biography of Mr Cole Porter
The composer Mr Cole Porter was a man regarded by many as the epitome of song writing genius whose music embraced not only the technical splendour within his melodies but also the emotion, the wit, the irony, and the passion contained in his artful lyrics. A composer whose contribution to music equals the likes of Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky.
The course of popular music was still being formed when Cole Porter was born. The music’s birth in New Orleans at the turn of the century was spawning a new era in American history.
Embraced by the musicians of the funeral marching bands forever associated with this former French stronghold. Their music was infused with the blues, ragtime and gospel which gave way to the new sound of Jazz. Improvised melodic solos on top of a structured theme gave us a new wilder and exciting small ensemble sound, which became popular throughout the northern cities of Chicago, New York, & Kansas.
of Manhattan at the beginning of the twentieth century was the main immigration
port for the whole of the United States. Those immigrants were numbering
50,000 people per month. The cities of the Mid west, were where the heavy
industry hungry for the manual labour grew at astonishing rates. The war
in Europe gave rise to even more demand from both American Industry and
Mid west agricultural goods that were despatched at alarming rates across
the Atlantic. This economic boom during the war years was "America
the superpower's" initial groundbreaking leap towards world domination.
ability was however something that came through them and them alone. As
musicians and performers they shone. Their creativity didn't in any way
compensate for the imbalance colour segregation imposed upon them, and
they had to endure insufferable conditions throughout their lives.
He was first
sent away at the age of fourteen to Worchester college an upper-class
school for the American elite where he was taught the protocol of being
one of the landed gentry.
Cole Porter was somewhat of a loner and rarely spoke of his family who provided him with the means for a sound education but never visited him at Worchester college and for two summers he was packed off to Maine to a summer school without ever returning to Indiana.
In 1909 Cole Porter was accepted as a student at the grand American school of Yale. He studied many subjects and was already a celebrated musician who became a somewhat eccentric member of the college. On leaving Yale, Porter enrolled at Harvard to study law and whilst there was asked by his tutor Professor Warren to recall a particular case in which Porter stumbled with. The Professor angry at Porters inability to answer leaned over the desk and said “Why don’t you take up the fiddle”, at which point Porter got up, walked out, and never went back to Harvard law School.
stage musical called "See America First" opened in New York
1915. It was a resounding failure and closed after only 15 performances.
Porter was horrified and thought his musical career was over there and
Mystery surrounds his wartime activities and despite rumours of him serving in the foreign legion he was in fact involved in an ambulance service bringing the wounded from the battlefield to Paris. After the war most ex servicemen left France but Porter hung around and became the doyenne of the social circuit in Paris. He was a snappy sophisticate and the smart set was where he was to be found.
time he met a certain Linda Lee Thomas who was not only a very wealthy
socialite but a very beautiful woman indeed who he married in 1919. In
the same year he returned to America seeking an increase in his allowance
from his grandfather O J who did not like it one bit that Porter wanted
to be a musician. On his way across the Atlantic during the voyage he
chanced upon meeting with the comedian and theatrical producer Raymond
Hitchcock, who heard Porter play some of his compositions on the lounge
Musically the twenties were an uncertain time for Porter. He was unconfident, nervous and had not found his musical direction, which for a time sent him down the classical route. Irving Berlin once told him his problem was that he was attempting to write songs like other composers instead of in his own style. By 1928 his songs were largely unsuccessful and he left the Paris music school somewhat frustrated.
insist however that the French influences in his music, the elegance within
his compositions exists because of his schooling there. This elegance
is quite obviously apparent and is wholly unique when comparing him to
the other great American song smiths.
The Porters had a house in Paris until 1937 and it was one of the city’s finest art deco mansions with a pristine study created by his wife for him to work. All that the room contained was a white grand piano, a white working table, white walls and a hundred sharpened white pencils.
The bulk of the twenties was spent on a constant high-class party circuit throughout the jet set European resorts. One place he partied constantly was Venice, and Linda was largely responsible for creating a whole new social scene on the Lido, one of Venice’s many islands. It was definitely the place to be seen, where she imported a Negro Jazz Band & Bricktop a famous American dancer. She brought with her the Charleston and taught this dance to the Porters guests who included such heady names as the Vanderbilt's, the Rothschild's, & The Duke of Marlborough.
