Welcome to Afterglow, a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, we’re taking a look at the creative team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. For six decades, Comden and Green were known as powerhouse performers, award-winning screenwriters, and (most importantly for our purposes) songwriters. They worked with composers like Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, and Jule Styne to write songs from successful Broadway shows and beloved films. Coming up, we’ll hear some of their songs that became standards, like “Just In Time,” “The Party’s Over,” and “Some Other Time.”
It’s Lucky To Be Me: The Songs Comden and Green, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - JANE MONHEIT, “NEVER NEVER LAND”
Jane Monheit in the year 2000 with the Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green song “Never Never Land,” off her debut album of the same name. That song, you may have guessed, comes from the 1954 musical Peter Pan, based on the 1904 play by J.M. Barrie. This musical debuted a year after the Disney adaptation of Peter Pan, which featured songs by Sammy Fain and Sammy Cahn.
Most of the songs from the stage musical were by Moose Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh, but director Jerome Robbins asked Styne, Comden and Green to add a few more after an initial unsuccessful preview. The musical was really a showcase for Broadway legend Mary Martin, who starred as the boy who wouldn’t grow up. She won a Tony Award for her performance, and later an Emmy award when the show was presented on NBC in a live telecast in 1955. The show became a TV staple, presented again live in 1956 and 1960 with Mary Martin again, and even more recently in 2014 starring actress Allison Williams.
MUSIC CLIP - BOB COOPER, “ADVENTURE”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the songs of the songwriting duo of Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Comden and Green were more than just lyricists. They were entertainment juggernauts with a career that lasted for six decades. The two friends started as comedic actors in the late 1930s, moved from there to successful lyric and book writers for Broadway musicals with their good friend Leonard Bernstein in the 1940s. Then they moved out to Hollywood where they became successful screenwriters in the 1950s, their biggest hit probably being the MGM musical smash Singin’ In The Rain, which won them a Writers Guild of America Award. They returned to the Broadway stage to star in a musical revue stage show. When most people would have hung it up, Comden and Green continued to write books and lyrics for Broadway musicals in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and even into the 1990s (even winning a Tony Award for the musical The Will Rogers Follies in 1991). But let’s focus on their songs that became jazz and pop standards.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green were both born in New York (Green in 1914, Comden in 1917), and in the late 1930s, they bonded as two struggling actors, trying to make it in the business. Without a place to showcase their talents, they decided to forge their own path. They joined up with actress Judy Holliday to form a comedy group known as The Revuers, where they wrote songs and put on satirical sketches in Greenwich Village. The group soon became the talk of the town. Often joining them as a piano accompanist during their show was Adolph Green’s roommate at the time, Leonard Bernstein.
Bernstein was having his own meteoric rise in the music world around this same time. In the mid 1940s, he and choreographer Jerome Robbins had created a ballet about three young sailors called Fancy Free, and they wanted to develop it into a musical. Bernstein reached out to his old friends Betty Comden and Adolph Green to help him write the book and lyrics.
The musical became On The Town, and opened to acclaim on Broadway in 1944. Comden and Green’s comic lyrics on songs like “I Can Cook, Too” delighted audiences. But their more poetic ballads like “Lucky To Be Me” and “Some Other Time,” struck a chord with jazz and pop singers. Many of these songs from On The Town became part of the jazz canon.
Let’s hear some songs from this show now. First up is a tune called “Lonely Town.” This one actually opens with a motif from another song from this show, the familiar “New York, New York (A Helluva Town).” To sing it, we have Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Orchestra from his 1960 Broadway-themed album Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley.
This is Mel Tormé with “Lonely Town,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MEL TORMÉ, “LONELY TOWN”
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “SOME OTHER TIME”
MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “LUCKY TO BE ME”
Three songs from the 1944 musical On The Town by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Just now, we heard Tony Bennett and Bill Evans with “Lucky To Be Me.” That comes from their 1977 album called Together Again. Before that, we heard Blossom Dearie with “Some Other Time.” That comes from her 1959 Verve LP featuring all songs by Comden and Green. We’ll hear more from it a little later in the hour. And starting that set Mel Tormé and the Marty Paich Orchestra with “Lonely Town” from his 1960 Broadway-themed album Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green not only wrote the book and lyrics to On The Town, they also co-starred in the original Broadway production. Green played a young sailor named Ozzie, and Comden played his love interest Claire. They had great chemistry on stage, although they were not romantic partners in real life.
Not long after becoming the toast of Broadway, Comden and Green made the move to Hollywood—not as actors, but rather as screenwriters. They were recruited by producer Arthur Freed to work for MGM, the studio that became synonymous with the film musical. They wrote the screenplay for a few film adaptations of musicals, including a film adaptation of their own musical On The Town (which now co-starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra). For the MGM musical Take Me Out To The Ballgame (also co-starring Kelly and Sinatra), Comden and Green were tasked with writing the music. Sinatra was a singing star for Capitol Records at the time, and recorded one of the songs from the show.
