Adolph Green was an American lyricist and playwright who, with long-time collaborator Betty Comden, penned the screenplays and songs for some of the most beloved movie musicals. Many people thought the pair were married, but in fact they were not a romantic couple at all. Nevertheless, they shared a unique comic genius and sophisticated wit that enabled them to forge a six-decade-long partnership that produced some of Hollywood and Broadway's greatest hits.
Green was born in the Bronx to Hungarian Jewish immigrants Helen and Daniel Green. After high school, he worked as a runner on Wall Street while he tried to make it as an actor. He met Comden through mutual friends in 1938 while she was studying drama at New York University. They formed a troupe called the Revuers, which performed at the Village Vanguard, a club in Greenwich Village. Among the members of the company was a young comedian named Judy Tuvim, who later changed her name to Judy Holliday, and Green's good friend, a young musician named Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein and Green had met in 1937 at a summer camp where Bernstein was the music counselor. The act's success earned them a movie offer and the Revuers traveled west in hopes of finding fame with
Greenwich Village, a 1944 movie starring Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche. Unfortunately their roles were so small they were barely noticed, and they quickly returned to New York.
Their first Broadway effort teamed them up with Leonard Bernstein for On the Town, a musical romp about three sailors on leave in New York City. The play was an expansion of a ballet entitled Fancy Free, on which Bernstein had been working with choreographer Jerome Robbins. Comden and Green wrote the lyrics and book, which included sizeable parts for themselves. After their next two musicals, Billion Dollar Baby (1945) and Bonanza Bound (1947) were not successful, they once again they headed to California where they immediately found work at MGM.
They wrote the screenplays for
Good News starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford, and
The Barkleys of Broadway for Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. They then adapted
On the Town for Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, scrapping much of Bernstein's music at the request of Arthur Freed, who did not care for the Bernstein score.
They reunited with Kelly for their most successful project,
Singin' in the Rain, about Hollywood in the final days of the silent film era. Considered by many film historians to be the best movie musical of all time, it ranked #10 on the list of the 100 Best American Movies of the 20th Century compiled by the American Film Institute in 1998. They followed this with another hit,
The Band Wagon, in which Lester and Lily, a husband-and-wife team that writes the play for the show-within-a-show, were patterned after themselves. They were nominated for two Oscars, for their screenplays for
The Band Wagon and
It's Always Fair Weather. Both of these earned them a Screen Writers Guild Award, as did
On the Town.
Their stage work during the next few years included the revue Two on the Aisle, starring Bert Lahr and Dolores Gray, Wonderful Town, with Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams, and Bells Are Ringing, which reunited them with Judy Holliday.
In 1958, they appeared on Broadway in A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, a revue that included some of their early sketches. It was a critical and commercial success, and they brought an updated version back to Broadway in 1977.
Among their other credits are the Mary Martin version of
Peter Pan for both Broadway and television, a streamlined Die Fledermaus for the Metropolitan Opera, and stage musicals for Carol Burnett, Leslie Uggams, and Lauren Bacall, among others. Their many collaborators included Garson Kanin, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne, and André Previn.
In 1980, Green was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1981 he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
In 1989 he appeared as Dr. Pangloss in Bernstein's Candide.
Comden and Green received Kennedy Center Honors in 1991.
His Broadway memorial, with such luminaries as Lauren Bacall, Kevin Kline, Joel Grey, Kristin Chenoweth, Arthur Laurents, Peter Stone, and, of course, Betty Comden in attendance was held at the Shubert Theater on December 4, 2002.
Adolph Green, Wikipedia.