"The Party’s Over": Anita O’Day and Betty Comden

Well, by pronouncing the “Party” over I am not referring to Thanksgiving (which I only observed from afar this year), but to a popular song and two remarkable women closely associated with it: “The Party’s Over” from Bells Are Ringing, a musical revived on Broadway, if unsuccessfully, back in 2001, when I saw it with Faith Prince in the part made famous by Judy Holliday. Yesterday, lyricist Betty Comden, who wrote it, and singer Anita O’Day, who performed it, both passed away at the ages of 89 and 87, respectively. I spent some time this weekend researching their careers in search of a radio angle.

Being that Ms. O’Day was a popular singer in the 1940s, that angle was not hard to find. Here you may hear her sing the “Drum Boogie,” accompanied by Gene Krupa’s orchestra on the Command Performance program, broadcast 4 September 1942. “Brother, that is solid sending,” mistress of ceremony Tallulah Bankhead put it in the slang of the day.

The “fine little red-headed vocalist,” as Bob Hope introduced her, would return to the Command Performance microphone on 16 December 1944, this time singing “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine.” Together with bandleader Stan Canton, O’Day is heard reading the names (and the fanciful monikers) of the servicemen who requested the number and to whom it was dedicated.

Just a few days after this broadcast, the musical On the Town opened on Broadway, capturing the mood of a war-weary nation by following three marines on shore leave, out for fun in the “wonderful town” of New York, New York (which is where I caught the show in 1997, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park). On the Town was the first of many shows written by Betty Comden and her lifelong collaborator, Adolph Green, who started out with a comedy act in Greenwich Village, called “The Revuers.” As early as 1939, the team took their act to the airwaves. Fun With the Revuers, which featured Judy Holliday (then still performing under the name of Judy Tuvim), became a weekly series on NBC radio and ran until November 1940 (as I learned here).

Comden and Green understood how to maximize their exposure; not only did they perform in the plays they wrote, they also recycled their material for various media. One such piece was the operetta “The Baroness Bazooka,” which was shoehorned into the “Cliche Expert,” a radio comedy produced on 2 May 1944 by Columbia Presents Corwin (for a recording of which I am indebted to the keeper of BlogAdvance’s “Blog of the Month” for October 2006). Based on a character created by Frank Sullivan, “Cliche Expert” is a courtroom farce of sorts, with Comden and Green playing themselves, as “star witnesses” called in to testify to the titular character’s expertise on the subject of trite phrases. Being a burlesque, rather than cliche, “The Baroness” is rudely interrupted and stricken from the record.

This is not to say that Ms. Comden was not an expert in the matter; indeed, she wrote so many memorable lyrics that strike us as overly familiar today. “The Party’s Over” is riddled with cliches like “It’s time to call it a day,” “They’ve burst your pretty balloon” and “the piper must be paid.” Yet somehow such lines lose little of their pathos when delivered with conviction by an artist like Anita O’Day.

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