Monday, May 20, 2024

Phyllis Newman Has Died at 86, Tony Winning Broadway Actress, Singer Was Also Wife of Famed Lyricist Adolph Green


A great light has gone out on Broadway: Phyllis Newman, Tony winner and widow of famed lyricist Adolph Green, has died at age 86. She was one of the greats, the most delightful and witty woman, a leader in promoting women’s health care, and mother to Broadway composer Amanda Green and her brother, Adam, who writes for The New Yorker.

Phyllis’s Tony Award came in 1962 for the musical, “Subways are for Sleeping.” But her long and stellar career included many notable roles. She was also Johnny Carson’s first ever female fill in host on “The Tonight Show,” even before Joan Rivers.

She was nominated for a Tony again some 25 years later for playing Aunt Blanche in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound.” In between there were many other highlights on Broadway including “On the Town” in 1971 and a one woman show in 1979 titled “The Madwoman of Central Park West.” Phyllis also had a number of movie and TV roles including a recurring role on Sidney Lumet’s “100 Centre St.” and “thirtysomething” (she played Michael Steadman’s mom).

What a life! And what an honor that I got to know her in the last two decades. One night I was invited to the Museum of Natural History to play an elaborate game invented by Stephen Sondheim for charity. A lot of A list Broadway people came. But Phyllis, wearing her portable oxygen, was the star of the night and the winner. She was absolutely charming and the most fun. We laughed all night at her intimate knowledge of the Sondheim mind!

The love of Phyllis’s life was Adolph Green, one half of the famed songwriting team with Betty Comden. Comden and Green wrote “Singin’ in the Rain” and “On the Town,” among other great shows. Phyllis was considerably younger than Comden and Green, and kept their torch burning even after they were gone. Now she joins so many legends and luminaries whom we’ll never be able to replace. They were each one of a kind!

I ‘m sure the lights will be dimmed on Broadway this week for this great lady!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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