Cole Porter, 1891-1964: He Wrote Songs for Broadway Musicals and Movies That Are Still Popular Today

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This is Faith Lapidus. And this is Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we bring you the second part of our program about American songwriter Cole Porter.  Porter wrote his songs from the nineteen twenties to the nineteen fifties.  They continue to be popular today.

(MUSIC: "Anything Goes")

That was a recording of "Anything Goes", one of Cole Porter's most famous songs.  Caroline O'Connor sings it in the movie about Cole Porter called "De-Lovely."  Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd star in this movie about Porter's life, released in two thousand four.  The title of the movie is from one of Porter's popular songs, "It's De-Lovely."  In the song, Porter plays with words that start with the letter "d."  Robbie Williams sings the song.

As we said in our program last week, Cole Porter went to live in France in nineteen sixteen before he became famous.  He was a wealthy young man who was smart and funny and knew how to enjoy life.  He and his wife, Linda, became well known for their costly and exciting parties.

Yet Cole Porter never let other pleasures interfere with what he loved most – writing songs.  He worked hard on his songs.  Both the words and music had to be perfect.

Porter gained fame as a musical theater writer by the early nineteen thirties.  His musical plays were produced in Broadway theaters in New York City.  He had a new musical every year or so during the years of America's great economic depression.  His words and music gave people a few hours of pleasurable escape during difficult times.

Some critics still consider one of Porter's early musical plays, "Anything Goes," to be his best.  "Anything Goes" opened on Broadway in nineteen thirty-four.  It starred one of Porter's favorite singers, Ethel Merman.  She sang a song that became famous immediately.  It is called "I Get a Kick Out of You."  That expression means I enjoy being with you.

For years, Porter was Broadway's "King Cole."  His musical plays were very successful.  Later, he went to Los Angeles, California and wrote music for Hollywood movies.  They were very popular, too.

Cole and Linda Porter traveled all over the world.  They were happily married most of the time.  But Cole Porter was homosexual.  He had sex with men.  Homosexuality was both accepted and forbidden in high society at that time.  Love affairs between men were not exactly secret.  Yet they could never be admitted publicly.

All his life, Cole Porter wrote songs about love, desire and passion.  He included the names of foreign countries, famous people and comments on current events.  And he filled his songs with little jokes and hidden meanings.

Porter's words stretched the limits of what was socially acceptable.  They spoke directly and indirectly about sex.  They admitted that love is not always pure.  It is often selfish.  And it rarely lasts forever.  Porter was not even sure what love really is.  He wonders about it in this song, "What Is This Thing Called Love?"  It is sung by Lemar.

Cole Porter also wrote some of the most beautiful love songs ever, full of true, deep feeling.  Critics consider "Every Time We Say Goodbye" to be one of his finest songs.  Natalie Cole sings the song.

In nineteen thirty-seven, Cole Porter was injured while riding a horse.  The horse slid on a muddy hill and fell on top of him.  His legs were crushed.  Cole Porter spent the rest of his life, twenty-seven years, disabled and in severe pain.  Yet he continued writing wonderful songs, musical plays and movies.

In nineteen forty-eight, he wrote what some consider his greatest work. It was a musical play called "Kiss Me, Kate."  It was based on William Shakespeare's play, "The Taming of the Shrew."  But it takes place in modern times, among a group of actors.  The play was produced again on Broadway in nineteen ninety-nine.

One of the most famous songs in the musical is called "Too Darn Hot."  It is a funny song about how hard it is to be interested in love in really hot weather.  Stanley Wayne Mathis sings it in "Kiss Me, Kate."

(MUSIC: "Too Darn Hot")

Cole Porter had another hit show in nineteen fifty-three, called "Cancan."  It was his final play.  That same year, Porter's wife, Linda, died.  Porter was very sad, and increasingly disabled by his old injury.  He died at the age of seventy-three in nineteen sixty-four.

In nineteen ninety-one, America celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of Cole Porter's birth.  Special concerts celebrated his music.  New recordings were issued.  Jazz singers and symphony orchestras recorded his songs.

So did several rock-and-roll artists. They made a recording and special music video to honor him.  All the money earned from the recording and video was given to research on AIDS, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  AIDS is a disease that was first discovered among homosexual men.

Today, Cole Porter's songs are still valued for their beauty, humor and intelligence.  And for their unexpected jokes and word play.  They shine like jewels, one critic wrote.  They are shot through with love that sometimes feels like pain.

There seems little doubt that Cole Porter's songs will continue to be sung.  They will make us laugh.  They will make us cry.  And they will touch the deepest truths of our emotions.

(MUSIC: "Night and Day")

This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis.  This is Steve Ember. And this is Faith Lapidus.  Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.