Despite his obviously wealthy lifestyle he remained miserable and depressive about his music and how it was never “with it”. He dealt with his lack of success by telling people that he was a playboy who wrote music and not a serious composer.
During his occasional trips to New York he met and became friends with Irving Berlin who was asked by his wife's brother, the Broadway producer Ray Goetz to recommend someone to compose some new songs for his forthcoming production. Berlin sent him to Cole Porter who wrote the numbers for a show entitled Paris. It opened in 1928 and was a sensational hit. His first real Broadway success.
One of the songs from the show was let's do it.
Let's Do It.
lyrics are pure genius and a Let's do it is a fine example of how clever
his inferences were and how delightfully suggestive his songs could be.
Again it was his French tuition which taught him the art of mere suggestion
which was always a more exciting & interesting way of composing.
show "Paris" was followed by a show entitled "wake up and
dream" which had the song "what is this thing called love"
which was voted in 1945 as being one of the top 40 American songs ever.
observations were however always apparent and he would write songs which
were constantly challenged by the censors. So often his lyrical content
in respect of social comments of the day had to be changed. For example,
not referring to the poor rich people in a song the year after the Wall
Street crash in 1929. One song that they would not play on the radio was
a song sang by a prostitute character from the musical "New Yorker".
A story about gangland mobsters which was popular if only for a momentary
distraction from the depression most north Americans were somehow caught
up in. In the musical a white prostitute sang the song which ran into
trouble with the censors who were appeased when the song was then sang
for the remaining performances of the show by a coloured girl.
Quite possibly the finest song he ever composed is Night and Day his only song from the film gay divorcee (another name change imposed by the censors). It's compositional structure is sublime, suggestive, it’s tension and power and passionate comment leaves the listener in no doubt that, this is a beautiful, graceful and enchanting song crafted to perfection. Today it still is, one of the top ten money earners ever for a published piece of music. This song was considered by the famous musicologist Dr Simay as one of the finest pieces ever composed whose music & lyrics were wedded together as one.
his life wherever he went, Porter took with him a trunk which was full
of partially written songs which he would reach into whenever he needed
one for a particular project. Something of a song storeroom, you could
his life I have discovered how and why such concentrated passion and suppressed
emotion is so often apparent in Cole Porter’s delightful erudite
music, which must have been difficult for any gay person having to put
on a front and having a wife so as to conform.
You’re the top captured the public’s imagination and at the height of its popularity Porter was receiving 300 separate submissions of verse every month, such was the attraction of the song. Some were indeed suggestive, most were contemporaneous prologues describing in their verse many current affairs of the day. One particular verse written by Irving Berlin read;
A contemporaneous version of a verse today would maybe be;
His continental connections, sailing around the world in luxury, being a Broadway composer, living at No 16 Rue Monsieur, Paris, a house with Platinum wallpaper or living it up in Venice or Switzerland. He was where everyone else to wanted to be but then tragedy took it‘s terrible turn.
1937 during a weekend on Long Island at his friends house the duke of
Verdura, Cole Porter was involved in a Horse riding accident. The accident
crushed both his legs and only intervention from his wife delayed the
surgeon from performing the amputation.
The ability to walk was never really restored to Porter and the damage was so bad that he was in constant pain. He now needed to have someone to look after him virtually 24 hours a day which allowed him to recruit one of his gay lovers. Ray Kelly was that assistant.
It was reported
at the time of his accident that his wife Linda was contemplating leaving
her husband because of his camp behaviour when they lived in Hollywood.
However she did not go through with the divorce as they both loved each
other despite his obvious sexuality and knowing that the separation on
top of the catastrophic accident would have finished him off.
The thirties were an extraordinary period for Cole Porter. They were his golden years which produced some of his best pieces of work and as the decade drew to a close the war in Europe was everyone’s preoccupation.
Porter had hits with another five shows up to 1944.
The war years saw Porter produce shows which focused heavily on the men of the armed forces and in 1942 one musical entitled "Something to keep me warm" included a song which was written (unofficially of course) for one of his lovers Nelson Barcliff. This song was You'd be so nice to come home to which was the song which knocked Irving Berlins “White Christmas" off the No 1 spot.
