Cole Porter Biography

9 June 1891, Peru, Indiana, USA, d. 15 October 1964, Santa Monica, California, USA. One of the outstanding composers and lyricists of the twentieth century, Porter was born into a rich family, and studied music from an early age. In his teens he excelled in many academic subjects, and wrote songs and played the piano for his own amusement - activities he later pursued at Yale University. Later he attended Harvard Law School, but his interest in music overcame his legal studies, and while he was still at college, some of his songs were used in Broadway productions. In 1916, his first complete score, for See America First (‘I’ve A Shooting Box In Scotland’), closed after just 15 performances. The Porter family’s wealth allowed him to travel extensively and he visited Europe both before and after World War I, developing a life-long affection for Paris. He wrote several numbers for Hitchy-Koo 1919, including the moderately successful ‘Old Fashioned Garden’, and, during the 20s, contributed to several other musicals, including Greenwich Village Follies (1924, ‘I’m In Love Again’), before having his first real hit with the slightly risqué ‘Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)’, which was introduced by Irene Bordoni and Arthur Margetson in Paris (1928). That delightful ‘Musicomedy’ also contained another attractive number, ‘Don’t Look At Me That Way’.

There followed a series of mainly successful shows, each containing at least one, and more often, several sophisticated and witty numbers. They included Wake Up And Dream (1919, London and New York, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’, ‘Looking At You’), Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929, ‘You Do Something To Me’, ‘You’ve Got That Thing’, ‘You Don’t Know Paree’), The New Yorkers (1930, ‘I Happen To Like New York’, ‘Let’s Fly Away’, ‘Love For Sale’), Gay Divorce (1932, ‘Night And Day’, ‘After You, Who’, ‘How’s Your Romance?’, ‘I’ve Got You On My Mind’), and Nymph Errant (1933). The score for the latter show, which starred Gertrude Lawrence, Elisabeth Welch, and David Burns, and ran for 154 performances, contained several Porter gems, such as ‘Experiment’, ‘It’s Bad For Me’, ‘Solomon’, and ‘The Physician’. A year later, in the play, Hi Diddle Diddle, London audiences were introduced to ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, one of the songs Porter used to write simply for his friends’ amusement. Later in 1934, back on Broadway Porter had his first smash hit with Anything Goes. In that show, Ethel Merman, who had taken New York by storm four years previously in George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin’s Girl Crazy, triumphed all over again with Porter’s terrific ‘Anything Goes’, ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’, ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ and ‘You’re The Top’ (both with William Gaxton). Her dynamic presence and gutsy singing style gave a tremendous lift to four more Porter musicals. The first, Red, Hot And Blue! (1936, ‘Down In The Depths (On The Ninetieth Floor’), ‘It’s De-Lovely’, ‘Ridin’ High’), which also starred Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope, was not particularly successful, but the others such as Du Barry Was A Lady (1939, ‘Friendship’ [one of Porter’s wittiest ‘list’ songs], ‘Do I Love You?’), Panama Hattie (1940, ‘Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please’, ‘I’ve Still Got My Health’), and Something For The Boys (1943, ‘Hey, Good Lookin’’, ‘The Leader Of A Big-Time Band’), were all substantial hits.

Although not all of Cole Porter’s shows in the 30s and 40s were long runners by any means (Around The World, which had book and direction by Orson Welles, was a 75-performance flop in 1946), almost every one continued to have at least one memorable and enduring song, such as ‘Begin The Beguine’, ‘Just One Of Those Things’, and ‘Why Shouldn’t I?’ (1935, Jubilee), ‘At Long Last Love’, (1938, You Never Know), ‘Get Out Of Town’, ‘My Heart Belongs To Daddy’, and ‘Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love’ (1938, Leave It To Me!), ‘Ev’rything I Love’, ‘Ace In The Hole’, and ‘Let’s Not Talk About Love’ (1941, Let’s Face It!), ‘I Love You’ (1944, Mexican Hayride), and ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ (1944, Seven Lively Arts). After a rather lean period in the mid-40s, in 1948 Porter wrote the score for Kiss, Me Kate, which is considered to be his masterpiece. It starred Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Harold Lang, and Lisa Kirk, and contained superb numbers such as ‘Another Openin’, Another Show’, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, ‘I Hate Men’, ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’, ‘So In Love’, ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’, ‘Were Thine That Special Face’, and several more. Kiss Me, Kate ran for 1, 077 performances on Broadway, and a further 501 in London. Another song, ‘From This Moment On’, which Porter wrote for the stage production of Kiss Me, Kate, was eventually used in the 1953 film version. Before that, it was tried out in Out Of This World (1950), a show which, in spite of the presence of the high-kicking Charlotte Greenwood, and a mixture of attractive ballads and novelties such as ‘I Am Loved’, ‘Where, Oh Where?’, ‘Nobody’s Chasing Me’, and ‘Cherry Pies Ought To Be You’, ran for less than six months. Porter’s last two shows for Broadway were Can-Can (1953, ‘I Love Paris’, ‘It’s All Right With Me’, ‘C’est Magnifique’) and Silk Stockings (1955, ‘All Of You’, ‘Josephine’, ‘Paris Loves Lovers’, ‘Stereophonic Sound’). The first was a resounding hit, running for 892 performances, but although the latter was generally an unfortunate affair, it still stayed around for over a year.

