Nothing’s Wasted

Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s theory of creativity could be summed up in two words:

“Nothing’s wasted.”

It was a theory the two homegrown New Yorkers tested daily for 60 years. Usually in Ms. Comden’s Manhattan living room. Which served as their primary work space.

Ms. Comden and Mr. Green were screenwriters (Auntie Mame) and playwrights (Singin’ in the Rain), lyricists (Wonderful Town) and librettists (On the Town).

She was elegant, punctual. Often on the couch with a yellow legal pad or typewriter getting down ideas. He was shaggy haired, untucked. Often roving the room acting out characters.

The two got their start in Greenwich Village cabaret clubs. They didn’t have money to pay for songs or scripts, so they wrote their own. And while it would be tempting to say the rest is history, it wouldn’t be accurate. It rarely is.

Because the rest was six decades of Ms. Comden and Mr. Green – who weren’t married to each other, but who adored collaborating with each other – showing up to work together every day. From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second administration to George Walker Bush’s first administration.

They showed up when they had hot projects. When they had no projects. When it was boring. When it was disheartening. When they had nothing to do but stare at each other.

The two believed in persistence, the continuity of work. But they also believed in that creativity theory of theirs: Nothing’s wasted. Not the staring. Not the boredom. Not the disheartenment.

They believed that they, as Ms. Comden told The New York Times, “had to go through all that to get to the day when something” – she snapped her fingers – “did happen.”

Over their 60-year collaboration, Betty Comden and Adolph Green had plenty of days when something did happen and plenty of days when something did not happen. But no matter what, they showed up.

And when you show up, nothing’s wasted.

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