Cole Albert Porter
(June 9, 1891 – October 15,
1964) was an American composer
songwriter. His works include the musical comedies Kiss Me, Kate
, Fifty Million Frenchmen
DuBarry Was a Lady
, as well as
songs like "Night and Day
"I Get a Kick out of You
"Well, Did You Evah!
"I've Got You Under My
". He was noted for his sophisticated, bawdy lyrics
, clever rhymes, and complex forms. He was one
of the greatest contributors to the Great American Songbook
Porter is one of the few Tin Pan Alley composers to have written both lyrics and music for
born in Peru, Indiana, to a
his maternal grandfather, James Omar "J.O." Cole, was
who dominated his daughter's
family. His mother started Porter in musical training at an early
age; he learned the violin
at age six, the
at eight, and he wrote his first
(with help from his mother) at 10.
Porter's mother, Kate, recognized and supported her son's talents.
She changed his legal birth year from 1891 to 1893 to make him
appear more precocious. 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
University beginning in
Porter was a member of Scroll and Key
and Delta Kappa Epsilon
chapter), and sang both in the Yale Glee
, of which he was elected president his senior year, and in
the original line-up of the Whiffenpoofs
. While at Yale, he wrote a number
of student songs, including the football fight songs "Bulldog
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.
spent a year at Harvard Law School in 1913 (where he roomed with Dean Acheson), and then transferred into Arts
An apocryphal 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
In 1915, his first song on Broadway, "Esmeralda", appeared in the
revue Hands Up
. The quick success was immediately followed by
failure; his first Broadway production,
in 1916, See America
First (with a book by T.
Lawrason Riggs), was a
flop, closing after two weeks. Hitchy-Koo
with star Raymond Hitchcock
closed after 56
Porter soon started to feel the crunch of rejection, as other
revues for which he wrote 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.
Paris and marriage
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 enlisted in the French Foreign
after working for the Duryea Relief Fund for a short
time. Porter served in North Africa. He was transferred in 1917 to
the French Officers School at Fontainebleau and was assigned to
teach gunnery to American soldiers. He set up a luxury apartment in
Paris and alternated between his officer duties and leading a
playboy lifestyle. The French Foreign Legion still displays his
portrait in its museum in Aubagne.
Porter met Linda Lee Thomas, a
Kentucky-born divorcée eight years his senior, whom he
married the following year.
Porter was often photographed in
the arms of beautiful women and was married for 34 years to Thomas,
who conceived and miscarried. According to the writer of the book
Noel & Cole: the Sophisticates
, Porter had "frequent
encounters." The writer of the
book Cole Porter: A Biography
writes about Porter's
"homosexual escapades". De-Lovely
, a 2004 movie starring Kevin Kline
, portrayed his gay life.
On the sidelines
Unlike contemporaries such as George
and Irving Berlin
did not succeed on Broadway in his early years. Dismayed by his
failures, he moved to Europe, living for some time in Paris and
Venice on his family's and his wife's money. He was not idle,
however, and continued to write. Many of the songs from this period
would later be hits.
In his autobiography, Musical Stages
, Richard Rodgers
relates an anecdote about
meeting Porter in Venice during this period. Porter played Rodgers
several of his compositions and Rodgers was highly impressed,
wondering why Porter was not represented on Broadway.
Rodgers didn't realize that Porter had already written several
shows that had flopped.
In the late 1920s Porter returned to Broadway and made up for lost
Porter reintroduced himself to Broadway with the musical
featured one of his greatest "list" songs, "Let's Do It
theme, his next show was
(1929), which included several popular numbers
including "You Do Something to
" 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?
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
's last stage show, Gay
(1932). It featured a hit that would become
perhaps Porter's best-known song, "Night and Day
". (Other than the
1930 version of
the song, which featured The Three Girls Friends singing the
chorus, and two recordings Astaire made in London, all other 1930
recordings were instrumental.)
In 1934, Porter wrote what is thought by most to be his greatest
score of this period, Anything
(1934). Its songs include "I Get a Kick out of You
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.
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
Red Hot And Blue
featuring Merman, Jimmy Durante
, introduced "It's De-Lovely",
"Down in the
", and "Ridin' High".
Porter also wrote for Hollywood
, including the scores
for Born to Dance
featuring "You'd Be So Easy to
" and "I've
Got You Under My Skin
", and Rosalie
(1937), featuring "In the Still of the
". In addition, he had composed the cowboy song "Don't Fence Me In
" for an
unproduced movie in the 1930s, but it didn't become a hit until
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
, Beatrice Lillie
and Fanny Brice
. In fact, some of his lyrics mention
his friends. Now at the height of his success, Porter was able to
enjoy the opening night of his musicals; he would make a grand
entrance and sit up front, apparently relishing the show as much as
any audience member.
