Musical theater has been filled with countless talented composers. The amount of talent in the theater world is endless, but only few composers gain iconic status. The Gershwins, Rogers & Hammerstein, and Stephen Sondheim come to mind when thinking of the pinnacle of composing. One other man who deserves his permanent place with these others would be Cole Porter. Porter’s extensive library of songs has become classics along with a series of hit musicals that are still done in high mass today. Porter had his share of incredibly tough times, and it simply only makes his rise to the top even more impressive.
Cole Porter is without a doubt one of the best composers to ever write for the stage in history. Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana in 1891. From the beginning of his life, his Mother started training him at a very early age. He began training with various instruments and it was realized he was naturally gifted. However, Cole’s Grandfather wants him to be a lawyer, so he sent him to Worcester and then eventually Yale. Cole joined the Glee Club, keeping music in his life at all times, and even writing fight songs for the school. Porter eventually transferred yet again, this time to the prestigious school known as Harvard.
It is told that one day in class, one of the deans was frustrated in Porter’s lack of performance and told him he should not waste his time on law, and instead focus on his music. Thankfully, Porter listened to this advice. Porter got off to a great start in 1915. His first song on Broadway, “Esmeralda”, appeared in the revue Hands Up, and was a great success. However, this immediate success was followed by an immediate failure. Porter’s first full musical, See America First, was a huge flop, closing just after 2 weeks, followed by his next musical, Hitchy-Koo of 1919 also closed quickly, after just 56 performances.
Feeling a sense of rejection, Porter banished himself to Paris and living off selling songs and his family’s money. Unfortunately, Porter never had the immediate long term success that people like George Gershwin had. Although Porter had sent himself to Paris, he never stopped writing, and hoped to one day be the successful songwriter he knew he could be. Porter reintroduced himself in 1928 with the musical Paris. This musical contained what is considered to be one of his best list songs, “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love”.
For the next few years, Porter was constantly writing for huge shows and revues and was finally regaining his credibility as a writer. His peak of this time would come in 1934 with the timeless musical Anything Goes. Anything Goes is considered by many to be the greatest score of this period (and many people would say it is Porter’s greatest ever as well). The original Off-Broadway incarceration would go on to be revived several times on Broadway, winning many awards in the process. In addition to Broadway and theater, Cole also was constantly writing for Hollywood at the time as well.
These scores included scores for Born to Dance in 1936, featuring “You’d Be So Easy to Love” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, and Rosalie in 1937, featuring “In the Still of the Night”. Porter was once again living a life of luxury and happiness, constantly throwing parties and being in the presence of celebrities. It seemed as though Cole was on top again, until a tragic riding accident in 1937 crushed both of his legs, leaving him largely crippled. Porter would undergo over 30 surgeries on his legs, and remained in pain for the remainder of his life.
The pressures of the accident led Porter into a deep depression, and he would go on to become one of the first people to experience electric shock therapy. Although he was always in serious pain, Porter continued writing various successful musicals including Let’s Face It! in 1941, Something for the Boys in 1943, and Mexican Hayride in 1944. Although these shows were hits, some critics said that Porter’s music had become less “magical” than it was prior to his accident. Well, the critics were finally hushed when in 1948, Porter wrote what is considered his greatest score ever, Kiss Me Kate.
The production won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Porter even won for Best Composer and Lyricist. Kiss Me Kate contained blockbuster songs such as “Too Darn Hot”, “Wunderbar”, and “So In Love” that would go on to become classics of the American Song Book. Following the success of Kiss Me Kate, Porter wrote only a few more stage musicals, but continued writing for Hollywood constantly, writing for blockbusters that featured the likes of Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby. With a string of hits behind him, Porter’s long term injuries eventually caught up with him.
Because of complications with ulcers in his right leg, it had to be amputated and replaced with an artificial one in 1958. One bad event followed another, and Porter’s mother and his wife died within 2 years of each other. Sinking into depression, Cole Porter never wrote another show after 1958 and spent the remainder of his life in seclusion, until his death caused by kidney failure in 1964 at the age of 73. Although his life had a fair share of misery, Cole Porter is single handedly responsible for writing countless numbers of musical hits that are forever etched in theater history.
Porter’s shows and music are still constantly in rotation in theaters across the world. He has been a great inspiration for those who aspire to write for the theater, and traces of his styles will forever be used. We should not remember him by the final years of depression, but rather remember the excitement and magic he brought to every piece of music he wrote. Works Cited “Cole Porter Biography. ” Cole Wide Web. 4 May 2009 . “Cole Porter Biography. ” Mapsites. 4 May 2009 . “The Cole Porter Reference Guide. ” The Cole Porter Reference Guide. 2 May 2009 .