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Cole Porter Paperback – December 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The wit, sophistication and often-surprising depth of feeling in the music and lyrics of Cole Porter are at last fully realized in this latest of the songwriter's many biographies. Making illuminating use of previously unpublished material at Yale and at the Cole Porter Trust, McBrien (Stevie: A Biography of Stevie Smith) weaves a complex and groundbreaking portrait of Porter, interspersed with lyrics and 72 illustrations, recounting his affluent upbringing in Peru, Ind., and his emergence in the 1930s as the musical theater's reigning sophisticate. A delicious chapter on the making of Kiss Me Kate in 1948 demonstrates what sharp talons were needed to create a hit. But McBrien's most startling scholarship is on the subject of Porter's homosexuality. Although Porter's marriage remained sexless, he and his wife Linda were the most intimate of soulmates, says McBrien. He traces the early years of their marriage in the expatriate Europe of the 1920s?during which time Linda would meet and approve Porter's male lovers?through their older years in postwar Broadway and Hollywood, when Linda's respiratory illnesses and Porter's paralyzed legs racked their bodies but not their spirits. Never-before-seen letters shine light into Porter's ongoing relationships with Ballets Russes star Boris Kochno, architect Ed Tauch, choreographer Nelson Barclift, director John Wilson, and longtime friend Ray Kelly, whose children still receive half of the childless Porter's copyrights. In previous biographies by George Eells and Charles Schwartz, these men are passing references; here, they are three-dimensional figures, as McBrien locates the psychological roots of Porter's love songs in his unrequited love for the men he could have but not forever. In the tradition of Anthony Heilbut's Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature and Patrick McGilligan's A Double Life: George Cukor, this astute biography will help to create a standard-setting portrait of Porter as a homosexual artist in a heterosexual world.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679727922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679727927
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Cole Porter (1891-1964) determinedly created the image of an extremely wealthy man who traveled the world, played with the rich and famous, and now and then wrote a Broadway show or two for the pure pleasure of it. But although he was in some respects a shallow man who lived largely for personal pleasure, he was also a very driven and complex one, a man whose fame on the stage did not come easily and who faced a series of horrific hurdles in his private life.

Porter risked his grandfather's ire--and the family fortune he controlled--by settling on a career in music, and while he earned early fame at Yale through his compositions, his first Broadway venture, See America First, was a humiliating fiasco. Homosexual in an era when it was flatly unacceptable, he would marry to retain respectability and forge a remarkable emotional (if completely platonic) relationship with wife Linda Lee Thomas--even while conducting a series of same-sex affairs that would prove frustratingly superficial. Near the height of his career, a horseback riding accident would leave him crippled and in physical agony for the rest of his life, and the pressures of pain and keeping up appearances would plunge him into fits of depression that seemed to border on the psychotic.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on August 18, 2004
Format: Audio Cassette Verified Purchase
Night and Day this is the best biography of the great Cole Porter (1891-1964). Porter was the scion of a wealthy family from Peru, Indiana. As a lad he excelled in music making and

graduated with a degree from Yale University. After a year of Law School at Harvard the travel loving Porter journeyed to Paris. He wed Linda Lee Thomas a wealthy woman several years his senior. Porter was gay and the marriage to Linda was sexless. The couple did love one another and Porter was never the same following Linda's death in 1954.

Porter wrote one fabulous musical after another for over 40 years. He lived in luxury with staff to attend his every need. He had a wide circle of friends from among the cultural and literary elite but was an aloof, fastidious, secretive man. Porter was a hard man to know and this biography is about as close as we will ever get to the inner core of the composer.

Porter was a genius in the witty line, the fetching tune and had the ability to make Broadway take notice during his fabulous career.

His life was placid but painful following his fall from a horse and the amputation of a leg. He was alcoholic and probably took durgs.

McBrien is an English professor who has written a well cratede book rich in anecdote. The book is well illustrated with photos from the Porter legacy. Several of Cole's famed lyrics are recorded to the delight of the reader.

With the new movie on Cole Porter this is a good supplement to the film. Well recommended.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By ALAIN ROBERT on January 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
WILLIAM McBRIEN has done it;he has given all the PORTER fans of this world the biography they were waiting for for thirty-four years.What this book gives us is an accurate account of the composer's life including his well known homosexuality, even if he married for respectability.PORTER's early years were quite different when compare with the other composers of his generation;he had a millionnaire grandfather and a rather aloof father with whom he didn't really communicate.He led a rather easy going life until he finally decided at the age of 37 to let his talent bloom on BROADWAY.There is considerable irony to the fact that from his riding accident in 1937,that man who had everything suffered a great deal until his death in 1964.You end up knowing what was this thing called love.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Eric Leventhal on March 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I'd managed to drag myself through about a quarter of "Last Train to Memphis" when Peter Guralnick droped yet another superfluous detail about a Memphis DJ (Pete, you already told us twice that Bob Neal did the noon "hillbilly" show) and I just couldn't take it no more. Away went the King and out came the incomparable Cole.
Where Guralnick's bio is dense and chewy, William McBrien's treatment on the serious work of being Cole Porter is a melt-in-your-mouth delight. And not without sustenance. McBrien's business is to give analysis of Porter's lyrics through insights into the man's background, actions and relationships. And then comes a cornucopia of society gossip and backstage anecdotes. The juicy stories are not overdone, in fact I would have liked a few more as well as more pictures.
A nonchalant reference to a love letter to another man is McBrien's introduction of Cole Porter's homosexuality. I thought I missed an earlier more formal reference. From there it is treated no more nor less seriously than his marriage, wealth or manners--a major factor in his life that molded his work. Porter's crippling riding accident is handled in the same fashion-a clear report uncluttered by romance or irony.
"Cole Porter" shows that it is possible to write a critical biography that weighs less than a toddler and is a real pleasure to read.
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