Cole Porter wrote so many songs we all know either consciously or not. His melodies are still in constant use and are forever played and performed whether it be on an advert, by a jazz band, on the radio or as a piece of music in a contemporary film.
some of the finest pieces of music every written, their lyric so beautifully
crafted are still relevant to our society in the twenty first century.
In short his lyrics are poignant and articulate, literary, classics.
I get a kick out of you A jazz standard still endlessly performed
I’ve got you under my skin. Another song whose words still capture our imagination.
Begin the Beguine A haunting latin song famously over produced by Julio Inglaisias
Every time we say goodbye A song in the UK hit parade as recently as the 1990's
Is to name but a few.
Cole Porter did in fact live a life shrouded behind his public facade of marriage. His real life stories seem to only exist as spurious snippets gleaned from sources of theatrical and high society gossip. Being gay in the 20's & 30's was something only tolerated within the theatrical world and only ever emerged through rumour? These countless rumours do suggest a carry on fuelled by drugs and drink of outrageous orgies within the highest societies of the elite & the aristocracy of Europe and America.
It is a conclusion of mine that Porters lyrics could only have come from someone who's preferred life had to be hidden away, the masquerade's release was in those double entendres, those salacious, often dark and daring lyrics weighted entirely by suggestion. Again the qualifying reason some of his lyrics despite being overtly suggestive were given the green light, was because they were delivered to us through the pen of such an All-American sophisticate.
His sexual innuendo did so often fool the establishment.
In 1943 Irving Berlin suggested to Jack Warner of Warner Brothers film studios that a biographical film be made about Cole Porter believing his horse riding accident and his own struggle with his pain would be an inspiration to the injured servicemen returning from the war. Porter only agreed to the film after personally approving the script. Carry Grant was contracted to play Cole Porter in the movie and the 6' 2" frame of Grant in contrast to the actual 5' 6" of Cole Porter wasn't the only anomaly to come out of the film. The result was dismal and it's only saving grace was that it existed as a revue of some of his best songs.
The 1950's saw the death of the two most important women in his life his mother Kate and two years later in 1954 his wife Linda. Porter dealt with this by not displaying any emotion as was always the case and immersing himself in his work. He moved out of his Waldorf towers apartment into another Waldorf towers apartment which was decorated while Cole embarked on a tour of Europe and a cruise of the Mediterranean. Before his trip he finished the score for Silk Stockings a musical hit for Porter and upon his return his newly decorated home was featured in Vogue magazine. It's style for many years fashioned the upper set throughout America and Europe such was the splendour and tasteful design of it's interior. What a great address to have. 33A The Waldorf Astoria hotel, Waldorf Towers, Park Ave, NY City
the commissioning of the musical High Society which was released the following
year and was a remarkable success. The film had a star studded cast which
included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Louis Armstrong and
Celeste Holm. True Love was a massive hit which astonished Porter who
knew for a long time writing hit songs was a completely unpredictable
in part the life of Mr Cole Porter whose music I feel sure will never
Biography of Rodgers & Hart
The world of popular music as we know it today gave rise initially through the stage musical at the beginning of the twentieth century before becoming an art form in it’s own right largely through the invention of two brand new electrical gadgets. The wireless or radio and the phonograph or gramophone.
Mr Marconi invented the wireless or radio, and with other various scientists helped developed the medium whose scientific name was coined using the term “electromagnetic radiation“. Other terms for this medium were “electric waves“, “ether waves“, “spark telegraphy” and “space telegraphy“.
Despite it’s early invention and because of the first world war the broadcast of music or indeed anything else other than military broadcasts were banned until 1919 and the first major musical broadcast was not made until 15th June 1920 when Nellie Melba performed one of her Covent Garden concerts from the Marconi station at Chelmsford.
Following this first broadcast there then became something of a “broadcasting boom” which saw the rise in the number of radio stations top the 500 mark by the end of 1922, which because of the chaos this caused resulted in new regulations being imposed and this number fell to 67 by the following March.
Radio was the talk of the town and even became an integral part of a composed song with such titles as “I wish there was a wireless to heaven” & “A bungalow, a radio & you” being a couple of songs written about this new listening medium. I suppose a contemporaneous title in our new digital era would be “Log on to my love my virtual baby !”
