Cole Porter was born June 9, 1891 at Peru, Indiana. His mother, Kate Cole, was the son of James Omar Cole, the most influential and rich businessman of Indiana. J.O. Cole, as he was fondly called, started his career making shoes but his good business acumen made him a leader in the coal and western timber industry as well. Kate Cole married shy Samuel Fenwick Porter, a pharmacist, who in J.O. Cole’s eyes, was not fit for his daughter.
The couple married without J.O. Cole’s consent but, like most rich parents, he could not deny his daughter and grandson the benefits of his wealth so he sponsored the financial aspect of Kate’s wedding and subsidized her family. It was his influence that helped mold Cole Porter and showered him with a good life while he was growing up.
Cole Porter grew up in a large fruit ranch. His siblings, Louis and Rachel, both died in infancy.
He learned to ride horses when he was six years old and this became almost a life long hobby along with his music.
According to the Indiana Historical Society, his first exposure to music came from his mother, who introduced him to piano and violin. He was eight years old when he received formal instructions from Indiana’s Marion Conservatory.
Although he learned both instruments, he developed a preference for the piano. He wrote his first piano piece for his mother when he was ten years old. It was entitled, Song of the Birds. The composition was divided into six parts with some entitled, The Young One’s Learning to Sing and the Cuckoo Tells The Mother Where The Bird Is. According to The Guide To Musical Theatre, in 1902, his mother had his composition, The Bobolink Waltz, privately published.
He loved playing the piano more than the violin. It is said that he would spend two hours daily on the instrument. To take away the boredom, his mother taught him to experiment on the usual songs and rearrange them in different tempos and genres. This paved the way for his various styles in composing when he was already in the professional music industry.
He had his secondary education from Worcester Academy in Massachusetts, a private school patronized by rich families. This is where he met Dr. Abercrombie who has not only taught him well but has also become influential in his love for music. In the website, Cole Wide Web, it was the latter who told him that “words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one.” He became class valedictorian when he finished high school in 1909. As a congratulatory gift, his grandfather gave him the chance to tour Europe that summer.
In college, he went to Yale University and lived in a small apartment at 242 York Street New Haven, CT. It was at this point of his life that other people were really starting to notice his knack for music. It was also this school that gave him the opportunity to meet some of the people who would play major parts in his life.
He joined the Freshman Glee Club at once and eventually became its president during his senior year. He had solo performances for the Glee Club and it is said that this helped him get his song, Bridget McGuire, to be published. He also became a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity and the Yale Dramatic Association. He was also part of school plays sponsored by the fraternity.
The Ivy League was where he was able to hone his talent in making plays that were known to be witty and funny. Though he was not the script writer, his influence in the development of the plot and structure of the piece was enormous. His usual subject was on the superiority of the Yale male students and these musicals were well-attended by the school population. It even extended to some outsiders.
It is estimated that he wrote around 300 songs and six spectacular productions when he was in Yale. However, his most memorable pieces are the football fight songs, Yale Bulldog Song and Bingo Eli Yale, which are still being used by the Ivy League up to the present. He composed these while he was a football cheerleader.
Because of his help for many clubs and alumni associations in their dramatic projects, he enjoyed the privilege of being invited to glamorous parties and trips around the country-activities that he was also passionate about.
He also met co-students who were to become very important to the country. Some of these friends paved the way for him to enter Broadway. Renowned poet, Archibald Macleish, San Francisco banker, Bill Crocker, and actor, Monty Woolley were just some of his chums. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, lived in the same dorm with Porter and this made them good friends.
In 1913, his grandfather ambitioned him to be a lawyer and sent him to Harvard Law School. As Cole was a bit spoiled and used to having his way, he only took the freshman year and decided to shift into the Harvard School of Music in 1915 to 1916. Even when he was already at Harvard, he was still helping friends with their musicals at Yale. This disappointed his grandfather who believed that music was not a profitable industry. According to his biography on Cole Wide Web, he eventually abandoned his studies, moved to the Yale club in New York, and began his serious music career.
In 1917, he decided to move to Paris and rented an apartment there. He distributed food to villagers who were victims of war. According to IMDb.com, the Earth’s Greatest Movie Database, in 1918, he joined the 32nd Field Artillery Regiment and worked with the Bureau of the Military Attache of the U.S. so that he could be allowed to live in Paris. However, he lied to people back home by telling them that he was part of the French army and was an officer in combat. This was a lie he committed to throughout his life.
It was at this point of his adulthood that he admitted he was gay. He attended many glamorous parties and became a social butterfly. However, his extravagant celebrations were also famous for gay activities wherein cross dressing and pot sessions were held with the Italian nobility.
The greatest contribution of this part of his life was the chance to have met Linda Lee Thomas in a breakfast reception at the Ritz Hotel. Everyone saw her as beautiful and she was a celebrated hostess not only in France but all over Europe. Linda was divorced from her husband, a newspaper publisher, who was known to be physically abusive. Cole Porter needed a wife for a better public image. Linda Thomas needed the social status that he had. Being very good friends, they forged a marriage of convenience in December 19, 1919.
