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Cole Porter

WHILE the 1920's ended on December 30, 1929--and a far different political, social, and sociological climate prevailed during the ensuing decade--a number of highly gifted writers managed to keep alive in the musical theater of the 1930's some of the feverish spirit and the unconventional attitudes of the "roaring Twenties." The most significant of these was Cole Porter.

In his lyrics and melodies--for like Irving Berlin he wrote both--he fixed the smartness and cynicism, the freedom in sex attitudes, the lack of inhibitions in speech and behavior, and the outright iconoclasm that had characterized the 1920's. He is the arch cynic to whom a crushing love affair was "just one of those things" and who could be true to his girl "only in my fashion." He is the dilettante who sprinkles throughout his lyrics cultural, literary, and geographical allusions of a well-read, well- educated, and well-traveled person. He is the nonconformist unafraid of the erotic, the exotic, or the esoteric. He is the sensualist who brings to his melodies throbbing excitement, purple moods, irresistible climaxes.

Most of all he himself is like a character from a novel of F. Scott Fitzgerald. All his life Cole Porter was the avid hunter of excitement, adventure, and gaiety; all his life he traveled under the banner of "anything goes". He was the sybarite to whom the good things of life was almost a religion. Provocative in his attitudes, unpredictable in mood and action, irresponsible in behavior, he was truly a living symbol of the decade in which he first achieved maturity as a song writer.

His background was unique among American popular composers in that he was born to wealth, and that his apprenticeship took place not in Tin Pan Alley but in the playgrounds of Europe. He was born in Peru, Indiana, on June 9, 1891, to a family that had accumulated vast wealth through speculations in coal and timber. A comprehensive academic education carried him through Yale, from which he was graduated in 1913. His musical training had also been all-inclusive, beginning with the violin and piano in boyhood, continuing at the Harvard School of Music after he left Yale, and ending some years after that at the Schola Cantorum in Paris with Vincent d'Indy.

Porter had written a complete operetta (words as well as music) when he was only ten; a year later he had a piano piece published; at seventeen he had his first popular song issued in Tin Pan Alley, "Bridget"; by nineteen he had written two famous college songs, "Bingo Eli Yale" and "Yale Bulldog Song"; and in 1916 he completed his first score for a full-length Broadway musical comedy, America First, described in the program as "a patriotic comic opera," in which Clifton Webb starred as a titled Englishman. America First was produced by Elizabeth Marbury, the same person who had just then scored such a decisive success as a co-producer of the first Princess Theater Show. She could hardly have realized then that in young Cole Porter she had another gilt-edge investment, since America First lasted only 2 weeks.

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