Cole Porter : The Definitive Biography

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9780006375364: Cole Porter : The Definitive Biography

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.

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Review:

It's not quite as witty as a Porter song (who could equal the incomparable Cole?), but this thorough biography honors the Broadway musical's worldliest, most intelligent composer by taking him seriously. Voluminous research buttresses William McBrien's portrait of a charmed life scarred by tragedy. Born in 1891, Porter left his wealthy family in Indiana to thoroughly enjoy himself at Yale University in Connecticut, where his sassy songs gave the Midwestern outsider social clout. Although exclusively homosexual, Porter was nonetheless devoted to the wealthy widow he married in 1919, and McBrien's narrative of their 1920s travels through Europe captures the glamorous sheen of their life together. Porter had some early success with shows like Fifty Million Frenchmen, but his sustained run of hits began in 1932 with Gay Divorce, continuing through the '50s and Kiss Me Kate. The author liberally quotes from Porter's deliciously naughty lyrics, reminding us how corny most show tunes seem when compared to "Love for Sale" or "Anything Goes." McBrien's painful account of the ghastly aftermath of a 1937 riding accident, which left Porter in pain that ended only with his death in 1964, reveals a quiet, uncomplaining stoic whose substance matched his dazzling style. --Wendy Smith

From the Publisher:

"A complex and groundbreaking portrait...making use of previously unpublished material...Never-before-seen letters shine light into Porter's ongoing relationships"
--Publishers Weekly

"Read this book...You will spend time with, and get to know, one of the great creative figures of the twentieth century."
--Betty Comden, The New York Observer

"Loaded with juicy gossip...He succeeds in evoking Porter's white-tie-and-orchids set. When his wife, Linda, was asked why she seldom used the Rolls-Royce Porter gave her, she answered, 'It bruises my sables.'"
--Edward Karam, People

"A fine biography"
--David Walton, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Fascinating...engaging"
--Adrienne Miller, Esquire

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McBrien, William
Published by Harper Collins, London (1999)
ISBN 10: 0006375367 ISBN 13: 9780006375364
New Soft cover Quantity Available: 1
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Bemrose Books
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Book Description Harper Collins, London, 1999. Soft cover. Book Condition: New. No inscriptions; coy appears unread. Bookseller Inventory # 002999

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