Linda was a major supporter of Cole in the arts and they enjoyed each other’s company very well in their house at Rue Monsieur in Paris. They may not have had the usual aspects of marriage but they were known to share the same passion for glamorous parties.
According to theatrehistory.com, the garish furnishings (wallpaper platinum in color, mirrors extending from the floor to ceiling, upholstery made from zebra skins, and so forth) were matched only by the splendor of the festivities taking place there. They even hired the Monte Carlo Ballet for one of those occasions. There was also a time when guests were transported to the French Riviera just for fun.
By 1923, Cole and Linda decided to reside in Venice in the famous Rezzonico Palace. The estate used to belong to the renowned poets, Elizabeth and Robert Browning. They renovated the place to accommodate around a hundred visitors for their parties. Here, husband and wife had elaborate balls and sometimes even held treasure hunts encompassing the canals.
In 1916, he produced his first Broadway stint entitled, America First. It was a failure even when his theatrical producer was renowned Bessie Marbury and it featured a former ballet dancer turned actor, Clifton Webb. It only ran for fifteen shows. Porter went into hiding due to the embarrassment he got with bad reviews that hurt his pride.
However, his love for theater still called him back to produce songs for productions like Hitchy-Koo and The Greenwich Village Follies. In 1928, he finally got well-appreciated when he released Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love as part of the score of the musical, Paris.
This showed America that he had great talent for writing witty entertaining songs that were fun to listen to. On an online article in the website of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), he was said to have continued to write more songs for theater such as What Is this Thing Called Love, I Get A Kick Out Of You, and Too Darn Hot which became instant hits and are still considered classics. Although he was known for his upbeat tempo, he also made big hits of mellow songs like Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye and Miss Otis Regrets.
He produced many theatrical productions because of his affiliation with E. Ray Goetz, Irving, brother-in-law of famous American composer, Irving Berlin.
In 1934, he was making another musical production which he still had no title for. He then asked the stage doorman about his opinion on what the title should be. The man was candid enough to answer that he saw how frustrating the production was so it might be good to call it Anything Goes. Cole accepted the title and the play is still worth watching.
Another show he made in 1936 was called Red, Hot and Blue which starred Bob Hope and again, Jimmy Durante. During the times that he had to edit the script, his stenographer was then, the undiscovered singing talent, Ethel Merman. He boasts that she was her best stenographer before she became a popular singer.
He reached his peak in the music industry during the decades of the 1940s and 1950s when he wrote more than a hundred songs for various stage plays, movie musicals and even television productions. Kiss Me Kate was his greatest theatrical contribution which debuted in 1948. The play was so well-accepted and ran for about a thousand times.
Cole Porter’s success in film started with the song, Don’t Fence Me In, which was part of the musical, Hollywood Canteen. This got him the recognition he needed to sign him a few contacts with the movie world. In 1929, he released his first two songs to be part of a movie’s musical score in the film, The Battle of Paris. However, the show was not successful so these did not take his musical career to heights.
What grew was his appreciation for Hollywood because the industry was permissive of gays. Linda had a dislike for the movie industry because she believed that Cole’s sexual activities were getting the attention of the public and this threatened not only his career but also her social standing.
In 1945, he was encouraged to make a movie about his life entitled Night and Day. However, he did not input so much in the making of the project. Many appreciated the film which starred Cary Grant as Cole Porter but it was a very poor representation of his life. The film did not tackle very important issues like his pampered childhood, his being gay, and the truth about his marriage with Linda. It also promoted his lies regarding his war involvement in the French army.
His major film production was his previously successful theater production, Kiss Me Kate. This movie was based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Although Cole doubted its success, he involved himself in the production and it became a moderately received movie.
Although he limited himself to fewer successful films, he still wrote songs for musicals like Can-can and Silk Stockings. The rest of his affiliations for film were not for full musical scoring unless they were renditions of his plays like High Society where Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly sang True Love. His songs were individually appreciated as part of many movies like The Marrying Man where Kim Bassinger charmingly sang his song, Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love.
In 2004, even long after his death, a film entitled, De-Lovely (also a title of one of his songs) was produced to show his life. Kevin Kline starred as Cole Porter and according to WashingtonPost.com, the way the filmmakers have incorporated Porter’s wonderful music into the plot — interpreted by such performers as Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Diana Krall and Natalie Cole — was inventive and almost always effective.
While he had become such a prolific song writer, he never lost his love for horse back riding. In 1937, he was a guest in the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, New York when he fell off a horse and got seriously injured. Doctors said that it hurt both of his legs badly and he sustained additional nerve injury. He stayed in the hospital for two years and had to sit in a wheelchair for another three years. Since the accident, he attempted more than thirty surgical procedures just to save his legs.
