Wednesday, 8 June 2011

"You are the one"

The young Cole Porter (8 June 1891–15 October 1964) was almost hurled in the direction of a musical career by by his doting (and rather influential in small-town America) mother. She apparently financed his school orchestra in exchange for guarantee that he would get to play the violin solo, ensured his musical compositions were published and performed, and used her influence on the local media when they reviewed his performances. It is safe to say he may well have been a bit of a spoilt child...

Emerging from the finest schools, including Yale and (briefly) Harvard, Cole Porter had an impeccable education. And, like many other priveleged young gay men, Mr Porter kept up a proper front for his family while clandestinely indulging his burgeoning sex life. Perhaps the number of football fight songs he wrote in Yale and his post-college sexual preference for large strong men were not entirely coincidence.

During the First World War (in which he did not actually fight, despite his stories to the contrary) he lived in Paris, a city renowned for its free-and-easy attitude towards sex and sexuality even then. The parties he attended (and hosted) were apparently fabulous, with guests from the elite of European (and US) society including members of the Italian nobility, gay orgies, cross-dressing, music, champagne and recreational drugs. [Sounds fab!] There he met wealthy American socialite Linda Lee Thomas, who was to become his wife and muse.

Miss Thomas, eight years older than him and one of Mr Porter's financial as well as emotional supporters, was more than happy to overlook his sexuality in exchange for his erudite and entertaining company and a share in his glamorous life. In return he was more easily able to concentrate on making a successful musical career. Despite their obvious long-standing adoraion for each other (they stayed together, on and off till her death in 1954), their marriage was entirely sexless. According to the New York Times, however, "Marriage did not diminish Porter's taste for extravagant luxury. The Porter home on the rue Monsieur near Les Invalides was a palatial house with platinum wallpaper and chairs upholstered in zebra skin."

Cole Porter also carried on his constant pursuit of affairs with men (one of them ballet star Boris Kochno) for the rest of his life. He seemed to specialise in trysts with "rough trade" such as sailors and rent boys, often going cruising with his old friend the actor Monty Woolley. Allegedly one night, a young sailor they drove up to on the street asked outright, "Are you two c**ksuckers?" Wooley smiled and said, "Now that the preliminaries are over, why don't you get in and we can discuss the details?"

It was Hollywood, however, that really catered to Mr Porter's hedonistic tastes, and his pool parties and gay affairs were the stuff of legend.
"Porter became a center of the social whirl wherever he went, particularly among the homosexual elite. He was the only person who ever threatened director George Cukor's pre-eminence in Hollywood's gay circles. In George Cukor: A Double Life, biographer Patrick McGilligan writes that these competing world-class egos were called "the rival Queens of Hollywood," but concedes that "Porter's was perhaps the more privileged invitation."
Linda felt so left out of Cole's life that she packed her bags and left for Paris. She only returned when a horse riding accident shattered Cole's legs, and she supported him as he rebuilt his career.

And what a career!

Cole Porter's musicals include Anything Goes, Broadway Melody of 1940, Kiss Me Kate, High Society, Can-Can, Panama Hattie, and the tantalisingly-titled Gay Divorcee and Something For The Boys.

Among the hundreds of songs that he gave us as his legacy are: What is This Thing Called Love?, Let's Misbehave, Night and Day, Love for Sale, Let's Do It, I Get a Kick out of You, You're the Top, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, De-Lovely, You'd Be So Easy to Love, Do I Love You?, Well, Did You Evah!, In the Still of the Night, It's All Right with Me, At Long Last Love, I've Got You Under My Skin, Begin the Beguine, Too Darn Hot, Always True to You (in My Fashion), Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye, True Love and Just One of Those Things (among so many more).

An amazing man.

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