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Overview for Adolph Green
Adolph Green

Adolph Green



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Also Known As: Died: October 23, 2002
Born: December 2, 1915 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: Music ... playwright lyricist screenwriter actor


So long-running and fruitful was his partnership with Betty Comden, Adolph Green was frequently thought to be married to her, but instead, the writers-singers-actors shared a sophisticated, witty flair and friendship that earned them both pop culture immortality as writers of stage, screen and song. After starting out together in a troupe called The Revuers, Green and Comden earned a ticket to the big time with the lyrics and book for "On the Town," which they adapted into a 1949 film starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Showered with awards and nominations, they wrote the screenplays for the film hits "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), "The Band Wagon" (1953), "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), "Bells Are Ringing" (1960), which was based on their musical, and "Auntie Mame" (1958). Seven-time Tony-winners, they penned such classic Broadway hits as "Wonderful Town," "Peter Pan" and "Applause." Awarded the Kennedy Center Honors and enshrined in multiple halls of fame, Green died of natural causes on Dec. 4, 2002, but the movies, shows and music he and Comden wrote would live on forever as beloved standards whose sparkling craftsmanship revealed the pair's genius.

Born Dec. 2, 1914 in The Bronx, NY, Adolph Green met his professional partner, Betty Comden in 1938, and the two aspiring entertainers formed their own theatrical troupe, The Revuers. The group would grow to include future Oscar-winner Judy Holliday and the young Leonard Bernstein, and featured Green and Comden's musical and acting talents. As the troupe built a buzz, they were tapped to appear in small roles in the film "Greenwich Village" (1944), starring Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche. Green's manic exuberance and puckish personality played beautifully off of Comden's witty elegance, and the two teamed with Bernstein to write the lyrics and book for the Broadway musical "On the Town," the lighthearted tale of three sailors on leave in New York City. The show was a huge smash, and included two juicy roles Comden and Green had written for themselves. After their next two Broadway follow-ups "Billion Dollar Baby" and "Bonanza Bound" flopped, the team returned to Hollywood.

Together, they penned the sparkling screenplays for the June Allyson/Peter Lawford college romance "Good News" (1947) and the final (and only color) film Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire made together, "The Barkleys of Broadway" (1949), before adapting their own "On the Town" (1949) for Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. They were nominated for a WGA Award for "Barkleys" but won it for "On the Town," which featured the evergreen classic "New York, New York." Kelly proved a good luck charm for the pair, and starred in their masterpiece, "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), a feel-good Hollywood fairy tale also starring Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor that followed the hilarious complications endured by the industry during the transition from silent films to talkies. In one of the most famous and beloved film sequences of all time, Kelly sang the title tune while dancing with an umbrella on a rainy street, which even decades later would remain an iconic Hollywood moment. In fact, many critics considered "Singin'" to be the greatest Hollywood musical of all time as well as one of the best films ever. Once again, Green and Comden won the Writers Guild Award for their work.

They scored again with "The Band Wagon" (1953) another delightful peek behind the showbiz curtain, telling the story of a husband and wife writing team - loosely based on Comden and Green - who are attempting to successfully put up a Broadway show, despite many colorful twists. Starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, the musical featured another gorgeous set piece, the "Dancing in the Dark" number, which would achieve pop culture immortality. Nominated for a Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Oscar for their work on "Wagon," Green and Comden also earned another Writers Guild Award nomination, and the film would go on to inspire countless fans and artists, most notably Michael Jackson, who built his "Smooth Criminal" and "Billie Jean" videos around allusions to the movie. Green and Comden notched another hit with "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955), which paired Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse and told the story of three former soldiers comparing their present realities to the dreams of their youth. Again, the team earned Oscar and Writers Guild nominations for writing.

Back on the Great White Way, Comden and Green penned the revue "Two on the Aisle" but achieved even greater success with their Tony-winning hit "Wonderful Town," an adaptation of the comedy "My Sister Eileen" (1955).The latter, which included the classic comic lament "Ohio," proved an enduring hit, but the pair hit an even higher note with the musical comedy "Bells Are Ringing," the screwball story of a mischievous telephone operator (Judy Holliday) whose high-spirited approach to her job causes wonderfully charming mayhem. The show included several songs that became beloved standards, including "Just in Time," "Long Before I Knew You" and "The Party's Over." They would go on to adapt "Bells" into a delightful 1960 film starring Holliday and Dean Martin, which won them a Writers Guild Award and earned them a Grammy nomination for its soundtrack.

After writing the screenplay for the beloved Rosalind Russell non-musical adaptation of "Auntie Mame" (1958), the pair took a well-deserved victory lap in 1958 when they came together for the Broadway show "A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green," a much-loved smash that spotlighted their impressive body of work all the way back to their days with The Revuers, and won the Obie Award for Best Musical. (They would later successfully revive an updated version in 1977). The pair was also responsible for the famous Mary Martin Broadway and TV versions of "Peter Pan" (NBC, 1955) and for the Tony-winning stage successes "Hallelujah, Baby!" "Applause," "On the Twentieth Century" and "The Will Rogers Follies," bringing their joint total to seven Tony awards. In the early 1980s, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and a decade later they both received Kennedy Center Honors. Green also made a handful of additional screen acting appearances after his 1944 debut, including roles in "Simon" (1980), "My Favorite Year" (1982) and a voiceover role on "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004). He died of natural causes on Dec. 4, 2002, and the Broadway memorial held in his honor inspired many of the greats of the past, present and future to pay tribute, including Lauren Bacall, Kristin Chenoweth and, most poignantly, Betty Comden.

By Jonathan Riggs

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