Although he and Linda had grown estranged because of his Hollywood stints, she went back to his side to take care of him when he became crippled.
During the time that he was hoping that his legs would heal, he still wrote many songs for Broadway. Many believe that his best songs were written during these years.
Kate Porter, his mother, died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1952. Linda also became terminally ill of cancer and passed away in 1954.
In 1958, because of chronic pain, his doctors declared that he had to have his right leg amputated. For a man of the world, this proved too devastating for his ego. He lived as a recluse and succumbed to alcohol. His depression got the better of him and he turned his back from the world. He did not attend his ceremonial tribute at the Metropolitan Opera on May 15, 1960 and also denied Yale University’s commencement exercises of his presence when it decided to grant him an honorary doctorate in Human Letters. He also did not attend a party organized by his concerned friends when he turned seventy years old.
When he died after a kidney operation in 1964, his specific will was to skip funeral services and be laid beside his wife in their memorial lot in Peru.
Cole Porter was one prolific song writer that had a knack for rearranging words that could say so much even with just a few lines.
One of his songs, Love For Sale, was sang by Jimmy Durante and was promoted by renowned radio announcer, Walter Winchell. Many radio stations, however, decided not to play it because of its controversial lyrics like:
- love for sale, appetizing young love for sale if you want to buy my wares,
- follow me and climb the stairs love for sale
His songs showed his intellectual background. He would sometimes include popular names and events from history. The following lyrics are examples of this:
- Since the Puritans got a shock
- When they landed on Plymouth Rock. (lyrics from Anything Goes) and
- So to win their hearts one must quote (with ease).
- Aeschylus and Euripides.
- One must know Homer and, b’lieve me, Bo.
Sophocles… also Sappho-ho!
Unless you know Shelley and Keats and Pope.
Dainty debbies will call you a dope. (lyrics from Brush Up Your Shakespeare)
He also liked citing the names of popular figures like actress, Mae West, in the song Anything Goes and Hedy Lamarr, Joan Bennett, Greta Garbo, and Lionel Barrymore in Let’s Not Talk About Love.
His witty rhymes are endless in songs like the following:
So please be sweet, my chickadee
And when I kiss ya, just say to me
“It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s delectable, it’s delirious,
It’s dilemma, it’s de limit, it’s deluxe, it’s de-lovely” (lyrics from De-Lovely) and
There’s no love song finer but how strange the change from major to minor (lyrics from Everytime We Say Goodbye)
He also chooses very catchy titles like Begin the Beguine, Why Can’t You Behave, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and I’ve Got You Under My Skin.
Although he probably does not intend to, many of his lyrics also show his high regard for women. The following lyrics are examples:
When mothers pack and leave poor father because they decide they’d rather be tennis pros (lyrics from Anything Goes) and
For husbands are a boring lot and only give you bother.
Of course, I’m awfully glad that Mother
had to marry Father (lyrics from I Hate Men)
His lyrics can be naughty but his sophistication in delivering his provocative lyrics are commendable specially in the following:
I feel quite sure affaire d’amour
Would be attractive
While we’re still active, let’s misbehave! (lyrics from Let’s Misbehave)
Cold Cape Cod clams, ‘gainst their wish do it
Even lazy jellyfish do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love (lyrics from Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love)
Although he won two Tony Awards for Kiss Me Kate in 1949, this musical still garners awards such as best musical in the 2001 London Critics Circle Theatre Award.
Anything Goes, the musical, also garnered awards from the London Critics circle Award for best musical in 2002, and the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Outstanding Musical Production in 2003.
There are so many reasons why the world has learned to love Cole Porter. His music shows so much of his passion for happiness and life. His lyrics speak a lot about his upbringing and the people he loves. He passed away in recluse but his songs will forever proclaim the joy of being in love and alive.
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- Cole Porter:The Great Sophisticate 3 May 2007. <www.theatrehistory.com/american/porter002.html.
- ‘De-Lovely’: Cole Porter Memoir Is Too Darn Cold. 04 May 2007. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22194-2004Jul1.html>.
- Earth’s Biggest Movie Database. 03 may 2007 < http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006234/bio>.
- Hutchins, Michael. June 2006. The Cole Porter Reference Guide. 04 May 2007 http://www.sondheimguide.com/porter/index.html.
- Indiana Historical Society. 04 May 2007. <www.indianahistory.org/pop_hist/people/porter.html>.
- Lyricskeeper.com. 03 May 2007 <http://www.lyricskeeper.com/cole_porter-lyrics/>The Guide To Musical Theatre. 03 May 2007. <http://www.nodanw.com/biographies/cole_porter.htm>.
- Todd’s Cole Porter Page. 03 May 2007. <http://www.thepeaches.com/music/composers/cole/>.
Cite this Cole Porter Biography
Cole Porter Biography. (2016, Sep 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/cole-porter-biography/