Saturday, January 29

Art and Histroy of Great Writing Deut

Theater Arts is Alex's elective during her first year of middle school. She has been learning about the art and history of the dramatic arts, from theater to radio and beyond. Alex's favorite actress at the moment is Julie Andrews. She loves the way she sang in movies like Mary Poppins, Sound of Music and Thoroughly Modern Millie. She loves the way she can balance an air of respectability and comedic timing.

But when it came time for the kids in her class to write a report on a well known person in American theater history they simply drew names out of a hat. So while the boy sitting next to Alex drew the name, Julie Andrews, Alex was stuck with some random person named Adolph Green.

The funny thing is that I was raised on classic movies and back in the early days of movies, right through the 1960s actually there was a lot of cross over of talent between Broadway and Hollywood. I was surprised that I was unfamiliar with this choice. Alex was disappointed, but today was took a trip to the library to do some research. What we found there was a treasure trove of information and now I am ashamed to think that I had been ignorant of the great lyricists and writers, Adolph Green and Betty Comden.

Adolph Green was born in the Bronx, New York on December 2, 1915 into a family of Hungarian immigrants. He graduated high school in 1934 and worked at assorted jobs including as a runner on Wall Street. In 1937, at a summer camp, he met the young Leonard Bernstein who was the music counselor, and they became life-long friends. In 1938, another decisive meeting occurred while making the rounds of theatrical agents he met Betty Comden. Together with Judy Holiday, the two formed the act The Revuers, which performed in the legendary Greenwich Village nightclub, The Village Vanguard. They lacked the funds to pay royalties and so began writing and performing their own satirical and musical comedic materials.

They went onto collaborate with Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins on what was the first show for all of them, "On The Town." Also with Mr. Bernstein they did the score for "Wonderful Town." With Jule Styne they wrote the book and/or lyrics for "Bells Are Ringing," "Hallelujah, Baby," "Do Re Mi," "Subways Are For Sleeping," "Peter Pan," and others, wrote the book for "Applause," and book and lyrics for "on The Twentieth Century" and "A Doll's Life." Four of these, "Applause," "Hallelujah, Baby," "Wonderful Town," and "On The Twentieth Century," won them five Tony Awards, and "A Doll's Life," a Tony nomination.

Comden and Green are considered to have the longest running creative partnership in theater history, but some of their best known work was for film. Their film musicals include "Singin' In The Rain," "The Band Wagon," "On The Town," "Bells Are Ringing," "It's Always Fair Weather," "Good News," and "The Barkleys Of Broadway." Two of these, "The Band Wagon" and "It's Always Fair Weather," received Academy Award Nominations, and those two plus "On The Town" won the Screen Writer's Award. "Singin' In The Rain" was recently voted one of the ten best American films ever made and, by a vote of international film critics conducted by the prestigious magazine "Sight and Sound," it was chosen as Number Three of the ten best films of all time.

I think the best source that Alex and I enjoyed reading together was Art of the American Musical: Conversations with the Creators edited by Jackson R. Bryer and Richard N. Davison. This included an interview with the team that was conducted in 1992 and the thing that impressed me most about them was how much fun they seemed to be having, even when they were talking about what seemed to be soar subject, "Singin' In the Rain." That script was written for MGM under the old studio system so while it as their greatest screenplay and lyrics, they don't own any of the rights. When asked how their partnership lasted so long Green gave a simple, yet wonderful answer, "We have basic respect for each other." To me that sums up the greatness of career. They have wonderful sense of timing and a great skill for writing, but what really started and sustained their careers was the relationships they formed both in film and stage industries. People had great respect for not only their work, but who they are/were as people.

Adolph Green passed away in December of 2002. He as honored by a memorial on Broadway that was attended by some of the greatest legends that have had the honor to preform their work over the years. I'm glad Alex pulled his name. I might never have known the story of Comden and Green otherwise.

1 comment:

The Bug said...

How cool! This is really making me want to watch some old movies...