Here is Frank Sinatra in 1949 with the Comden and Green song “The Right Girl For Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “RIGHT GIRL FOR ME” (from Take Me Out To The Ball Game)
MUSIC - SETH MACFARLANE, “I LIKE MYSELF” (from It’s Always Fair Weather)
Two film songs from Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Just now, we heard Seth MacFarlane from his 2017 album In Full Swing with “I Like Myself,” a song the pair co-wrote with composer Andre Previn for the 1955 film It’s Always Fair Weather. Before that, Frank Sinatra in 1949 with “Right Girl For Me,” a song Comden and Green co-wrote with Roger Edens for the film Take Me Out To The Ballgame.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green bounced around between Broadway and Hollywood in the 1950s, writing songs for Broadway shows and punching up screenplays for MGM. The early 1950s was a boon for them. They wrote the screenplays for both Singin’ In The Rain and The Band Wagon, two of the most successful MGM musicals. (There’s even a pair of characters in The Band Wagon based on them!) While doing this, Comden and Green were busy writing the lyrics for the Broadway show Wonderful Town, which starred Rosalind Russell and featured music by their old friend Leonard Bernstein. While it didn’t produce as many popular songs as their earlier collaboration On The Town, a few have stuck around.
Let’s hear one now. This is Lena Horne in 1955 with the Bernstein, Comden and Green song “It’s Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LENA HORNE, “IT’S LOVE” (from Wonderful Town)
Singer Lena Horne in 1955, with “It’s Love,” a song from the 1953 musical Wonderful Town by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
MUSIC CLIP - J.J. JOHNSON, “MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY”
We’ll have more songs by Comden and Green in just a bit.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - BOB COOPER, “AMBITION”
MUSIC CLIP - GERRY MULLIGAN, “JUST IN TIME”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the songbook of lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green this hour.
Comden and Green first became successful Broadway songwriters thanks to their collaboration with Leonard Bernstein. But in the 1950s and 60s, they continued this success by teaming up with a different composer: Jule Styne. Their first collaboration came in 1951, prior to Wonderful Town, for the musical Two on the Aisle. The show was plagued by infighting between the stars Bert Lahr and Dolores Gray, but it did produce some lovely songs. Let’s hear two now, both performed by Blossom Dearie on her 1959 album Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green.
This is Blossom Dearie with “How Will He Know, on Afterglow
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “How Will He Know”
MUSIC - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “Hold Me, Hold Me, Hold Me”
Two songs from the 1951 musical Two On The Aisle, by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne. We heard Blossom Dearie, from her 1959 Comden and Green LP, with “How Will He Know” and “Hold Me, Hold Me, Hold Me.”
Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne wrote a grand total of eight musicals together, beginning with Two On The Aisle in 1951 and ending with Lorelei in 1974. But their most successful, certainly when it came to producing standards, was 1956’s Bells Are Ringing. It starred their old friend Judy Holliday as a telephone answering girl, and several songs from this show became part of the jazz repertoire, and remain among Comden and Green’s most familiar. Let’s hear two of them now.
First up, here is Sarah Vaughan in 1962 with the song “Just In Time,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - SARAH VAUGHAN, “JUST IN TIME”
MUSIC - JOHNNY DESMOND, “THE PARTY’S OVER”
Two songs from the 1956 musical Bells Are Ringing by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne. First in that set was Sarah Vaughan in 1962 with “Just In Time” from her album Sarah + 2 and just now, singer Johnny Desmond in 1960 from his album Blue Smoke with the song “The Party’s Over.”
Fun fact, Johnny Desmond, while mostly a pop singer, also dabbled in acting. One of the shows he starred in on Broadway was Say, Darling, another musical by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne.
Let’s hear a song from that show now, although not one sung by Johnny Desmond. This is singer Peggy Lee from the 1960 album Latin ala Lee with “Dance Only With Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “DANCE ONLY WITH ME”
Peggy Lee and “Dance Only With Me.” That’s from her album Latin ala Lee from 1960, and originally comes from the musical Say, Darling from 1958 by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s career stretched for many more decades. After their work with Jule Styne, they teamed up with composer Cy Coleman, writing two Tony Award winning musicals, On The Twentieth Century from 1978 and The Will Rogers Follies from 1991. In addition, they also made their own appearance on Broadway in the stage show A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green both in 1958 and again in 1977, singing some of their own songs and acting out sketches.
We’re running short on time in the hour, so I’m going to close with music from one more show they wrote with composer Jule Styne: the 1960 musical Do-Re-Mi. The show became a hit for co-stars Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, and produced several memorable songs. Let’s hear two now.
First up, here is June Christy from her album Do-Re-Mi, with “I Know About Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “I KNOW ABOUT LOVE”
MUSIC - JIMMY DURANTE, “MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY”
Thanks for tuning in to this edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN KENTON, “THE PARTY’S OVER”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow