worked most successfully with composers Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne and Cy Coleman. The duo wrote lyrics and often the books for more than a dozen movies and shows, many of them built around such stars as Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame), Judy Holliday (Bells Are Ringing), Phil Silvers, Carol Burnett and Lauren Bacall.

 

They won five Tony Awards, with three of their shows: Wonderful Town, Hallelujah, Baby! and Applause (the musical version of All About Eve) winning the top prize for best musical. The duo received the Kennedy Center honors in 1991.

 

The two were never married to each other, although many thought they were, considering the longevity of their working relationship.

 

"It's a kind of radar," Comden once said of her partnership with Green. "We don't divide the work up, taking different scenes. We sit in the same room always. I used to write things down in shorthand. I now sit at the typewriter. Adolph paces more. A lot of people don't believe this, but at the end of the day we usually don't remember who thought up what."

 

Green died in October 2002 at age 87. At a memorial for him a few weeks later, Comden recalled their early days as collaborators and then halted before saying: "It's lonely up here. It was always more fun with Adolph."

 

The best Comden and Green lyrics were brash and buoyant, full of quick wit, best exemplified by "New York, New York," an exuberant and forthright hymn to their favorite city. Yet even the songwriters' biggest pop hits "The Party's Over," "Just in Time" and "Make Someone Happy" were simple, direct and heartfelt.

 

She gave us much to be thankful for. RIP

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Some would say that the high points of Western civilization came with the contruction of the Parthenon, the flowering of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment.

 

Me, I think it might have reached another kind of apotheosis with the advent of the "American Lyric Poets" who composed that deceptively simple Great American Songbook. Gerswhin, Arlen, Porter, Berlin, Mercer, Loesser, Harburg, Bernstein, and, yes, Comden and Green, were among those whose avowedly commercial aims came out of Tin Pan Alley to put into words and music the joy, pain, and reflections on love and life as experienced by the common guy or gal. Betty Comden's collaboration with the late Adolph Green was one of the last duos to produce the truly classic 20th century songs of this type. Don't believe there was a touch of poetry in their sophisticated patter? Just read the lyrics of one of their best efforts to catch a glimpse, to borrow a line from Noel Coward, of how "extraordinary[ly]...potent cheap music is.":

 

Just in time

I found you just in time

Before you came my time

Was running low

I was lost

The losing dice were tossed

My bridges all were crossed

Nowhere to go

 

Now you're here

And now I know just where I'm going

No more doubt or fear

'Cause I found my way

For love came just in time

You found me just in time

And saved my lonely life

That lovely day...

 

So I'll give thanks this weekend for Betty Comden, and all her kith and kin. Hope that there's a recording angel to meet you with an appreciation for your gifted turn of phrase.

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Well I was at work and on the CBS morning news said the other half of the duo from Singin In the Rain has died and it showed Gene Kelly dancing and I thought OMG Debbie Reynolds has died. Then they named off Betty Comden who I have never heard of but boy do I love her music. So in a way I guess I did know her Just in Time is one of my favs I so enjoy hearing Judy Garland singing this little gem. RIP Betty Comden. Boy they sure don't write songs like they use to do they?

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Here's some more biographical information to round out her story:

 

Betty Comden was born Elizabeth Cohen on May 3, 1917, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her father, Leo, was a lawyer, her mother, Rebecca, a teacher. She studied drama at New York University, graduating in 1938.

 

By that time she had changed her surname to Comden, had had nose surgery to make her look more stage worthy, had acted with the Washington Square Players, and had met and become friends with Adolph Green, another aspiring actor. Their circle soon included three other would-be entertainers -- Judy Holliday, Alvin Hammer and John Frank.

 

The starting point for Comden and Green's partnership was Greenwich Village, where, in the late 1930s, they joined up with Holliday, Hammer and Frank to form a cabaret act called "The Revuers". They opened at the Village Vanguard in 1939, frequently accompanied at the piano by one of Green's friends, Leonard Bernstein.

 

The act's success earned them a movie offer, and The Revuers hoped to find instant fame in Greenwich Village, a 1944 movie starring Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche; the newcomers turned out to be virtually invisible. Their big musical number, "The Baroness Bazooka" was cut from the film, and they were relegated to little more than extras. So Comden and Green returned to New York.

 

It wasn't long before they heard from Bernstein, who said he'd been working on the ballet Fancy Free with Jerome Robbins to star Robbins, Harold Lang and John Kriza as three sailors on leave in New York City. Robbins and Bernstein decided that the ballet had the makings of a Broadway show. They were looking for someone to write the book and lyrics. Comden and Green jumped at the chance. The result, On the Town, opened late in 1944 and was a smash hit.

