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Cole Porter
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Cole Porter

Cole Porter (June 9, 1891 - October 15, 1964) was an American composer and songwriter. His best-known works include the musical comedies Kiss Me, Kate (1948) (based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew) and Anything Goes, as well as songs like "Night and Day," "I Get a Kick Out of You," and "I've Got You Under My Skin." He was noted for his sophisticated lyrics, clever rhymes, and complex forms. Irving Berlin used to refer to "Night and Day" as "that long, long song."

Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, into a family of privilege; his grandfather was a coal and timber speculator. His mother started Cole Porter in musical training at an early age, and Porter learned the violin at age 6, the piano at age 8, and he wrote his first operetta (with help from his mother) at age 10. Porter's grandfather wanted the boy to become a lawyer, and with that career in mind, Porter attended Worcester Academy, Yale University beginning in 1909, and spent a year at Harvard Law School in 1913. After realizing that he wanted to concentrate on music, he transferred to Harvard's School of Music. Porter's first Broadway production, in 1916, See America First (book by Lawrason Riggs), was a flop, closing after two weeks.

Porter enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and served in North Africa. He was transferred in 1917 to the French Officers School at Fontainebleau and was assigned to teach gunnery to American soldiers. He set up a luxury apartment in Paris and alternated between his officer duties and leading a playboy lifestyle. In 1918, in Paris, he met Linda Lee Thomas (1883-1954), a rich Louisville, Kentucky-born divorcée several years his senior; they were married in 1919. She was once dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world.

His musicals and individual songs soon gained him popularity; many were written specifically with Fred Astaire in mind. A riding accident in 1937 crushed his legs and left him in chronic pain and largely crippled, but he continued to compose. (According to a biography by William McBrien, a probably apocryphal story from Porter himself has it that he composed the lyrics to part of "At Long Last Love" while lying in pain waiting to be rescued from the accident.)

Porter was gay, a situation that was apparently no secret to his wife, though they did separate in the early 1930s when Porter's sexuality became more and more open during their time living in Hollywood. He had an affair in 1925 with Ballets Russes star Boris Kochno and reportedly had a long relationship with his constant companion, Howard Sturges, a Boston socialite, as well as architect Ed Tauch (for whom Porter wrote "Easy to Love"), choreographer Nelson Barclift (who inspired "Night and Day"), director John Wilson (who later married international society beauty Princess Nathalie Paley), and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of the childless Porter's copyrights. A review of a recent Porter biography recounts that in his later years, the composer kept "breaking appliances so he could lure cute repairmen into his lair."

Cole Porter is interred in the Mount Hope Cemetery, Peru, Indiana.

His life was made into Night and Day, a 1946 Michael Curtiz film starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith. It is also chronicled in De-Lovely, a 2004 Irwin Winkler film starring Kevin Kline as Porter and Ashley Judd as Linda.

Sources

McBrien, William (1998). Cole Porter: A Biography. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0679727922.