At a very young age, I was so enamored of the songs of Cole Porter & the story of his life & friendships, that my parents gave me huge “coffee table” book about this great American songwriter for Christmas when I was 11 years old, & then followed it up with another big book of his collected lyrics for my birthday the next week. I still have both books.
Born in Peru, Indiana in 1891, Porter studied music from an early age, & began composing as a teenager. After high school he attended Yale University, where he was voted “most entertaining man.” He went on to law school at Harvard University, but his interest remained in music. At Harvard he continued to write songs, & a some of his pieces were used in Broadway musicals.
In 1916, his first full score was performed. The musical- See America First was a flop & closed after only 15 performances. Bruised by the experience, he began to travel around Europe & got an apartment in Paris. This was the beginning of his lifelong affection for the city, which he would return to in songs- You Don’t Know Paree & I Love Paris. During his time in Europe, Porter contributed to many musicals, but until his song- Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love appeared in the 1928 musical Paris, he had not had a big hit. Paris was a place Cole flourished socially. He attended parties with his pal Noel Coward. The parties of the era were elaborate & fabulous, attended by the upper crust. His own parties were marked by gay & bisexual activity, cross-dressing, international musicians & actors, & a large surplus of recreational drugs. I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era, the very theme of Woody Allen’s 2011 film- Midnight In Paris, my favorite film of the new decade.
Porter started spending time with American divorcee- Linda Thomas, & they became close friends quickly. Their financial status & social status made them prefect as a married couple.The fact that Linda's ex-husband was abusive & Cole was gay made the arrangement even more perfect. Linda was always one of Porter's staunch supporters & being married increased his chance of success. Being married to Porter allowed Linda to keep high status in society for the rest of her life. They married in 1919 & lived in a happy arrangement, a successful public relationship, but a sexless marriage until Linda's death in 1954.
Porter was happy with a life in Hollywood in the 1930s, including a more liberal movie industry where Porter enjoyed more open sexual adventures. At the time, it was somewhat more acceptable to be an eccentric gay artist, but Linda feared for Porter’s reputation & career. Her social standing was threatened by his activities & the rumors in upper-crust social circles.
Despite a horseback riding accident in 1937 that crippled him for life, Porter produced much of his best work in the 1940s &1950s. He wrote 100s of songs for Broadway shows, movie musicals, & TV specials. His most successful musical- Kiss Me Kate opened in 1948 & ran for over a 1000 performances. A recluse in his later years, Porter died in California in 1964.
In 1945 the film Night & Day was made with Cary Grant, allegedly about the life of Cole Porter. This movie has almost nothing to do with the actual life of the songwriter. Night & Day leaves out the important elements of his gay life, & his sexless marriage of convenience.
The 1990 album- Red, Hot, & Blue features Cole Porter songs sung by popular musicians of the 1980s & 1990s. It remains a favorite of mine. The dismal 2004 movie- De-Lovely, with an improbable Kevin Kline as Porter, came a tiny bit closer to the true story & featured beautiful sets, major actors, famous current musicians, & a strong Hollywood marketing campaign for the movie & the soundtrack. But for me, this movie is a miserable mess.
The songs of Cole Porter are very important to me. This is my favorite: