Betty Comden

Betty Comden

Betty Comden, who with her partner Adolph Green wrote some of the most memorable songs of the 20th century, including "New York, New York," "Just in Time" and the heart-wrenching "Never-Never-Land" from "Peter Pan," has died. She was believed to be 89.

Comden died Thursday of heart failure at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, her longtime attorney and executor Ronald Konecky told the Associated Press.

Comden and Green were best known for their work on Broadway, where they collaborated with composers Leonard Bernstein, Cy Coleman and most often with Jule Styne.

They amassed seven Tony Awards, starting in 1953 with the musical "Wonderful Town," a romantic comedy that starred Rosalind Russell and was based on the play "My Sister Eileen."

They also wrote the screenplays for such classic movie musicals as "Singin' in the Rain" in 1952 and "The Band Wagon" in 1953.

"Betty and Adolph could write lyrics that are so painfully real and that connect so naturally with [being] human," Broadway lyricist and composer Jerry Herman, a longtime friend, told The Times on Friday.

Their musical style ranged from "adorable" and "madcap" to "gorgeous," Herman said. "Betty and Adolph had an astonishing versatility."

"Make Someone Happy," from the Broadway musical "Do Re Mi" (1960) is "one of the greatest lyrics they ever wrote," said Herman, the composer and lyricist for "Hello, Dolly!" "More than anyone else, Comden and Green represent an era."

A number of their Broadway musicals, including "On the Town" (1944) and "Subways Are for Sleeping" (1961), captured "the spirit of New York at its best," said Miles Kreuger, president of the Institute of the American Musical in Beverly Hills.

"Comden and Green were the Bards of Manhattan," Kreuger said Friday. "They brought a level of wit and charm to their writing."

Comden's longtime friend, Phyllis Newman, the singer-actress and widow of Adolph Green, called Comden "a beautiful, talented, graceful, witty woman" in an interview with The Times on Friday.

"Betty always said she sat down and typed while Adolph walked around the room chewing gum," Newman recalled of Comden's answer to how the duo worked.

That answer played down Comden's talents.

"Both Betty and Adolph were extremely intelligent, witty, cultured and cultivated people," Newman said.

She was born Elizabeth Cohen in Brooklyn, New York. Her father Leo was a lawyer, her mother a schoolteacher.

She graduated from New York University, where she studied drama. In the late 1930s she met Green, another aspiring actor, and they quickly became constant companions.

"Most people assumed they were married," said Kreuger, who met the team in the 1950s. "They went everywhere together."

They were not romantic partners, however. Comden married businessman Steven Kyle in 1942. The couple had two children: Susanna and Alan. She is survived by her daughter.

In the late 1930s, Adolph Green's friend Judy Tuvin (later known as the Oscar-winning actress Judy Holliday) brought in Comden and Green to perform with her in a satiric nightclub act at the Village Vanguard in New York City.