|Cole Albert Porter|
Cole Porter, Composer and Songwriter
|June 9, 1891
Peru, Indiana, USA
|October 15 1964 (aged 73)
Santa Monica, California, USA
Cole Albert Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964) was an American composer and songwriter from Indiana. His works include the musical comedies Kiss Me, Kate (1948) (based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew), Fifty Million Frenchmen and Anything Goes, as well as songs like "Night and Day," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and "I've Got You Under My Skin." He was noted for his sophisticated (sometimes ribald) lyrics, clever rhymes, and complex forms. He was one of the greatest half-dozen contributors to the Great American Songbook.
Cole Porters' songs and thoughts are about the many aspects of love, romantic or true. They strike a universal chord in each and every one of us. His was a life of an entertainer, trying to please the greatest number of people possible at one time.
Even with the almost insurmountable odds stacked against him, the original mind of an artist like Porter was able to remind us of the reality of love in its many forms.
Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, to a wealthy Protestant background; His maternal grandfather, James Omar "J.O." Cole, was a coal and timber speculator who dominated his daughter's family. His father, Sam was weak and ineffectual and the very opposite of this tyrant. His mother spoiled him from the start and started Porter in musical training at an early age. At six he studied piano and violin. Porter's mother, Kate, recognized and supported her son's talents even having his juvenile work published in order to encourage him, whilst sending signals to others as to how special he was. She changed his legal birth year from 1891 to 1893 to make him look like an advanced child. Porter's grandfather J.O. Cole wanted the boy to become a lawyer, and with that career in mind, sent him to Worcester Academy in 1905 (where he became class valedictorian) and then Yale University beginning in 1909.
Porter was a member of Scroll and Key and Delta Kappa Epsilon, and sang as a member of the original line-up of the Whiffenpoofs. While at Yale, he wrote a number of student songs, including the football fight songs "Yale Bulldog" and "Bingo Eli Yale" (aka "Bingo, That's The Lingo!") that are still played at Yale to this day. Cole Porter wrote 300 songs while at Yale.
Porter spent a year at Harvard Law School in 1913, and then transferred into Arts and Sciences. An unverified story tells of a law school dean who, in frustration over Porter's lack of performance in the classroom, suggested tongue-in-cheek that he "not waste his time" studying law, but instead focus on his music. Taking this suggestion to heart, Porter transferred to the School of Music.
In 1915, his first song on Broadway, "Esmeralda," appeared in the revue Hands Up. However, the quick success was immediately followed by failure; his first Broadway production, in 1916, America First produced by Elizabeth Marbury, was a flop, closing after two weeks. He soon started to feel the crunch of rejection, as other revues he wrote for were also flops. After the string of failures, Porter banished himself to Paris, selling songs and living off an allowance partly from his grandfather and partly from his mother.
Porter was working as a songwriter when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. He traveled all over Europe, socializing with some of the best known intellectuals and artists in Europe, and becoming a charter member of the Lost Generation.
He did not register for the draft, yet loved to tell the press that he had joined the French Foreign Legion. In reality, he went to work for the Duryea Relief Fund and maintained a closet full of various tailormade military uniforms that he wore when the mood suited him. The French Foreign Legion, however, claims Porter as an enlistee, maintains that he served in North Africa, and displays his portrait in its museum in Aubagne. In Paris he had the best of all possible worlds without actually being in danger of the war. He even had some numbers accepted for some productions in London.
In 1918, Porter met Linda Lee Thomas, a very rich, Louisville, Kentucky-born divorcée eight years his senior, whom he married the following year. Linda was known as a great beauty in her day and was tall and slender, sophisticated and well thought of in society and many saw this as a strange match between this older woman and younger man. She'd come from a loveless marriage whose macho husband had not treated her well and oddly enough she'd even nursed him back to health when he was threatened with a leg amputation, a strange precursor of that, which was to happen to Porter. However, this charming, small, effete man suited her and they shared a love of the social scene. As much as he was taken with her social standing and wealth, she was taken with his talent and entertaining. Although he still received an income from his family, his new wife was happy to keep him in the manner to which Cole loved to be accustomed. The further success of a new song written for Broadway, "Old fashioned Garden" further enabled Cole to financially go through with the marriage in Paris, December 1919.