The music of the twentieth century will probably always be the period in music which produced the catalogue of diversity in genres and styles which we all can indulge in and enjoy today.
Following the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s it was initially marketed for recording speeches made by businessmen, lawyers and court reporters. It’s use as a medium for supplying musical entertainment occurred almost as a second thought. The early wax cylinders were changed following the invention of a flat disk by Emile Berliner who went on to become the founder of the Victor talking machine.
The three main players in the record industry at the time in America were Edison, Victor & Columbia, whilst HMV were the dominant force in Europe. The mascot for HMV many will remember was and “Nipper the Dog” the curious Jack Russell captured looking down into the horn which still adorns the company logo today.
Record sales at the turn of the century were about 3 million discs per year in the US alone.
This new invention though did have a very tricky ride during the first thirty years, partly because of the poor quality of the recordings and the sheer number of manufacturers of records and record players, which reached over 150 by about 1920.
Some of the downturn of sales at the end of the 1920’s was stemmed following the introduction of electrical recording, which began using the new technologies the microphone and the amplifier.
The fortunes of record sales began to repair during the 1930’s partly because of the recovering economy, improved recording quality and the growing number of Juke boxes introduced into bars, cafes and public places.
Both the radio and the gramophone were very important in the making of the popular song, which was where Rodgers & Hart came into the equation. They became masters of the three-minute popular song. The reason for the three-minute song is because that was all a 78-rpm record could fit onto one side of a disk.
these two great song smiths were creating music around the time the world
was enjoying music from other composers that the Dizzy Club feature heavily
in their sets including Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin,
Many composers collaborated with more than one composer or indeed on their own but it is doubtful that such a symbiotic relationship such as theirs has ever been repeated. The music they wrote was so intertwined, its magical beauty is there for all to see.
Richard Rodgers was born on the 18th June 1902. He was an exceptional man who would have written beautiful music in any century. He was also an abrasive man who was not universally popular. Stephen Sondheim was once quoted as saying of Rodgers that he was a man of infinite ability and limited soul.
Larry Hart on the other hand was born 2nd May 1895 so was six years older than his future partner was. He was one of two offspring born, as was Rodgers in Manhattan all be it to a completely different family from the professional family of Doctor’s.
Hart’s father Max was a bit of a blagger and something of a vulgar loud-mouthed man who was quite often misinterpreted by people from within the arts.
was unusual in the fact that he was very small in stature but had a normal
sized head which only succeeded in making his whole form rather grotesque,
something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Something, which
made him, bury himself in the dreaded drink.
Both Rodgers & Hart were born New Yorkers albeit to completely different families. Richard Rodgers was born in 1902 and came from a family of professionals, his father being a doctor. He was a tall exacting figure who was a natural pianist with a perfect ear for pitch.
Lorenz Hart was born a midget and felt an ugly unattractive man tortured by his deep homosexuality.
is not just a matter of composing good tunes but also of finding words
to go with them. A great singer is distinguished not only by their musicality
their instinct for harmony but for projecting what a song is supposed
to be about.
is important because lyric writers tend to influence the composer and
vice versa. Kert Weil for instance wrote completely different songs in
Berlin with Bertholt Brecht than the songs he wrote in America with other
Rodgers was 16 and Larry Hart was 23 when they met. They soon discovered they both had a fierce admiration of Jerome Kern songs.
through a young lothario’s club called the Akron club. This club
was for the young precocious New Yorker twenty something’s. In order
to raise funds for the club it was decided to do a show and after recruiting
Lorenz Hart to the team to write the shows lyrics one of the team mentioned
he had a kid brother who could compose lyrics. This certain person was
They met in 1919 and working together they began the long road to recognition which evaded them until 1925. The wait was becoming something of a concern for Rodgers & his father began to reconsider the career path that his son had chosen when a group of actors who worked for the theatre guild as understudies and bit part actors got together to put on a show in a beautiful theatre called the Garrick.
The play was scheduled to run for just one week at the very beginning of the theatre season. Because of the tiny budget the play had the show needed a composer and lyricist who were desperate for the opportunity and I suppose being six years in the wilderness is desperate enough. They were hired and the revue entitled “The Garrick Gaieties” opened on May 17th 1925.
