Tuesday, December 19, 2017

COLE PORTER - Composer Extraordinaire

Most people know Cole Porter for 1948's Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "Kiss Me Kate." Based on William Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," this was neither Cole Porter's first or last work.

A very accomplished musician, Cole Porter was born to a wealthy pharmacist and his wife on June 9, 1891, in Peru, Indiana. Cole was the only surviving child of three. His siblings died in infancy. His mother doted on him, and she began his musical training at the early age of six with the violin. He began piano at eight, and with the help of his mother wrote his first song, "Song of the Birds," by age ten.

Cole Porter - Photo: Wikipedia
Even though his talent as a musician was evident at an early age, it was his father's wish for Cole to become a lawyer. Cole went on Yale and Harvard. Cole was never to become a lawyer, however, and at a dean's suggestion, he switched his major to arts and sciences.

Cole wrote his first hit song in 1916, entitled "Esmeralda." This was quickly followed with a taste of failure, however, when his first Broadway production, "See America First," based on a book by Larrason Riggs, ran for only two weeks before closing as a complete flop.

Cole then moved to Paris, France, where he lived on an allowance provided by his mother and grandmother. It was there he met and married Linda Lee Thomas, a wealthy Kentucky born divorcee. The marriage was rumored to be a business arrangement, as he was known throughout his career to have had many male lovers. Many of his hit songs were supposedly written for several of these men.
Although still writing songs, Porter sat out most of the 1920's. Reportedly, he helped with war efforts throughout Europe. He has even joined the French Foreign Legion, and his uniform can still be seen on display today.

Cole Porter reintroduced himself onto Broadway in 1928 with his musical, "Paris." The score included the hit song, "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love."

Continuing to work on Broadway, Porter introduced Ethel Merman in 1935 with "Jubilee," after which he included her in five more of his productions because he loved her brassy voice and wrote songs to showcase this trait. Cole then wrote several musical productions which included Fred Astaire's last stage show, "Gay Divorce," in 1932. Over these years he also worked with Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante.

In 1937, tragedy struck. Cole Porter's legs were crushed during a riding accident. While awaiting rescue, Porter wrote the song "At Long Last Love." Cole was hospitalized for two years and restricted to a wheelchair for five. Over the remainder of his life, this talented musician endured over thirty surgeries to his legs.
During the next twenty years, Cole Porter was nominated for four Oscars. In 1961, he finally won a Grammy for best soundtrack album from a motion picture for 1960's "Can-Can."

"Can-Can" was Cole Porter's last major production. He lived out the rest of his 73 years in relative seclusion, refusing even to attend events held in his honor. Cole Porter followed his wife in death. She died in 1954 from emphysema. He died on October 15, 1964, in Santa Monica, California. He was returned to Peru to be buried at Mount Hope Cemetery between his wife and his father. His mother preceded him in death from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1952. Upon his death, Cole Porter left his 350-acre estate, known as Buxton Hill, to William's College.

Remembered for his sophisticated, sometimes ribald lyrics, clever rhymes and complex forms, Porter was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. His estate continues to bring in revenue in excess of three million dollars per year, which is dispersed among several family members.

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