Linda had musical plans for Cole, to elevate him into the classical realm but they came to no avail, although he did study orchestration and counterpoint at the Schola Cantorum, in Paris for a short time. Her contacts with the literary elite came to naught, too, and although he never really used his studies to any affect it became good public relations for him. Their new house on Rue Monsieur became a Parisian showcase, with floor to ceiling mirrors, zebra skin upholstery, full of antiques, and decorated in exquisite, or exotic, taste, kept for the rest of their lives. Paris was the mecca for artists of every ilk, at that time, all there for the vogue of the "New" and the Coleporteurs were happily in the midst of it.
It seemed that there was a genuine love and affection between the two throughout their difficult life together and though she remained in the background she was always there to encourage his talent and rejoiced with him in his success. Famously, she presented him with a magnificent cigarette case from Cartier, at the opening to every new production that he'd written for and each more beautiful than the last. Replying in kind, he once outdid her with a gift of his own, a case even more dazzling in jewels and splendor. Later she would be a great comfort in his downward, physical spiral.
Unlike contemporaries such as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, Porter had not succeeded on Broadway in his early years. However, born to as well as married to wealth, he did not lack for money, and sat out most of the 1920s, living in Europe with one long round of partying and lavish luxury, so much so that the Chief of Police of Venice had to ask him to leave. Porter was not lazy, though, and continued to play and write. Some of these songs would later be hits.
Richard Rodgers, in his autobiography, Musical Stages, relates an anecdote about meeting Cole in Venice, at his Palazzo during this period. Porter played Rodgers several of his compositions and Rodgers was highly impressed, wondering why Porter was not represented on Broadway, not knowing Cole had already written several shows that had flopped.
In the late 1920s, Porter returned to Broadway, and made up for lost time.
Porter reintroduced himself to Broadway with the musical Paris (1928), which featured one of his greatest "list" songs, "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)." Following this Gallic theme, his next show was Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), which included several popular numbers including "You Do Something To Me" and "You've Got That Thing." Finishing out the decade, opening on December 30, 1929, was Wake Up and Dream, with a score that included "What Is This Thing Called Love?"
Most composers start with a melody and then add the words often with a lyricist. Not so with Cole, who began with an idea and liked to fit it to a title, then wrote both words and music; he said that writing lyrics was like doing a crossword puzzle.
He started the 1930s with the revue The New Yorkers (1930), which included a song about a streetwalker, "Love For Sale." The lyric was considered too explicit for radio at the time, but has gone on to become a standard.
Next came Fred Astaire's last stage show, Gay Divorce (1932). It featured a hit that would become perhaps Porter's best known song, "Night And Day."
In 1934, Porter wrote what is thought by most to be his greatest score of this period, Anything Goes (1934). Its songs include "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "All Through The Night," perhaps his ultimate "list" song "You're The Top," and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," as well as the title number. For years after, critics would compare most Porter shows—unfavorably—to this one.
Anything Goes was also the first Porter show featuring Ethel Merman, who would go on to star in five of his musicals. He loved her loud, brassy voice, and wrote many numbers that featured her strengths.
Jubilee (1935), written with Moss Hart while on a cruise around the world, was not a major hit, but featured two songs that have since become part of the Great American Songbook—"Begin The Beguine" and "Just One Of Those Things."
Porter also wrote for Hollywood, including the scores for Born To Dance (1936), featuring "Easy To Love" and "I've Got You Under My Skin," and Rosalie (1937), featuring "In the Still of the Night." (In addition, he composed the cowboy song "Don't Fence Me In" for an unproduced movie in the 1930s, but it didn't become a hit until Roy Rogers and Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters, as well as other artists, introduced it to the public in the 1940s.)
Porter continued to live the high life during this period, throwing lavish parties and hobnobbing with the likes of Elsa Maxwell, Monty Woolley, Beatrice Lillie, Igor Stravinsky and Fanny Brice. In fact, some of his lyrics mention his friends.
Unlike some composers who worried when their musicals opened, Porter would make a grand entrance and sit up front, apparently relishing the show as much as any audience member. Porter had made it and there was no end in sight.