1937, a riding accident at the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley,
New York, crushed his legs and left him in chronic pain,
(According to a biography by William
McBrien and oral history by Brendan
, 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.) Doctors told Porter's wife and mother that his
right leg would have to be amputated and possibly the left one as
well. 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
. He was one of the first
people who experienced electric
Despite his pain, Porter continued to write successful shows.
Leave It to Me!
(introducing Mary Martin
"My Heart Belongs to
"), DuBarry Was a
(1940), Let's Face
(1941), Something for the Boys
(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
". Porter liked to
use as many as four different orchestrators to cover the various
arrangements he envisaged for his scores. Nevertheless, Porter was
turning out fewer hit songs and, to some critics, his music was
less magical. After two flops, Seven Lively Arts
featured the standard "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye") and Around the World
many thought that his best period was over.
In 1948, Porter made a great comeback, writing what was by far his
biggest hit show, Kiss Me,
. The production won the Tony
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
", and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare". Porter was back on
Though his next show — Out Of This World
was not greatly successful, 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), featuring "All of
You", was also successful.
After his riding accident, Porter continued to work in Hollywood,
writing the scores for two Fred Astaire movies, Broadway Melody of 1940
which featured an old hit, "Begin The Beguine," and a new one, "I
Concentrate on You", and You'll Never Get Rich
later wrote the songs for the Gene Kelly
and 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
performance of "Make 'Em Laugh
the 1952 musical film Singin' in the Rain
(1956), starring Bing Crosby
, Frank Sinatra
, had Porter's last major hit, "True Love
". He wrote songs for Les Girls
(1957) with Gene Kelly
. His final score was for a CBS
color special, Aladdin
(1958); Columbia Records
issued a stereophonic
LP of songs from the
Eventually, his injuries caught up with him. After a series of
and 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 his wife's death from emphysema
in 1954. The combined hardships Porter
endured proved to be too much. He never wrote another song after
1958 and spent the remaining years of his life in relative
Porter died of kidney failure on
October 15, 1964, at the age of 73 in Santa
Monica, California, and is interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in his
Porter is buried between his wife and
father. According to Charles Schwartz in Cole Porter, A
, this was ironic, since Porter was not close to his
father. The book further states that there are erroneous reports
that claim that Porter was buried between Linda and his mother,
At halftime of the 1991 Orange
between Colorado and Notre Dame, Joel
led a large cast of singers and dancers in a tribute to
Porter marking one hundred years since his birth. The program was
called, "You'll Get a Kick Out of Cole".
In 1990 Red Hot + Blue
featuring 20 Cole Porter songs recorded by artists such as U2
, Annie Lennox
and Shane MacGowan
as a benefit CD for AIDS
In country singer Jo Dee Messina
song "These Are The Days", Porter is referenced as the protagonist
reveals she sings old Cole Porter songs.
In 2004 jazz and electronica producer Billy Paul Williams
reinterpreted his hits on the feature album named The Porter
In 2008, pianist/vocalist Patricia
released The Cole Porter Mix
, consisting of her
take on 10 Cole Porter classics as well as three originals inspired
by Cole Porter.
The French Foreign Legion
which backs up Porter's claim to have been a legionnaire, honors
him with a portrait that hangs in the Legion's official
The Cole Porter Festival
is held every year the second
weekend of June, in his hometown of Peru, Indiana. The festival
fosters music and art appreciation by celebrating the life and
music of Cole Porter.
His life was made into Night and Day
, a very
sanitized 1946 Michael Curtiz
starring Cary Grant
and Alexis Smith
. His life was chronicled more
realistically in De-Lovely
2004 Irwin Winkler
as Porter and Ashley Judd
performed a medley of
Porter's songs at the 37th Academy
, the first Oscars ceremony held following Porter's
In 1980, Porter's music was used for the score of Happy New Year
, based on the
is referenced in the song "The Call of the Wild" (Merengue
) by David Byrne on his 1989 album
. He is also mentioned in the song "Tonite It
Shows" by Mercury Rev
on their 1998
was a Steinway
Artist, which means that he chose to perform on Steinway pianos exclusively, and he owned a Steinway
piano. Porter's piano is currently in the lobby of
the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
Shows listed are stage musicals unless otherwise noted. (Where the
show was later made into a film, the year refers to the stage
complete list of Porter's works is in the Library of Congress (
Complete List of Cole Porter works, and
Cole Porter Collection at the Library of
- (1916) See America First
- (1919) Hitchy-Koo Of 1919 —
"An Old Fashioned Garden"
- (1928) Paris —
"Let's Do It, Let's Fall
- (1929) Wake Up and
Dream — "What
Is This Thing Called Love?"