New Yorkers stormed the theatre and the one week show on Broadway lasted for over 200 performances. Many of the actor’s writers and producers from the show went on to stardom not just Rodgers and Hart but their reason for their success was in the form of the song “Manhattan”.
Following on from their first hit show the ideas flowed at a great speed and Richard Rodgers turned from a shy diffident kid into a thoughtful composer soon in demand on Broadway. Larry Hart on the other hand was a bit of a renegade in spite of being devoted to the art of lyric writing and often had to be trapped into meaningful labour and brow beaten in to producing the required lyric which upon completion he was always ecstatic about.
Rodgers main problem was always trying to find Hart as he was always somewhere he should be yet always, always was his work was intelligent and every song went further than the last with his words. He once wrote a line in a song “IT’S FULL OF CRAP”, which Rodgers told him he couldn’t use it to which his reply was “why not everybody knows the word”
Larry’s lyrics often contained his sardonic views with regard to romance and his feelings about being unloved which mirrored his own personal feelings about his life. They also spiced up those songs and it is this as much as anything which sets their songs apart from the masses.
By the time of their show “A Connecticut Yankee” in 1927 Hart was acknowledged as an accomplished lyricist whose only serious competitor was Ira Gershwin.
to 1930 they produced 14 shows for both New York and London as well as
many individual songs for other productions. During this period of the
twenty’s Rodgers and Hart arguably produced some of their finest
songs. The interpolation of the two art forms of composing music and the
poetry of lyric writing seems to be at it’s zenith, the intertwining
of the two halves is perfect, in total harmony.
Hart was indeed a Bard in his own right. His ability to ply us with such meticulous lines makes him King of the wordsmith who at the drop of a hat could create sayings & one liners that have stayed with us and the idiosyncrasies of the English language. Lines such as you cooked my Goose, Sweet comic valentine; Bewitched bothered and bewildered to name just a snippet of his splendid hook lines.
The Broadway shows they were producing were a kind of new show in as much as they were very different from shows previously staged by the likes of Jerome Kern and P. G. Woodhouse in that they offered a more comedy type event.
AS the depression of the 1930’s began to bite it signalled the end of what was termed the jazz era and Rodgers and Hart went off to Hollywood to begin a largely unsuccessful time in tinsel town. They also had done a show in London, which was a surprise hit, which was called Evergreen. A hit from the show was a song, which was originally in the show Simple Simon that was jettisoned by Ziegfeld. That song was Dancing on the ceiling
overhead on the ceiling in my bed
The short foray into Hollywood was supplanted with another trip in 1932 to work with Maurice Chavlier and Jeanette McDonald on a Hollywood film “Love Me Tonight” at paramount studios. A song which became a huge hit for Peggy Lee in the fifties from this film was “Lover” which was thoroughly disliked by Richard Rodgers as much improvisation was played which moved it away from it’s original, something he disliked intensely. This indeed was something most composers disliked as they moved the song away from the composer’s initial form.
new wife and baby, Rodgers rented a house in Beverley Hills and Larry
moved in with them. He had a friend in Rodgers wife Dorothy, he adored
her and she him, but she was still perplexed by his odd acquaintances
and the odd hours he kept. The motion picture world was full of unusual
characters who Larry had an uncanny knack of meeting up with almost all
of them. Despite writing further songs for many other movies including
the title song of a movie Rodgers and Harts foray into Hollywood even
with the backing of the film giants Metro Goldwin Meyer they returned
back to their hometown New York. Before they left though they had a meeting
with Jack Robbins who wanted to changed the title of a song in the film
“The Prayer” from “The bad in every man” to a
title the public could relate to “Something us common people will
understand, you know, a love song with June and moon and spoon”.
“How about Blue Moon” asked Larry as a gag, then nearly gagged
when Robbins said “terrific!”
Upon their return to New York they were shocked to discover that despite being away for only three years the name Rodgers and Hart had been largely forgotten. Being back home though did bring a surprise step in Larry step when he met for the first time in his life a singer who was performing at the Metropolitan Opera House a girl called Nannette Guilford. Although he adored her his adoration was done unfortunately for him at a distance and once again true love evaded him.
In 1035 they
embarked on a show which was conceived by Billy Rose entitled “Jumbo.”