As well as his work for Broadway, Cole Porter also enjoyed a prolific and equally satisfying career in Hollywood. He wrote his first film songs, ‘They All Fall In Love’ and ‘Here Comes The Bandwagon’, for the Gertrude Lawrence movie, The Battle Of Paris, in 1929. Thereafter, some of his most outstanding work was featured in Born To Dance (1936, ‘Easy To Love’ [introduced by James Stewart], ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘Swingin’ The Jinx Away’, ‘Rap-Tap On Wood’), Rosalie (‘In The Still Of The Night’, ‘Rosalie’), The Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940, ‘I’ve Got My Eyes On You’, ‘I Concentrate On You’, ‘Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway’), You’ll Never Get Rich (1941, ‘So Near And Yet So Far’, ‘Dream Dancing’, ‘Since I Kissed My Baby Goodbye’), Something To Shout About (1943, ‘You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To’), Hollywood Canteen (1944, ‘Don’t Fence Me In’), Night And Day (1946, a Porter biopic, in which he was played by Cary Grant), The Pirate (1948, ‘Be A Clown’, ‘Love Of My Life’, ‘Nina’), Stage Fright (1950, ‘The Laziest Gal In Town’, sung by Marlene Dietrich), High Society (1956, ‘True Love’, ‘You’re Sensational’, ‘I Love You, Samantha’, ‘Well, Did You Evah?’, ‘Now You Has Jazz’), and Les Girls (1957, ‘Ladies In Waiting’). In addition, several of Porter’s original stage shows were adapted for the screen (twice in the case of Anything Goes), and several of his songs were revived in the 1975 Burt Reynolds/Cybill Shepherd movie, At Long Last Love.

In 1937 Porter was seriously injured in a riding accident. Astonishingly, a series of more than two dozen operations, several years in a wheelchair, and almost constant pain seemed to have little effect on his creative ability. His right leg was amputated in 1958, and in the same year he wrote what is said to have been his last song, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Fun?’ (‘not to be famous’), for the television spectacular Aladdin. Marked by wit and sophistication often far ahead of the times in which he lived, Porter’s music and lyrics set standards which were the envy of most of his contemporaries. When he died in 1964, his fellow songwriters in the American Society of Composers and Authors paid this tribute: ‘Cole Porter’s talent in the creation of beautiful and witty songs was recognized as unique throughout the world. His brilliant contributions in the field of musical theatre made him an international legend in his lifetime.’ Although he ceased writing in the late 50s, his music continued to be used in films and on television, and he was the subject of television specials and numerous honours and awards. In 1991, the centenary of his birth, there were tributes galore. In a gala concert at Carnegie Hall, artists such as Julie Wilson, Kathryn Grayson, and Patricia Morison paid tribute to him, as did songwriters Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, and Burton Lane. Among the other special events were an off-Broadway revue, Anything Cole, the West End production of A Swell Party, and a UK touring show entitled Let’s Do It, starring Elaine Delmar and Paul Jones. The special occasion was also marked by the release of new recordings of his scores for Nymph Errant and Kiss Me, Kate, and the album Red Hot And Blue, which featured a number of well known rock stars, with the proceeds going to AIDS research.

In May 1998, Side By Side By Porter, yet another celebration of Porter’s works took place, at the Palace Theatre in London. It was later broadcast on Radio 2, and starred Nickolas Grace, Rebecca Caine, Kim Criswell, Frank Hernandez, and George Dvorsky. The programme included lesser-heard gems such as the 1911 Yale Football Song, ‘Bull Dog’, and ‘There He Goes, Mr Phileas Fogg’, fromAround The World (1946). The BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by John McGlinn, who ensured the all the arrangements were as close to the originals as possible. Later that year, on 10 October, a charity concert performance of Porter and Moss Hart’s 1935 show Jubilee took place at Carnegie Hall in New York. In the cast were Bea Arthur, Bob Paris, Tyne Daly, Alice Ripley, Sandy Duncan, Stephen Spinella, Michael Jeter, Damien Woetzel and Philip Bosco.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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