Betty Comden and Adolph Green met in the late 1930’s. They were both aspiring Broadway actors but had little success. They decided to form their own troupe and joined up with another aspiring actor, Judy Holliday, to create and perform their own productions. They were not successful.

Comden and Green discovered they had a talent for writing song lyrics. Soon their acting careers were over, and Comden and Green set off on a career journey that has led to some of America’s most enduring music. Their lyrics form a significant part of what is now fondly referred to as the Great American Songbook. Some of their lyrics include:

  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Just in Time
  • Make Someone Happy
  • New York, New York
  • The Party’s Over
  • Lonely Town

Their partnership lasted for 70 years until the death of Adolph Green in 2002.

Over the years of the creative collaboration, Comden and Green rarely had serious disagreements about their work. One might wonder how two people could create such memorable lyrics. Which one of them was bold enough to suggest the first words of the song? How did they respond to each other when something didn’t seem right? When did they know they were done?

One more thing to think about: they often wrote the lyrics before they know the melody of the song.

It’s interesting to think about how important collaboration is to our society today. The lack of a collaborative spirit is evident at the highest level of our government. We need collaboration to confront the problems faced by the world including: the pandemic response, climate change, terrorism, economic equality, human rights, etc.

As important as collaboration is, it’s surprising that we know so little about how to foster and encourage a collaborative spirit. Comden and Green were collaborators with similar taste. How do we foster collaboration when the collaborators have very different views? Comden and Green were two people working toward a common purpose. How might collaboration work with more than two people when the desired outcome of the collaboration is not as obvious? Comden and Green had the luxury of working together in private. How might collaborations work when in full view of the public? What triggers successful collaborations, especially when the issues are different? Do collaborations need to be facilitated, at least at the start? There are many more questions we might ask about collaborations.

Just imagine what we might achieve if we had some sense of the “art” of collaboration? Might our approach to resolving national and international issues become more effective? Just imagine how things would change if the voting public valued collaboration in selecting those who represent them? Just imagine how our national psyche would be impacted by the viewing of collaborative efforts to resolve the issues that affect all of us? Maybe we could keep soap operas on TV in the afternoon rather than on the evening news. 

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“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes (U.S. Supreme Court Justice)

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