2006_11_bettycomden.jpgThe Bronx is up and the Battery’s down,
The people ride in a hole in the ground,
New York, New York,
It’s a helluva town.

- Lyrics from "On the Town"

Betty Comden, who co-wrote lyrics to some of the most famous musicals, died yesterday at age 89 in Manhattan. The cause was heart failure.

Comden and partner Adolph Green worked together for more than 60 years on musicals for both the stage and the screen. From the NY Times obituary by Robert Berkvist:

[T]he 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.”

Through the years they worked with composers like Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne and André Previn, creating songs like “New York, New York,” “The Party’s Over,” “It’s Love” and “Some Other Time.” They were adept at making their lyrics fit the mood, whether it was rueful (“Lonely Town”), raucous (“100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man”) or romantic (“Just in Time”).

The title of one of their own songs, from “Bells Are Ringing,” summed up their joint career: it was truly a “Perfect Relationship” in which they met daily, most often in Ms. Comden’s living room, either to work on a show, to trade ideas or even just talk about the weather.

Comden was born in Brooklyn, attended Erasmus High School (where Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond also graduated from), and went to NYU. The obituary also mentions the pair's late 1930s start in Greenwich Village: A cabaret act with friends, including Judy Holliday, sometimes accompanied by Leonard Bernstein.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on Comden and Green. While Singin' in the Rain might be the most perfect movie musical ever, one lesser-known (and apparently not very critically acclaimed) Comden and Green musical we're interested about is Subways are for Sleeping, based on a Harper's writer's experiences sleeping in the subways and meeting interesting people. (The NYC Transit Authority refused to advertise it!)

Photograph of Comden, taken in 2002, by Lucy Nicholson/AP