Adolph Green

Writer, Performer
Adolph Green

Male

Born: December 2, 1914
The Bronx, New York

Died: October 23, 2002
New York, New York

Adolph Green, the legendary Broadway lyricist-librettist and screenwriter who, with partner Betty Comden, created On the Town, Bells Are Ringing, On the 20th Century and "Singin' in the Rain," died of natural causes at his Manhattan home Oct. 23, 2002, a spokesperson for his wife, Phyllis Newman confirmed. Adolph Green, the legendary Broadway lyricist-librettist and screenwriter who, with partner Betty Comden, created On the Town, Bells Are Ringing, On the 20th Century and "Singin' in the Rain," died of natural causes at his Manhattan home Oct. 23, a spokesperson for his wife, Phyllis Newman confirmed.

Mr. Green, a native New Yorker from the Bronx who made a name in showbusiness starting as a scrappy downtown actor-songwriter in a 1930s sketch-comedy group called The Revuers, which included Comden and Judy Holliday, was 87 years old. (An earlier version of this obituary stated he was 86, based on three sources that indicated his birthday as Dec. 2, 1915; daughter Amanda Green later said he was born in 1914). He and Comden continued acting but honed their writing skills to create musical comedies over the next six decades that were light, breezy love letters to their native city. They gathered Tony Awards and international attention along the way.

With their pal composer Leonard Bernstein, they created On the Town (1944), for which they penned book and lyrics, inspired by the Jerome Robbins-Bernstein ballet, Fancy Free. The tale of three sailors on leave in Manhattan and the girls they meet included two choice roles for the writers — sailor Ozzie and student Claire de Loone. The couple's song, "Carried Away," was preserved on cast albums, and would be sung into the 1990s in Comden and Mr. Green's continuing specialty act, A Party With Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Their career reminiscences and songs (them singing with piano) are preserved on two separate cast albums of A Party, which are treasured by fans.

On the Town was viewed as one of several groundbreaking shows in which character was explained and explored through dance. The score also includes the memorable song, "Some Other Time," plus the brassy anthem, "New York, New York," in which the city is described as "a helluva town" where "the Bronx is up and the Battery's down." (For the M-G-M movie version, the lyric was cleaned up as "a wonderful town.")

That song would be a harbinger for their other New York set musicals: 1953's Wonderful Town (for which Mr. Green and Comden penned lyrics to Bernstein's music), 1956's Bells Are Ringing (a vehicle for Holliday set to Jule Styne's music, with book and lyrics and original idea by Mr. Green and Comden) and 1961's Subways Are for Sleeping (which starred Newman, who snagged a Tony, and had book and lyrics by Comden and Mr. Green).

Their screenplays for the M-G-M color musicals "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Bandwagon" are famous for their craft and wit. They also penned screenplay and lyrics for the film, "It's Always Fair Weather."

Comden and Mr. Green were known for meeting every day and discussing ideas for new works. Their writing was refined by each other and blended into one voice.

"He was an inspired person," Will Rogers Follies librettist Peter Stone told Playbill On-Line. "He didn't write — that wasn't his job. [Betty Comden] wrote. He added madness, inspiration. He added what was really their recognizable — almost surreal — type of humor. Not that she didn't have it, she is still extremely funny and a knowledgeable writer. He was an imp, and it was the impishness that ultimately distinguished their work. Together, they added up to one person. I think Adolph was basically a performer who had this special thing ...he was touched in an odd way. There was a quality of sketch humor to their work that doesn't exist anymore in musical theatre."

Taking a break from rehearsals for his new Off-Broadway revue, White Tie and Tails, Tommy Tune, who staged The Will Rogers Follies, said, "Aside from my deepest respect for Adolph's work, I adored his personal sense of style.  He was always impeccably turned out! Adolph had an abstract sense of humor, which shows up in his lyrics but more in his life. It was always fun to be in Adolph's company.  I will miss him very much."

Their many projects included painful flops (Bonanza Bound, in which Mr. Green also appeared in its tryout, Billion Dollar Baby, A Doll's Life) and Tony Award-winning hits (Applause, The Will Rogers Follies). It seemed that from almost every show they wrote, a pop hit would emerge. Their catalog includes "Lucky to be Me," "Make Someone Happy," "A Little Bit in Love," "Ohio," "Just in Time," "The Party's Over," "Long Before I Knew You," "Never Never Land," "Comes Once in a Lifetime," "I'm Just Taking My Time," "My Own Morning," "Never Met a Man I Didn't Like," "Look Around" and more.

With Comden, who survives him, Mr. Green co-wrote the book to Applause, and the pair contributed to Do-Re-Mi, Two on the Aisle, Peter Pan, Say, Darling, Fade Out — Fade In, Hallelujah, Baby!, A Doll's Life and The Will Rogers Follies.

