Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 9 June 1891, Peru IN; d 15 October 1964, Santa Monica CA) Perhaps the greatest American songwriter of the century; of all the great ones from the Golden Age, he was almost the only one who wasn't Jewish, and apart from Irving Berlin the only one who wrote both music and lyrics: he was Rodgers and Hart in one. He came from a wealthy background; piano and violin lessons from an early age, studied law, music at Harvard; his grandfather (J.O. Cole, source of the money) tried to stop him being a composer and did not accept it even when he was obviously a success. He served in the French Army as an American citizen in WWI, married a wealthy woman '19 and spent the '20s in Paris. His first big hit was 'I'm In Love Again' '24 (not a hit until '29); shows began with Paris '28 (including 'Let's Do It'), Fifty Million Frenchmen '29 ('You Do Something To Me'). Songs were suggested by everyday events ('It's De-Lovely' by a sunrise in Rio), or written for singers of limited range ('Miss Otis Regrets' for his friend, comic actor Monty Woolley; 'Night And Day' for Fred Astaire); 'Don't Fence Me In', written as a send-up, became the best Hollywood cowboy ballad of all, because he could not write bad lyrics. He moved back to NYC early '30s, but never got Paris out of his blood. Both legs were shattered '37 when a horse fell on him; the immensely sophisticated world traveller was semi-invalid for the rest of his life, suffering countless operations to save the legs.

His lyrics made such perfect use of catchphrases that it now seems he must have invented them, but the catchphrases and the repetition work because they fit the tunes so perfectly. Porter's music personified the escapism of the '30s; as Mark Steyn wrote, 'It's a world where you move from silk pajamas to evening dress, with nothing so vulgar as a business suit to ruin the day.' He seemed to write for his downtown smart set, but as Jule Styne put it, 'His songs could make a shopgirl feel that she'd been to El Morocco or 21.'

Some of the shows/songs: Wake Up And Dream '29 (including 'What Is This Thing Called Love?'), The New Yorkers '30 ('Love For Sale'), The Gay Divorce '32 ('Night And Day'; filmed as The Gay Divorcée '34), Anything Goes '34 ('Anything Goes', 'I Get A Kick Out Of You', 'All Through The Night', 'You're The Top': Porter's record of the last, accompanying himself on the piano, was a hit); Jubilee '35 ('Just One Of Those Things', 'Begin The Beguine'), Born To Dance '36 ('Easy To Love', 'I Get A Kick Out Of You'), Rosalie '37 ('In The Still Of The Night'), Leave It To Me '38 ('Get Out Of Town'; 'My Heart Belongs To Daddy' was introduced by Mary Martin), Mexican Hayride '44 ('Count Your Blessings'), Seven Lively Arts '44 ('Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye'), Kiss Me Kate '48 ('So In Love', 'I'm Always True To You In My Fashion', 'Too Darn Hot'; show filmed '53), Out Of This World '50 ('From This Moment On'), Can-Can '53 ('C'est Magnifique', 'I Love Paris', 'It's All Right With Me'; film '60), Silk Stockings '55 (musical version of Garbo film Ninotchka '39 directed by Ernst Lubitsch; itself filmed '57). Other film projects included Broadway Melody Of 1940 ('I Concentrate On You'; also reintroduced 'Begin The Beguine' after Artie Shaw's hit record), Something To Shout About '43 ('You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To'), High Society '56: a glittering cast included Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly; lesser songs the silly 'Now You Has Jazz', syrupy 'True Love'; the duet on the latter by Crosby and Kelly gave Porter a no. 3 pop hit '56; 'Well, Did You Evah!' was revived from '39 show Du Barry Was A Lady, which also included 'Do I Love You?' and was filmed '43. Film Les Girls disappointed '57.

Night And Day '46 was a biopic with Cary Grant which was so bad that Porter allegedly roared with laughter. His wife died '54, his right leg was amputated '58, he became reclusive and died after a kidney stone operation, but the songs, as they say, will live for ever. There are many biographies; The Unpublished Cole Porter, The Complete Lyrics Of Cole Porter and Cole edited by Robert Kimball.