Cole Porter's Breakthrough

Program Information

Series: A Moment in Time
Duration: 00:05:42
Year Produced: 2009

The 1940s were not a good decade for Cole Porter.

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Lead: The 1940s were not a good decade for Cole Porter.

Intro: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Though he was one of the hottest properties on Broadway with a seemingly endless stream of successes in the 1930s and in his music and lyrics represented the epitome of sophistication and wit, during the war decade Porter went through a long period of personal and professional discouragement.

Much of his depression grew out of a serious riding accident in the summer of 1937. Porter and his wife Linda were separated at the time due to his excessive lifestyle. He was with friends at an estate on Long Island when a high-spirited horse tripped and fell first on one of his legs, reared up and fell again on the other of Porter's legs. Months of painful therapy followed and when he finally returned to work, despite a quick series of musical hits, his creative edge seemed to have been dulled. Further, during the war years his reputation was jolted by a series of flops.

He was disappointed with the limited success of the musical "Mexican Hayride" and the failure of "Seven Lively Arts" and the movie, "The Pirate." He was even more dissatisfied with the movie based on his life. "Night and Day" featured Cary Grant in an unlikely portrayal of Porter which was a box office success; but the story was a long series of fabrications, wrapped in Technicolor and gloss, with little to recommend it save a string of Porter's own songs. His association with Orson Welles in the 1946 musical "Around the World in 80 Days" lasted only 75 performances and did nothing to enhance his declining reputation.

When late in the decade the possibility arose of creating a musical based on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," he was not very enthusiastic. Yet, the play "Kiss Me Kate" turned out to be his greatest hit. With it Porter turned his back on depression and failure and once again began to produce musical hits. "Kiss Me Kate" was a play within a play, depicting the lives of a theater couple, Fred and Lilly, who though divorced were still romantically attached.

After a rocky start, the show opened at the new Century Theater in New York on December 30, 1948. It was a smash. The musical was the longest running of Cole Porter's career. Many of its songs became standards, such as "Wunderbar," "Another Op'nin' Another Show," and one of his most tender love songs, "So In Love." The show was typical of the sophistication of Porter's work and appropriately marked the end of his long creative depression.

Cole Porter's music was bright, intelligent, irreverent, sexy and fun, which can best be heard in "Winderbar" performed in our audio version, from the original cast recording of the climax of "Kiss Me Kate." It is sung by Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison.

At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.