Then, in 1937, a horse-riding accident in Long Island, New York, crushed his both legs leaving him in chronic pain, largely crippled with chronic osteomyelitis, a bone disease. Apparently his wit still showed at the time, as he quipped, that he now understood why the French ate their horses rather than ride them. (According to a biography by William McBrien, a story from Porter himself has it that he composed the lyrics to part of "At Long Last Love" while lying in pain waiting to be rescued from the accident.)
Porter's estranged wife Linda, living in Paris, rushed to be with him, consoling him and along with his mother rejected the idea of amputation in the hope of saving his legs, echoing Linda's previous marriage. Doctors told them that his right leg would have to be amputated and possibly the left one as well but they fought to have them saved. Porter underwent more than 30 surgeries on his legs and was in constant pain for the rest of his life. During this period, the many operations led him to severe depression although some of it was due to undue fears of not having enough money, although his work sold well and he was still wealthy. He was one of the first people who experienced electric shock therapy for this. He finally did lose one leg shortly before he died.
Typically he wrote notes about the pains in his legs and named them both and female, Josephine and Geraldine. Names which were later given to two musicians in drag, played by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder's film comedy, "Some Like It Hot."
He was a model patient who seldom complained and many remarked at his fortitude and following this he quickly went back to work, the doctors feeling that creativity was the best therapy for him. Not only did he celebrate Christmas and New Year's with Linda and his friends but he was also a guest of honor at a large party given in his honor at the Waldorf with five hundred of New York's society toasting his health, in January 1938.
Although not a hit, several songs from his next show You Never Know, including "At long Last Love" were well received and from then on there were a quick succession of productions, which made up for it. In spite of having to wear braces on his legs, Cole was back professionally and leading an almost normal life. He even found time to visit Colombia, Havana, and Machu Picchu in Peru. This certainly attests to his strength of will after such a terrible ordeal.
In 1940 Linda bought "Buxton Hill" a 350-acre country estate in Massachusetts with a glorious view of the Berkshires, which they used throughout the year, inviting friends, when not staying at their suite at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. The main house was filled with Linda's treasures shipped from France and she converted a small guest house for him as a work studio, later to be named "Do Not Disturb." A swimming pool was also added.
Despite his pain, Porter continued to write successful shows. Leave It To Me (1938) (introducing Mary Martin singing "My Heart Belongs To Daddy"), DuBarry Was a Lady (1939), Panama Hattie (1940), Let's Face It! (1941), Something For The Boys (1943) and Mexican Hayride (1944) were all hits. These shows included songs such as "Get Out Of Town," "Friendship," "Make It Another Old-Fashioned Please" and "I Love You." Nevertheless, Porter was turning out fewer hit songs and, to some critics, his music was less magical.
After two flops, Seven Lively Arts (1944) (which featured the standard "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye") and Around The World (1946), many thought he was washed up.
In 1948, Porter made a great comeback, writing what was by far his biggest hit show, Kiss Me, Kate. The production won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Porter won for Best Composer and Lyricist. The score—generally conceded to be his best—includes "Another Op'nin' Another Show," "Wunderbar," "So In Love," "We Open In Venice," "Tom, Dick or Harry," "I've Come To Wive It Wealthily In Padua," "Too Darn Hot," "Always True to You (In My Fashion)," and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Porter was back on top.
Though his next show—Out Of This World (1950)—didn't do that well, the show after that, Can-Can (1952), featuring "C'est Magnifique" and "It's All Right With Me," was a major hit. His last original Broadway production, Silk Stockings (1955), one of Broadway's most expensive musicals of all times, featuring "All Of You," was also successful.
After his riding accident, Porter also continued to work in Hollywood, writing the scores for two Fred Astaire movies, Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940), which featured "I Concentrate On You," and You'll Never Get Rich (1941). He later wrote the songs for the Gene Kelly/Judy Garland musical The Pirate (1948). The film lost money, though it does feature the delightful "Be A Clown" (intriguingly echoed in Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh" in the 1952 musical film Singin' in the Rain). High Society (1956), starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, had Porter's last major hit, "True Love," sung surprisingly well by the endearing Grace Kelly.
