MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org

Adolph Green: The boy from the Bronx makes good

Some things

Bob Golby. [Adolph Green performing in A Party with Comden & Green.] 1959. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.5440.

Last Tuesday, December 2, 2014, marked the 100th birthday of Adolph Green, writer and lyricist. With his creative partner Betty Comden, Green composed lyrics for over 200 songs, wrote ten Broadway musicals, and penned nine screenplays including Singin’ in the Rain and big screen adaptations of Broadway hits On the Town and Bells Are Ringing.  Whether you saw NBC’s broadcast of Peter Pan Live! last week, or watched the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle, or are a fan of the television show Glee, you’ve enjoyed the lyrical stylings of Adolph Green.

Sheet music for "New York, New York" from On the Town, 1944. Museum of the City of New York, 70.22.141B.

Sheet music for “New York, New York” from On the Town, 1944. Museum of the City of New York, 70.22.141B.

Born in the Bronx (“New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down”), Green attended DeWitt Clinton High School. After graduating, he spent time working various odd jobs while trying to make it as an actor. During one summer job as a camp counselor, Green befriended the young Leonard Bernstein, who was working as the camp’s music counselor. The most important meeting of Green’s career, however, would happen in 1938, when he was introduced to Betty Comden. A drama student at New York University, Betty Comden began a creative partnership with Green that would last over 60 years. Together with friends John Frank, Alvin Hammer, and Judy Tuvim (later known as Judy Holliday), Comden and Green formed a cabaret act called The Revuers.

Unknown. [The Revuers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, John Frank, Judith Tuvim, Alvin Hammer.] ca. 1943. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.4.

Unknown. [The Revuers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, John Frank, Judith Tuvim, Alvin Hammer.] ca. 1943. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.4.

Performing songs and sketches at the legendary Village Vanguard, the troupe often featured the young Bernstein as a somewhat impromptu accompanist. Below is an excerpt from a Revuers skit poking fun of the Tin Pan Alley song writing machine.  In the sketch, the great composer Cole Porter becomes Cole Warter.

Page from "Tin Pan Alley" sketch performed by The Revuers, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York, Comden and Green papers.

Page from “Tin Pan Alley” sketch performed by The Revuers, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York, Comden and Green papers.

Window card for A Party with Comden & Green, 1958-1959. Museum of the City of New York, 68.100.241.

Window card for A Party with Comden & Green, 1958-1959. Museum of the City of New York, 68.100.241.

Comden and Green worked with their good pal Bernstein to write the musical On the Town about three sailors on leave in New York City.  The musical opened on Broadway December 28, 1944 and was an immediate hit, putting the names of Comden, Green, and Bernstein on the musical map of New York. Comden and Green went on to write the book and/or lyrics for such shows as Applause, Bells Are Ringing, Do Re Mi, Subways are for Sleeping, On the Twentieth Century, and Wonderful Town. Their collaborators included Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, Hal Prince, and composer Jule Styne.  In 1958, Comden and Green performed their own material in the two-person musical revue A Party with Comden & Green. The show was such a hit that they revived it in 1977. Adolph Green passed away on October 23, 2002 in New York, New York (it’s a helluva town). Betty Comden died exactly four years and one month later. But with On the Town currently in revival at the Lyric Theatre and On the Twentieth Century set to open at the American Airlines in March, the party with Comden and Green goes on.

[Adolph Green and Betty Comden.] ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.5438.

Friedman-Abeles. [Adolph Green and Betty Comden.] ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.5438.

About Morgen Stevens-Garmon

Associate Curator, Theater Collection Museum of the City of New York

4 comments on “Adolph Green: The boy from the Bronx makes good

  1. First Night Design
    December 12, 2014

    Reblogged this on Rogues & Vagabonds and commented:
    Forgive me for not responding to your comments at the moment but my computer is still out of action.

  2. bethsassmusic
    January 4, 2015

    Just saw On The Town on Broadway….:)

  3. bethsassmusic
    January 4, 2015

    Reblogged this on beth sass music and commented:
    ……..An addendum to my recent post about Bernstein’s ON THE TOWN

  4. Robert J. Charlesworth
    December 22, 2016

    Thanks for this post. The young man in the middle, John Frank, was my mother’s younger brother and our favorite uncle. His membership in this group had long been part of our family’s lore but this is the first documentary evidence of the story I have seen. What a thrill!

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This entry was posted on December 9, 2014 by in Theater Collection and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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