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#TBT: May 3rd – Birthday of Lyricist Betty Comden

betty comden

Throwback Thursday: May 3, 1917,  Broadway & Hollywood lyricist and librettist Betty Comden is born.

“A risk was taken with ‘On the Town’, and look what happened: Betty and Adolph burst onto the scene. A shout-out to Comden & Green!” (Title of Show). Lyricists and librettist Betty Comden, of t Comden & Green, was born May 3, 1917. She and Adolph Green are known for several works, such as On the Town (1944), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), and Bells are Ringing (1956). Together, this duo’s musical comedy talents became theatrical classics that are still performed and beloved today.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Comden had always considered herself a performer, and she was first seen on the stage at the Brooklyn Ethical Culture School (jwa.org). Comden went on to major in drama at New York University. Soon after graduating in 1938, she met Adolph Green. Unsuccessful in their attempts to find acting jobs, Comden and Green formed their own troupe creating nightclub acts, together with another struggling actress, Judy Holliday (pbs.org).  Insure time, with the connections they made, Betty Comden befriended and collaborated with some of the biggest stars of the time.  

On the Town – 1944

“In 1944, Comden and Green joined (Leonard)  Bernstein and Jerome Robbins to write On the Town, the first great hit for each of the creative foursome, all still in their twenties”(jwa.org). Their success did not end there: George Abbott, director of On the Town reached out to the writing duo to once again to collaborate with Leonard Bernstein on the musical Wonderful Town (1953).  This musical won the “Tony Award for Outstanding Musical, and for which Comden and Green won a Donaldson Award. That same year, they received the Best Written American Musical award from the Writers’ Guild of America for Singing in the Rain” (jwa.org).

Through all her success, it can be found that Comden’s best work is about New York, which she portrays affectionately. She has a way of representing a human, personal experience of the big city, as seen in On the Town. In the same spirit, her work satirizes the glamour of show business, including Hollywood and the movies, which she also loves, such as in Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon (1953). Also noted in her work are the strong, quick-witted female characters who outshine their starlette counterparts. This duo knew how to make real, likable characters, that are still beloved today by audiences of all generations. Betty Comden passed away in 2006, however, there is no sign of Comden & Green’s work going away anytime soon. Today, regional theatres all over the country are producing Singin’ in the Rain,  and audiences have the chance to catch the national tour of On the Town.

AWARDS (ibdb.com)

1991 Tony Award® Best Original Score
winner The Will Rogers Follies [winner]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1986 Tony Award® Best Book of a Musical
Singin’ in the Rain [nominee]
Book adapted by Betty Comden
1983 Tony Award® Best Book of a Musical
A Doll’s Life [nominee]
Book by Betty Comden
1983 Tony Award® Best Original Score
A Doll’s Life [nominee]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1978 Tony Award® Best Book of a Musical
winner On the Twentieth Century [winner]
Book by Betty Comden
1978 Tony Award® Best Original Score
winner On the Twentieth Century [winner]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1970 Tony Award® Best Musical
winner Applause [winner]
Book by Betty Comden
1968 Tony Award® Best Composer and Lyricist
winner Hallelujah, Baby! [winner]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1968 Tony Award® Best Musical
winner Hallelujah, Baby! [winner]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1961 Tony Award® Best Musical
Do Re Mi [nominee]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1957 Tony Award® Best Musical
Bells Are Ringing [nominee]
Lyrics by Betty Comden; Book by Betty Comden
1953 Tony Award® Best Musical
winner Wonderful Town [winner]
Lyrics by Betty Comden
1945 Theatre World Award
winner On the Town [recipient]
Also Starring: Betty Comden

 

References
Ackerman, Alan. “Betty Comden.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on May 2, 2018) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/comden-betty>.

“Betty Comden and Adolph Green.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wnet/broadway/stars/betty-comden-and-adolph-green/.

League, The Broadway. “Betty Comden.” IBDB: Internet Broadway Database, www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/betty-comden-4525/#broadway.

 

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