The show featured one Jimmy Durante who was in the one sketch of the show that proved to be the most fantastic stage joke of the decade when Durante tried furtively to sneak the Elephant past a Sheriff who was there to serve a writ of attachment. The Sheriff asked Durante “where are you going with that Elephant” Durante looking around replied “What Elephant.”
The Elephant joke as it became known outlived the show and so did three memorable songs “Little Girl Blue”, “The most beautiful girl in the world” and “My Romance”
was a thing of the past, even Larry wrote “hate California it’s
cold and it’s damp.” On Broadway a curtain would rise on a
Rodgers & Hart show every evening for two straight years ahead. They
had a right to believe Manhattan had been re-conquered. They were headed
again for the greatness Dick was so eager to reach.
But while Larry still had his gift for turning them out was becoming more and more difficult to make him settle down. In the beginning he had been hard to find. Now he was getting impossible.
Rumours began to spread through Broadway that there was discord between the two which even reached the New York Times. This indeed necessitated a denial but the unfounded rumours would soon be back because of Larry’s frequent sejourns into the oblivion provided by the drinking that he was doing.
with other productions namely On your toes and Babes in Arms, the latter
being the show in which one of Rodgers and Hart’s most famous songs
was written in just one day.
That song is of course The Lady is a Tramp.
Other fantastic songs from this show included the perfect love ballad My Funny Valentine and the funny sad I wish I were in love again
Sadly we are unable to perform all of these songs because we haven’t enough time to include them as well as listening to us banging on for what must seem like ages by now but as you must have realised we love the sound of our own voices.
The antics of Dick and Larry during this darling period on Broadway often heard them having loud discussions which were always marked with fun and affection. Larry would complain “Do you want to drown out my Lyrics” by which Dick would reply “Do you expect the audience to go out whistling the lyrics”
this was another golden period for the two it was a time of great mental
torture for Larry because of his homosexuality which had to remain in
the dark if for nothing else other than preventing his mother from ever
Again Larry had a brush with romance in the form of a beautiful actress called Vivian Segal who was someone who reminded him of another beacon of light in his life Richard Rodger’s wife Dorothy. Her appearance in the musical comedy I married an Angel elevated her again to star status on Broadway. Larry found in Vivienne Segal the ideal performer; no one ever came to eclipse her. Many men have been thought to be in love with a women for less.
Like a Greek tragedy Rodgers and Hart moved to it’s obligatory denouement and the start of this was the writing of the story entitled Pal Joey. The story was adapted from short stories which appeared in the New Yorker written by John O’Hara. The main character was Joey Evans who was something of a disreputable character, something which Larry really related to and quite liked. He could relate to this anti hero who had a nightclub background.
The musical was not based on any single story but based on scenes and characters from a number of stories. As the plot developed it turned out to be about Joey’s affair with a wealthy woman what she does to help him get ahead and her ultimate disillusionment with him. Next to Joey the show’s most important role Vera was that of the benefactress. This part was played by Larry’s very close lady friend Vivienne Segal. Since Vivienne had been so right as the wordly cynic in “I married an Angel” she seemed like a natural for the part and indeed was.
Because of the nightclub setting of most of the musicals action Rodgers and Hart were able to have fun writing numbers burlesquing typically tatty floor shows. They had all the chorus girls parading around with little on except headdresses representing flowers and colours.
The musical’s hero Joey was indeed a conniver and braggart who would do anything and sleep with anyone to get ahead and this idea of doing a musical without a conventional clean cut juvenille in the romantic lead was an absolute first on Broadway which opened up enormous possibilties for a more realistic view on life than theatre goers were accustomed to. This resulted in Rodgers attending a small play by William Sarovan entitled The Time of your life. In a small role in that play was a rather engaging man who caught Dick’s eye. He returned to New York and announced to Larry Hart and George Abbot the producer that they had their Joey. Last night’s production of The time of your life was aglow with life whenever a certain actor was on the stage, his dancing was superb and his presence huge. That actor was Gene Kelly.
Pal Joey was a great success and has since been turned over to the silver screen where the film starred that bobby sox singer Mr Frank Sinatra. One song from the show that has since become a Rodgers & Hart classic is Be Witched bothered and Bewildered.
went on to say that “Pal Joey” was the most satisfying and
mature work that he was ever associated with during all the years he worked
with Lorenz Hart.