Thursday, November 5, 2009
Who's That Queer
Cole Porter remains one of America's all-time greatest composers and songwriters. His work is characterized by witty and sophisticated lyrics with complex and clever use of rhythm and rhyme.
The 1930s were the golden period for Porter as he enjoyed a string of hit songs, Broadway shows and, eventually, Hollywood musicals. Porter had a gift for self-promotion and attracting and writing for the brightest talents of the age and many songs and shows were written specifically with stars such as Fred Astaire, Ethel Merman and Fanny Brice in mind.
Porter was plainly and openly homosexual, which was not a concern for his almost a decade older wife, Linda Lee Thomas. They both got what they wanted from each other. Linda was no longer interested in sex and was the glamorous wife of a world famous songwriter, who would never physically mistreat her as her first husband is reputed to have done; Cole had a beautiful woman on his arm when the situation warranted it. In those days, it was not uncommon for wealthy gay men to marry wealthy socialtes. Cole and Linda did separate in the early 1930s when Porter's sexuality became more and open during their time living in Hollywood.
He had affairs with Ballet Russes star Boris Kochnon 1925, 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 and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of Porter`s royalties. When in Hollywood, Porter was also a regular at George Cukor's Sunday pool parties - men-only affairs populated by young Hollywood hopefuls and their admirers.
In 1937, Porter was thrown from a horse and his legs badly crushed, effectively crippling him. He endured more than 40 operations on his legs and the constant pain left him with terrible depression for which he received brutal experimental electric shock therapy, although he continued to write. Eventually, ulceration led to his right leg being amputated, and he spent the rest of his long life with an artificial limb.
If you ever see the Hollywood biopic of Porter's life Night & Day (1946) starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith as Cole and Linda, enjoy it for the music, but the story is so sanitized and romanticized as to be practically fiction.
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