Eventually, his injuries caught up with him. After 34 operations on his right leg, it had to be amputated and replaced with an artificial limb in 1958. The operation followed the death of his beloved mother in 1952 and the end of his wife Linda's life-long battle with emphysema in 1954. A life-time smoker, in spite of respiratory problems, she had spent a lot of time in various sanitariums, located in hot dry climates. As she fell seriously ill, he was so moved by her desire not to be forgotten after she had passed, that he had an especially large hybrid pink rose created in her name with a distinct bloom and scent. The Linda Porter rose, was a fitting memorial for one who had so loved beautiful things.
Linda left Cole approximately two million dollars as well as their Paris maison and Buxton Hill along with her exquisite furniture, thousands of books, jewelry, and works of art. Later Cole had the mansion raised to the ground and rebuilt his little studio on top of it over the preexisting wine cellars, with an extension added and all designed by Billy Baldwin, Linda's decorating legacy to Cole. He had always thought of it as too gloomy and it left him only sad memories. Baldwin also redesigned Cole's bachelor suite at the Waldorf to Cole's eccentric taste, taking four months and having ''Vogue and other magazines cover it. Another of those close to him, Howard Sturges who had lived with the couple in Paris, died in 1955 and Porter was greatly saddened by the news.
Porter now began to suffer from a large stomach ulcer that penetrated his pancreas but he continued working, in Italy, on a musical version of Aladdin, set in China, for television. This was also made into a live show in London but both flopped as they lacked that magical quality needed. His medical problems continued and eventually the leg that he had fought so hard to keep, had to be amputated. The combined hardships Porter endured proved to be too much. He never wrote another song and spent the remaining years of his life in relative seclusion.
Cole Porter died of kidney failure at the age of 73 on October 15 1964 in Santa Monica, California. He is interred in Mount Hope Cemetery, alongside his beloved mother and wife, in his native Peru, Indiana.
Porter may be best described as bisexual. He was often photographed in the arms of beautiful women, he was married for 34 years to one wife who conceived and miscarried. However, he was also involved in a number of homosexual relationships.
He had an affair in 1925 with Boris Kochno, a poet and Ballets Russes librettist. He also reportedly had a long relationship with his constant companion, Howard Sturges, a Boston socialite, as well as with architect Ed Tauch (for whom Porter wrote "Easy to Love"), choreographer Nelson Barclift (who inspired "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To"), director John Wilson (who later married international society beauty Princess Nathalie Paley), and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of the childless Porter's copyright royalties.
Porter and his wife separated briefly in the early 1930s when, it is believed, Porter's sexual orientation became more and more open during their time living in Hollywood. After Porter was badly injured in a horseriding accident in 1937, they were reunited. His wife was in no doubt about Porter's homosexual alliances, but it was mutually advantageous for them to marry. For Linda it offered continued social status and a partner who was the antithesis of her abusive first husband. For Porter, it brought a respectable heterosexual front in an era when homosexuality was not publicly acknowledged. They were, moreover, genuinely devoted to each other and remained married from December 19, 1919, until her death in 1954.
Shows listed are stage musicals unless otherwise noted. (Where the show was done both as a film and on stage, the year refers to the stage version.)
The legacy that Cole Porter left us are not only his songs but also the theatrical shows that encased them. Since America left the European tradition of opera behind and embraced the popular homegrown 'Musical' writers have striven to fill them with the songs and music of the American ethos. Porter, with his unique talent and personality gave that genre the light and lovely songs of love, lost and found, false and true, songs that are still sung and revived today along with those great shows.
When asked if he thought his songs would last, he said that he'd never given it a thought, all the enjoyment was in writing them.
Porter's life was made into Night and Day, a very sanitized 1946 Michael Curtiz film starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith.
His life was also chronicled, somewhat more realistically but movingly, with emphasis on his marital relationship, in De-Lovely, a 2004 Irwin Winkler film starring Kevin Kline as Porter and Ashley Judd as Linda. It also contains fine examples of his music sung by contemporary singers.
Judy Garland performed a medley of Porter's songs at the 37th Academy Awards, the first Oscars ceremony held since Porter's death.
In 1980, Porter's music was used for the score of Happy New Year, based on the Philip Barry play Holiday.
First released in 1990, the musical CD "Red Hot + Blue: A Tribute To Cole Porter" album created massive media attention for AIDS relief, generated $3 million dollars for AIDS charities worldwide, was re-released in 2006.
All links retrieved March 8, 2017.
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