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Cole Porter :a biographyby William Mcbrien
Synopses & Reviews
The most richly told biography we have had of one of the most important and beguiling composer/lyricists of the century--the incomparable Cole Porter, whose songs were the essence of wit and sophistication and whose life was marked by tragedy, courage, sorrow, and secrecy.
McBrien reveals the private Porter: his privileged Indiana youth (he composed his first song at ten). He went East to boarding school and to Yale, where he wrote the football anthems "Hail to Yale" and "Bull Dog," and show after show in which many of his classmates appeared--among them, Archibald MacLeish, Gerald Murphy, Dean Acheson, and Averell Harriman. Then a brief, unhappy stint at Harvard Law School. Off to Paris at twenty-six, and in crisis joining the French Foreign Legion during the First World War. Two years later, Cole Porter had his first Broadway hit.
William McBrien's biography, the result of ten years of work and bursting with stories and scenes of Porter's life, takes us beyond the patina of Porter's very public career, beyond the high and low aristocratic worlds of Venice (Porter with Elsa Maxwell in 1923 together put Venice back on the map as the place to be), beyond the opulent parties and costume balls on two continents he not only attended but threw himself--and made into an art form. McBrien takes us into Porter's seemingly conventional marriage to reveal his complicated emotional life--the lost, privileged man who had a wild, irrepressible talent to amuse but at first find couldn't find his voice; the man who married "the most beautiful woman in the world," the very social, very southern Linda Lee Thomas, but who preferred his own sex. He had long relationships as well as frequent dalliances with many men but for thirty-five years maintained a loving marriage to the woman he truly adored.
We see the supremely gifted Porter who created twenty musicals on Broadway (Anything Goes, DuBarry Was a Lady, Gay Divorce, Born to Dance), writing for such stars as Ethel Merman, Fred Astaire, Mary Martin, Bert Lahr, and Bea Lilly; and who gave Hollywood Fifty Million Frenchmen, The Gay Divorcee, Rosalie, Broadway Melody of 1940, Night and Day, High Society, Silk Stockings, Can-Can, and Kiss Me, Kate.
Porter was "the top" and lived at the top, but his life was catastrophically transformed after a near-fatal horseback-riding accident. The thirty-one operations during the next eighteen years brought on increasing pain, and the growing paralysis that darkened his life was never hinted at publicly nor in his work.
Interweaving the life and the music, McBrien shows us a man whose genius as a composer flowered in deceptively simple melodies that were thought to be completely modern but today are considered ingenious, complicated, and steeped in the nineteenth-century tradition of lieder; a composer whose craft concealed complicated solutions to musical problems while it enchanted his audiences. And we come to understand how Porter's doubts and desires, longings and infatuations, insinuated their way into the heart of his incomparable words and music.
About the Author
William McBrien is a professor of English at Hofstra University. He has written three other books, including Stevie: A Biography of Stevie Smith. He lives in Forest Hills, New York.
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