Friday, November 24, 2006

Lyricist And Writer Betty Comden Dies

From the NYT:

"Betty Comden, who with her longtime collaborator Adolph Green wrote the lyrics and often the librettos for some of the most celebrated musicals of stage and screen, died yesterday in Manhattan. She was 89 and lived in Manhattan.

Photo NY Times

The cause was heart failure, said Ronald Konecky, her lawyer and the executor of her estate.

During a professional partnership that lasted for more than 60 years, and which finally ended with Mr. Green’s death in 2002, the Comden-Green blend of sophisticated wit and musical know-how lit up stage shows like 'On the Town,' 'Wonderful Town,' 'Peter Pan” and “Bells Are Ringing.' Their Hollywood credits included the screenplays for two landmark film musicals, 'Singin’ in the Rain' and 'The Band Wagon.' "

Photo NY Times

Composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins, Betty Comden and Adolph Green rehearsing "On The Town," for Broadway, 1944.

The movie version of "On The Town," with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, is one of the first movie musicals I remember being crazy about. The "New York, New York" number is so infectious. I love watching Sinatra, Kelly and Jules Munshin as sailors on leave, singing (and dancing) Gotham's praises:
New York, New York, a wonderful town;
The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down,
The people ride in a hole in the ground,
New York, New York,
It’s a wonderful town!
Another of my favorite Comden/Green numbers is a Jule Styne collaboration, from the 1956 show "Bells Are Ringing" (and the 1960 film of the same name), "Just In Time." It's a great, swingable number.
Just in time,
I found you just in time.
Before you came my time
Was runnin' 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 goin',
No more doubt or fear -
I've found my way.

For love came just in time,
I found you just in time;
And changed my lonely life
That lucky day.
I couldn't find a sound file of that number to post, but there are a lot of excellent recorded versions out there (I'm partial to Dean Martin's and Bobby Darin's), but here's a song from the same show.

"The Party's Over" - Doris Day

Comden lacked the colloquial charm and perfect genius of Dorothy Fields, but she was a solid writer and another great rarity in that field, a female lyricist.

UPDATE: 11-27-06 An addendum, from the weekly popular song column of the masterful Mark Steyn -- to see the entire piece, click here and look for "Steyn's Song of the Week." However, it will only be up on his site for one week. The quote is Abbott on Comden and Green:
So let me end with a quote from George Abbott, the veteran Broadway director who helped make On The Town a hit for its neophyte composer, lyricists, choreographer and producers. They’d sent him the script as the longest of long-shots. He read it on the train. “I like the smell of this,” he said. “Let’s do it tomorrow.” And he got off the train. Half a century later, I put to Mister Abbott the points I made above – ordinary situation, ostensibly regular boy-meets-girl love song but dramatically enlarged by the great geopolitical conflict in which they were caught up, their romance now freighted with uncertainty, etc. Mister Abbott, at the age of 106, brushed this aside.

“We didn’t think about that,” he said. “We thought, ‘What’s funny?’”

Which is always good advice.

Very true.

No comments: