Cole Porter

A Brief History

The Legacy of Cole Porter

By Theresa MacNaughton, Community Engagement Associate

Cole Porter
Cole Porter


In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows,
Anything goes 

Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose,
Anything goes

Cole Albert Porter was born to a well-to-do-family in Peru, Indiana, in 1891. Porter was a gifted child, learning to play violin and piano at age six. He was already composing songs by the time he turned 10. At age 11, Porter composed a piano piece called “The Bobolink Waltz.” His mother, using her influence, had 100 copies of the composition published in Chicago – and lied about her son’s age to make him seem more of a child prodigy.

Porter left home at age 13 to attend Worcester Academy, an elite boarding school in Massachusetts, where he composed the class song of 1909. Upon graduation, Porter attended Yale University. During his years at Yale, Porter wrote over 300 songs for shows presented by his fraternity and the Yale Dramatic Association. He also wrote the famous Yale football fight song, “Bulldog,” which is still played today. He was also an original member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the country. In an attempt to please his grandfather, who disapproved of his interest in music, Porter attended Harvard Law School. After a year, Porter transferred to Harvard’s School of Music. Soon after, he left for New York to pursue a career in music.

Porter’s first Broadway production was a comic operetta called See America First (1916). The show was a critical failure, and Porter left for Paris one year later. After a two-year stint in the French Foreign Legion, entering into a marriage of convenience with socialite Linda Thomas and enjoying travel and parties, Porter had his first hit song with “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).” The song quickly established Porter as a creator of worldly, witty, and sometimes risqué lyrics with catchy, unusual melodies to match.

And that’s why birds do it
Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

In Spain, the best
Upper sets do it
Lithuanians and letts do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

They say, “Do it”
Oysters down in oyster bay do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

This song, as well as a string of successive hits, helped launch a successful Broadway and Hollywood career for Porter. During the 1930s, he penned “Night and Day” for Gay Divorce, “I Get a Kick Out of You” for Anything Goes, “It’s De-Lovely” for Red, Hot and Blue, and the pop song “Begin the Beguine.” “Easy to Love,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “In the Still of the Night” were all written for films.

Cary Grant in Night and Day
Cary Grant in Night and Day


Night and day,
You are the one

Only you ‘neath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far
It’s no matter, darling, where you are
I think of you day and night
Night and Day

In 1937, Porter suffered a horse riding accident which crushed his legs – leaving him unable to walk. Porter was hospitalized for two years, confined to a wheelchair for five years, and endured more than 30 operations over the next 20 years. His right leg was eventually amputated in 1958 as a result of his injuries. During his long recovery, Porter continued to write a number of Broadway musicals, including Something for the Boys, Around the World and his greatest success, Kiss Me, Kate, for which he received two Tony Awards—Best Composer and Lyricist and the first ever Tony for Best Musical.

“So In Love” from Kiss Me, Kate

Strange dear, but true dear,
When I’m close to you, dear,
The stars fill the sky,
So in love with you am I.

Even without you,
My arms fold about you,
You know darling why,
So in love with you am I.

Kevin Kline as Cole Porter in De-Lovely
Kevin Kline as Cole Porter in De-Lovely

A biographical musical film paying tribute to Porter’s life and career, Night and Day, was released in 1946. The film starred Cary Grant and featured several of Porter’s best-known songs, including the title song, Begin the Beguine, and My Heart Belongs to Daddy. A second biopic released in 2004, De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline, traces Porter’s life from his first meeting with wife Linda Thomas to his death.

In his later years, Porter enjoyed one more big Broadway success – the musical Can-Can in 1953. His wife, Linda, died one year later. Porter continued to work until his leg amputation in 1958. He died in Santa Monica in 1964, having written more than 800 songs. 

Cole Porter was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. Many popular artists have recorded Porter songs, and dozens have released entire albums of his songs, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dionne Warwick, Julie London, and Rosemary Clooney. In 1990, Red Hot & Blue: A Tribute to Cole Porter (a favorite of Director Darko Tresnjak) was released as an AIDS research benefit CD, featuring 20 Cole Porter songs recorded by contemporary rock artists including U2, Annie Lennox, Tom Waits, and K.D. Lang.