 

Comden married Steven Kyle, a designer and businessman, in 1942. He died in 1979, and she never remarried. They had a daughter, Susanna, who survives; and a son, Alan, who died in 1990.

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And don't forget The Band Wagon, in which Nanette Fabray is playing a very Betty-like part (though her character, Lily Marton, is married to her colleague, and often spats with him--neither was true of Ms. Comden and Mr. Green).

 

To paraphrase concluding lines in the movie, as a friend of mine just did:

 

Betty, we have nothing to give you but our gratitude, our admiration, and our love...and as far as we're concerned, the show's going to run forever.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wes Phillips worked at Manhattan's downtown Tower Records and wrote the following memory on the San Francisco Classical Voice website:

 

 

 

"I'm writing this over the Thanksgiving weekend, when we've just learned of the death of Broadway lyricist Betty Comden, a regular at the Lincoln Center Tower. I'll never forget the day she and Adolph Green walked into the classical department while we were playing "Conga!" from Wonderful Town. They'd barely cleared the glass doors when Green recognized their song and broke into a spontaneous softshoe, which Comden immediately fell in with. Comden and Green were precisely the way they seemed in their movie and cabaret appearances: witty, classy, and absolutely down to earth."

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Jack, that memory of Comden and Green's everyday grace made me smile after a very tough day. Thank you.

 

Btw, has the Tower Records in SF closed yet? I'm bummed by the loss of these stores. I used to go to the one at the corner of Newbury and Mass Ave in Boston to dream about owning all the cds and dvds one could ever wish for.

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Btw, has the Tower Records in SF closed yet? I'm bummed by the loss of these stores. I used to go to the one at the corner of Newbury and Mass Ave in Boston to dream about owning all the cds and dvds one could ever wish for.

 

They're on their last, crumbling legs, Ms. 6. It breaks my heart. I cleaned out the last sets at the huge Bay Street branch a couple of weeks ago (finally getting the Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Fonda sets; and some oddities like Herzog's disturbing Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen and the Ann Savage movie Scared Stiff). The mammoth Classical branch is gone. The Castro branch is so picked over by vultures like me as to seem a hollow shell. I understand the Emeryville branch is the same.

 

I have such great memories of the downtown Manhattan branch (I used to live nearby and would spend hours combing through the bins). Also went on binges at the Cambridge branch.

 

These brick and mortar stores were a big part of my life. Hot summer nights -- during my teens -- were spent picking up my pal Laurie and going out for an ice cream cone and stopping by Tower to peruse the stacks. Over the past decade my weekly ritual was to drop by Tower every Tuesday to see what was new. Now am I destined to stay inside and shop via the computer? I won't bump into friends and acquaintances that way! And seeing people in Tower was often a great introduction to new works, as one of us would greet the other with "What are you getting today?". The new way of shopping seems so insular; are we losing our community? Are boards like this becoming our "community"? Don't get me wrong, it's great to read the posts of y'all; but it's virtual, and I need my flesh and blood.

 

Perhaps I'll become a forlorn figure pacing in front of the old Tower stores, longing for their burgeoning bins while muttering about Murnau and Colbert. In the past, people would have assumed I was crazy; but now they'll just think I'm talking on my Bluetooth.

 

[*Waking from my delerium*]

 

Oops, a little tangent there. Here's to the memory of Betty Comden and the wit and sparkle of Comden and Green!

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Jack,

 

I don't mean to highjack Betty's thread but I had to chime in about Tower Records.

 

The one here on Sunset Blvd when I first got to LA thirty years ago, was the place to go for records. (This, of course, being before CDs).

 

We'd go cruise Sunset, hit Tower Records for a long peruse, then head down to Doheny, make a U-Turn and back down Sunset, past the Rock and Roll Ralph's grocery store, stop in at Tiny Naylors for late night car hop service, then head up La Brea to Hollywood Blvd and cruise the Blvd before calling it a night.

 

A great deal of my vinyl came from Tower Records and a little hole in the wall store in Westwood Village that catered in soundtracks.

 

Those were the days.

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Sigh...

 

I'd been to the Sunset branch, but never bonded with it. That Westwood place sounds interesting. I assume it's gone now? I used to haunt A-1 Records on Melrose (at Larchmont) whenever I was in town. Were you familiar with this dust heap of treasures? That's where I got my vinyl copies of soundtracks to 5,000 Fingers of Dr. Terwilliker, The Apartment, and Wuthering Heights. Man, I miss that place...

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