'Singin' in the Rain' Co-Writer Betty Comden Dies

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One of musical theater's most famous lyricists and writers has died. Betty Comden, with her writing partner Adolph Green, wrote "Singin' in the Rain," "On the Town," "Peter Pan" and "Will Roger's Follies," to name just a few. Her career spanned six decades. Michele Norris has a remembrance.


Now a remembrance of a woman who wrote some of musical theater's most memorable lyrics.

(Soundbite of song, “New York, New York”)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Manhattan, where men are dressed in silk and satin.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Or so the fellas say.

NORRIS: Betty Comden died yesterday in that wonderful town, New York, New York. For 60 years, she and her writing partner, Adolph Green, flooded Broadway and Hollywood with song. Their musicals included Will Roger's “Follies,” “Singin' in the Rain” and “On the Town.”

In 1995, Comden told NPR one lyric for New York, New York was often changed because it was a bit too risqué.

Ms. BETTER COMDEN (Songwriter): When we wrote it, I was afraid to tell my mother because we'd been admonished never to say hell or damn or anything like that. So I had a little scary moment there when I sang her a hell of a town.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COMDEN: And she loved it.

(Soundbite of song, “New York, New York”)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) New York, New York. A hell of a 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 hell of a town.

NORRIS: Betty Comden met Adolph Green in the late 1930s when they were studying at New York University. They formed a small theater troop called The Reviewers, and they recruited a young musician named Leonard Bernstein. Together, they developed “On The Town,” their first Broadway hit, in 1944. Comden and Green also performed in the show.

In 1952, they hit is big in Hollywood with “Singin' In the Rain,” a movie musical starring Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. Comden and Green wrote the screenplay, not the lyrics, although they are credited for this goofy song, a play on a diction exercise.

(Soundbite of movie, “Singin' In the Rain”)

Mr. GENE KELLY (Actors): (As Don Lockwood): (Singing) hoop-do-doody-doodle. Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously. Moses, he knowses his toeses aren't roses as Moses supposes his toeses to be. Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously. Moses, he knowses his toeses aren't roses as Moses supposes his toeses to be.

NORRIS: People often assumed these two writers were a couple. They weren't, but their musical partnership ended when Adolph Green passed away in 2002. At a memorial service for Green, Betty Comden got up to speak. She said it's lonely up here. It's always more fun with Adolph. Betty Comden died on Thanksgiving of heart failure. She was 89 years old.

(Soundbite of movie, “Singin' In the Rain”)

Mr. KELLY: (Singing) I'm singin' in the rain, just singin' in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I'm happy again. I'm laughing at clouds, so dark up above, but the sun's in my heart, and I'm ready for love.

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