- (1929) Fifty Million
Frenchmen — "You Do
Something to Me"
- (1930) The New Yorkers
— "Love for Sale", "I Happen to
Like New York"
- (1932) Gay Divorce —
"After You, Who?", "Night And Day" (basis for film renamed
The Gay Divorcee in
- (1933) Nymph Errant — "Experiment", "The Physician",
"It's Bad for Me"
- (1934) Anything Goes —
the Night", "Anything
Goes", "Blow Gabriel, Blow", "I Get a Kick Out of You", "You're the Top"
- (1934) Adios Argentina (un-produced) — "Don't Fence Me In"
- (1935) Jubilee —
"Begin the Beguine", "Just One of Those
- (1936) Red, Hot and
Blue — "It's De-Lovely"
- (1936) Born to Dance
(film) — "Down in the
Depths ", "You'd Be So Easy
to Love", "I've
Got You Under My Skin"
- (1937) Rosalie (film) —
"In the Still of
- (1937) You Never
Know — "At Long Last
Love", "From Alpha to Omega", "Let's
- (1938) Leave It to Me!
— "From Now On", "My Heart
Belongs to Daddy"
- (1939) Broadway Melody
Of 1940 — "Between You And Me", "I Concentrate on You", "I've Got My Eyes on
You", "I Happen to Be in Love", "Begin the Beguine"
- (1939) Dubarry Was A
Lady — "Do I Love You?",
"Well, Did You Evah!",
- (1940) Panama Hattie —
"Let's Be Buddies", "Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please"
- (1941) You'll Never Get Rich (film) — "Dream Dancing", "So Near and Yet So Far"
- (1941) Let's Face It! —
"Everything I Love", "I Hate You,
- (1942) Something for the
Boys — "Could It Be You"
- (1942) Something to
Shout About — "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home
- (1943) Mexican
Hayride — "I Love
- (1944) Seven Lively Arts — "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"
- (1946) Around the
World — "Look What I Found"
- (1947) The Pirate —
"Be a Clown"
- (1948) Kiss Me, Kate —
"Another Op'nin', Another Show", "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", "I
Hate Men", "So in Love", "Too Darn Hot"
- (1950) Out Of This
World — "From This Moment On",
"I Am Loved"
- (1950) Stage Fright (film) - "The Laziest Gal In
- (1953) Can-Can —
"I Am in Love", "I Love Paris", "C'est Magnifique"
- (1954) Silk Stockings —
"All of You", "Paris Loves Lovers"
- (1955) High
Society — "Mind if
I Make Love to You?", "True
Wants to Be a Millionaire?", "You're Sensational"
- (1956) Les Girls — "Ca, C'est L'amour", "You're Just Too,
- (1958) Aladdin (television) — "Opportunity Knocks But
Once", "Come To The Supermarket (In Old Peking)"
A far more comprehensive list of Cole Porter songs, along with
their date of composition and original show, is available here:
- John Derbyshire (NRO
columnist), "Oh, the Songs!" (indepth review of film
De-Lovely), 2004-07-28, National
Review Online (nationalreview.com), webpage: NationalReview-CP: explains Cole Porter's
- "Cole Porter Biography written by JX Bell" (includes lives of
parents/grandparents), www.ColePorter.org, ColePorterOrg-bio, accessed 2006-09-21.
- Cole Porter Official web site
- Legion of the Lost
- French Foreign Legion Official web site
- All About Jewish Theatre - How Cole Porter got his
- Citron, Stephen. Noel & Cole: the Sophisticates
(2005). Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 0634093029, p. 142
- Schwartz, Charles
- You're the Top: The Cole Porter Story, DVD, 1990, [ASIN:
- "The Boys That Make the Noise", Music section,
Time , 5 July 1943.
- Schwartz, Charles. Cole Porter, A Biography (1979). Da
Capo Press. ISBN 0306800977, p. 114 and 269
- JX Bell, Cole Porter Biography (retrieved February 16,
- Derbyshire, John (NRO columnist), "Oh, the
Songs!" (indepth review of film De-Lovely), 2004-07-28,
Online (nationalreview.com), webpage: NationalReview-CP: explains Cole Porter's
- Stefan Kanfer, (Winter 2003) The Voodoo That He Did So Well City
- McBrien, William (1998). Cole Porter: A Biography. New
York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-72792-2.
- Ethan Mordden: Rock and
Cole. The New Yorker, October 28, 1991, pp. 91–113.
- Powell, Don: Music Producer, Playwright.
- Rimler, Walter: A Cole Porter Discography, N. Charles
Sylvan Company, 1995, ISBN 1-886385-25-4.
- Schwartz, Charles: Cole Porter: A Biography (Hardcover
and a Da Capo Paperback), May 1, 1979, ISBN 0-306-80097-7.