In an interview in the 1980s, Mr. Green bristled and said he didn't like being quoted giving opinions on the new trend of pop musicals because he was still a vital writer, not a sage. "We're writing new musicals," he said. In 1991 he and Comden proved they were indeed writing "new musicals" when they (and composer Cy Coleman) won the Best Score Tony Award for The Will Rogers Follies: A Life in Revue.

Coleman said from London, upon hearing the news of Mr. Green's death, "It's a very sad day."

Mr. Green, though slowed by age, never seemed to lose his love of performing. He sang and acted Pangloss in concert versions of what Bernstein considered a definitive draft of Candide, captured on CD, shortly before Bernstein died. As late as 1999 Comden and Mr. Green were still performing a version of their career retrospective, this time at the hip Joe's Pub at The Public Theater.

In recent years, On the Town and Bells Are Ringing received short-lived Broadway revivals. In 2002, a special 50th anniversary edition of "Singin' in the Rain" was released in a two-DVD format, with a two-CD soundtrack reissue, as well. Mr. Green's Hollywood credits with Comden include the screenplay to "Auntie Mame," lyrics for "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," screenplays for "The Barkleys of Broadway" and "Good News" (for which they also wrote the song, "The French Lesson," with frequent film collaborator composer Roger Edens).

"He was an authentic eccentric," Arthur Laurents said, adding that Mr. Green was working in recent weeks on a rewrite of 1968's Hallelujah, Baby!, the Styne-Comden-Green-Laurents musical comedy survey of black entertainment in America. The show won the 1968 Best Musical Tony Award and won the songwriters a Best Score Tony, as well.

Mr. Green was a Tony winner as early as the fourth annual Tonys, in 1954, when Wonderful Town was named Best Musical. Applause, with a score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, won Best Musical in 1970. The Comden-Green-Coleman score to On the 20th Century won Best Score and Best Book in 1978. Even their flop, A Doll's Life, a musical imagining of what happened to Ibsen's Nora after she left A Doll's House, earned nominations for Best Book and Score in 1983.

Comden and Mr. Green were nominated for Best Book for the Broadway stage adaptation of "Singin' in the Rain," in 1986. Mr. Green later admitted it was a project they grudgingly adapted; he felt the picture was perfect and didn't necessarily belong on stage, but said he felt it was going to be adapted anyway, with or without him and Comden.

Mr. Green's musical comedy librettos and songs often showed the writers' roots in sketch comedy, much to the delight of the crowd. There were sections of their shows that seemed to spring from the world of sketch comedy — set pieces you imagine could fit snugly on "The Carol Burnett Show" or Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows."

In Subways Are for Sleeping, for example, Newman played a former beauty queen who recites a "musical dramatic playlet" about the Civil War that is still hilarious on the cast album, and is credited as helping win Newman the Tony in 1962. In Bells Are Ringing, Judy Holliday's character, Ella, does a vaudeville turn — part Jolson, part Irish melodrama — to avoid a police detective, in a song called "Is It a Crime?"

And in the little-known Fade Out — Fade In, about an usher who becomes a movie star, Carol Burnett sang a song called "You Mustn't Feel Discouraged," a spoof of cloying Shirley Temple songs.

Among their numbers in A Party, seen Off Broadway, on Broadway and in special engagements around the country, were old songs from the days of The Revuers, including "The Reader's Digest," in which classics were boiled down to one-sentence blurbs such as "Jean Valjean, no evil doer, stole some bread 'cause he was poor; a detective chased him through a sewer — the end!" (representing Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables").

Until recent years, their Party turns included Mr. Green and Comden vigorously jumping up and down, playing peasants "gamboling on the green" in one sketch. At those shows, audiences raised on The Second City and "Saturday Night Live" were given a window into the topical comedy of a time when a sailor sweetly kissed a girl in a city that seemed full of graspable dreams.

Survivors include a son, Adam Green, and daughter Amanda Green, a singer-songwriter who has sung soulfully in recent years about her father in a song called "Daddy's Shoulders."

 

Roles

On the Twentieth Century
Mar. 12, 2015 - Jul. 5, 2015
Book
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
On the Town
Oct. 16, 2014
Lyrics
(Original)
 
