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Porter, Cole

Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana on June 9, 1891. He was the only surviving child of Samuel Fenwhick Porter, a druggist, and Kate Cole. His grandfather, J.O. Cole, was the richest man in town, and Porter enjoyed a privileged childhood.

His mother was determined to give Cole every social advantage. He began studying music —violin and piano— at a very early age, and by ten he had written his first song, "Song of the Birds." In 1902, his mother had his composition "The Bobolink Waltz" privately published.

Porter was sent East to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts for prep school and entered Yale in 1913. There he became a famous figure on campus, writing two of Yale's best-known football songs ("Bingo Eli Yale" and "Bull Dog"), and supplying the songs for several Yale Dramatic Association "smokers." He was a football cheerleader, president of the Glee Club, a Whiffenpoof and a member of Scroll and Key, among other campus organizations. Upon graduation, he was voted the most entertaining member of his class; he also received votes for being the most original and most eccentric.

SEE AMERICA FIRST, Porter's first Broadway show, opened in 1916. It ran for a dismal 15 performances. It may have been the failure of this show which prompted him to sail to France. He was attached to a relief organization in France during WWI, and seems to have spent a good deal of the war enjoying himself in Paris.

In 1919, he wrote several songs for "HITCHY KOO OF 1919," among them "An Old Fashioned Garden," his first popular hit. Also in 1919 he married the wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas, who was at one time considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Cole and Linda had a long and happy marriage which lasted until her death in 1954.

The Porters spent much of the 1920's living in Europe amid the "lost" generation of writers, artists and intellectuals. They were renowned for their lavish lifestyle and party giving. Many regarded Cole as little more than a rich dilettante who wrote amusing party songs about his friends. However, Porter took his music seriously, studying at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. In 1923, Porter wrote the score for "Within The Quota," an ambitious jazz ballet staged by the Ballets Suedios, with Gerald Murphy as the librettist.

As the 1920's came to an end, Porter finally began to achieve real success on the Broadway stage. PARIS (1928), which introduced "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love," was followed by FIFTY MILLION FRENCHMEN in 1929, whose score yielded up such treasures as "You Do Something To Me" and "You've Got That Thing." Porter's style became recognizable as a sophisticated blend of sensuality, wit and innuendo.

The 1930's were Porter's Golden decade. He had a string of hit shows, among them THE NEW YORKERS, GAY DIVORCE, ANYTHING GOES, JUBILEE, RED HOT AND BLUE and DUBARRY WAS A LADY. He also wrote the score to several wonderful Hollywood musicals such as Born to Dance and Rosalie.

In 1937 Porter suffered a crippling horseback riding accident. For the rest of his life, despite over 30 operations, Porter was to suffer almost constant pain. His remedy for this torture was to lose himself in his work, and the early 1940s saw a number of hit shows: PANAMA HATTIE, LET'S FACE IT and SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS. However, the mid 1940s seemed to find Porter faltering, and in a profession where you're only as good as your last show, he was considered washed up.

Then in 1948, he scored his greatest triumph with KISS ME, KATE, a show which portrayed the backstage bickering of a couple of ham actors as they produced Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. It was a brilliant success and ran for over 1,000 performances. It is still widely performed today, and along with ANYTHING GOES, it is one of Porter's most popular scores.

Porter had several more hits up his sleeve — CAN CAN, SILK STOCKINGS and HIGH SOCIETY were all produced in the 1950s. His last score was for a television spectacular of the Aladdin story in 1958.

The last years of Porter's life were sad ones. He finally had to have one of his legs amputated in 1958; after that he led a lonely and reclusive life. In 1960 Yale honored him with an Honorary Doctorate. He died in October of 1964 in Hollywood.

Porter has left us a legacy of wonderful songs. Among his best known are "You're The Top," "Night And Day," "Begin The Beguine," "Don't Fence Me In," "Love For Sale," "My Heart Belongs To Daddy," "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," "Easy To Love," "C'est Magnifique," "True Love," and "From This Moment On."

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Trivia about this writer

The birthday of Cole Porter, the songwriting legend whose musicals included THE GAY DIVORCEE, ANYTHING GOES, and KISS ME KATE. Porter's songs were compiled into the revue THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ENTIRE WORLD AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF COLE PORTER.
In 1965, Ben Bagley's revue of Cole Porter's music opened in New York at the Square East Theater, titled THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ENTIRE WORLD AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF COLE PORTER. Near the end of his life, Porter had offered Bagley his yet-unpublished songs for inclusion in this musical tribute.