    Book
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Barbara Cook's Broadway! Barbara Cook's Broadway!
Mar. 28, 2004 - Apr. 18, 2004
Featured Songs with Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Wonderful Town Wonderful Town
Nov. 23, 2003 - Jan. 30, 2005
Lyrics
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Elaine Stritch at Liberty Elaine Stritch at Liberty
Feb. 21, 2002 - May 26, 2002
Featured Songs with Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Bells Are Ringing Bells Are Ringing
Apr. 12, 2001 - Jun. 10, 2001
Book
(Original)
Who's Who
    Lyrics
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Peter Pan Peter Pan
Apr. 7, 1999 - Aug. 29, 1999
Additional Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Peter Pan Peter Pan
Nov. 23, 1998 - Jan. 3, 1999
Additional Lyrics
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - On the Town On the Town
Nov. 22, 1998 - Jan. 17, 1999
Book
(Original)
Who's Who
    Lyrics
(Original)
Who's Who
Peter Pan
Nov. 26, 1991 - Jan. 5, 1992
Additional lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The Will Rogers Follies The Will Rogers Follies
May 1, 1991 - Sep. 5, 1993
Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Peter Pan Peter Pan
Dec. 13, 1990 - Jan. 20, 1991
Additional Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Jerome Robbins' Broadway Jerome Robbins' Broadway
Feb. 26, 1989 - Sep. 1, 1990
Additional text ("On The Town," "Billion Dollar Baby")
(Original)
 
    Featured Songs with Lyrics ("On The Town," "Billion Dollar Baby," "Peter Pan")
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Barbara Cook: A Concert for the Theatre Barbara Cook: A Concert for the Theatre
Apr. 15, 1987 - Apr. 26, 1987
Featured Songs with Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Singin' in the Rain Singin' in the Rain
Jul. 2, 1985 - May 18, 1986
Screenplay
(Original)
 
    Book Adaptation
(Original)
 
    Lyrics for "Moses Supposes"
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Doll's Life A Doll's Life
Sep. 23, 1982 - Sep. 26, 1982
Book
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Peter Pan Peter Pan
Sep. 6, 1979 - Jan. 4, 1981
Additional lyrics
(Original)
 
The Madwoman of Central Park West
Jun. 13, 1979 - Aug. 25, 1979
Featured Songs with Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - On the Twentieth Century On the Twentieth Century
Feb. 19, 1978 - Mar. 18, 1979
Book
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Party with Betty Comden & Adolph Green A Party with Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Feb. 10, 1977 - Apr. 30, 1977
Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Lorelei Lorelei
Jan. 27, 1974 - Nov. 3, 1974
New lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - On the Town On the Town
Oct. 31, 1971 - Jan. 1, 1972
Lyrics
(Original)
Who's Who
    Book
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - Applause Applause
Mar. 30, 1970 - Jul. 27, 1972
Book
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - The 23rd Annual Tony Awards - 1969 The 23rd Annual Tony Awards - 1969
Apr. 20, 1969 - Apr. 20, 1969
Presenter Performer
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Hallelujah, Baby! Hallelujah, Baby!
Apr. 26, 1967 - Jan. 13, 1968
Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Fade Out - Fade In Fade Out - Fade In
May 26, 1964 - Apr. 17, 1965
Book
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Subways Are for Sleeping Subways Are for Sleeping
Dec. 27, 1961 - Jun. 23, 1962
Book
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - An Evening with Yves Montand An Evening with Yves Montand
Oct. 24, 1961 - Dec. 16, 1961
"Just in Time" lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Do Re Mi Do Re Mi
Dec. 26, 1960 - Jan. 13, 1962
Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - A Party with Betty Comden & Adolph Green A Party with Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Dec. 23, 1958 - May 23, 1959
Lyrics
(Original)
 
    Performer
(Original)
 
    Book
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Say, Darling Say, Darling
Apr. 3, 1958 - Jan. 17, 1959
Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Bells Are Ringing Bells Are Ringing
Nov. 29, 1956 - Mar. 7, 1959
Book
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Peter Pan Peter Pan
Oct. 20, 1954 - Feb. 26, 1955
Additional Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Wonderful Town Wonderful Town
Feb. 25, 1953 - Jul. 3, 1954
Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Two on the Aisle Two on the Aisle
Jul. 19, 1951 - Mar. 15, 1952
Sketches
(Original)
 
    Lyrics
(Original)
 
Playbill Cover - Billion Dollar Baby Billion Dollar Baby
Dec. 21, 1945 - Jun. 29, 1946
Book
(Original)
Who's Who
    Lyrics
(Original)
Who's Who
Playbill Cover - On the Town On the Town
Dec. 28, 1944 - Feb. 2, 1946
Lyrics
(Original)
 
    Book
(Original)
 
    Ozzie Performer
(Original)
 

Videos (1)

 

Inside the Playbill (9)

See more Who's Who

Awards


New York Drama Critics' Circle

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1991 Best Musical The Will Rogers Follies Winner
1953 Best Musical Wonderful Town Winner

Tony Award

Year Category Production Winner/Nominee
1991 Original Score The Will Rogers Follies Winner
1986 Book of a Musical Singin' in the Rain Nominee
1983 Book of a Musical A Doll's Life Nominee
1983 Original Score A Doll's Life Nominee
1978 Book of a Musical On the Twentieth Century Winner
1978 Original Score On the Twentieth Century Winner
1968 Composer and Lyricist Hallelujah, Baby! Winner
 
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