Cole Porter was born June 9, 1891, at Peru, Indiana, the son of pharmacist Samuel Fenwick Porter and Kate Cole. Cole was raised on a 750-acre fruit ranch. Kate Cole married Samuel Porter in 1884 and had two children, Louis and Rachel, who both died in infancy. Porter’s grandfather, J.G. Cole, was a multi-millionaire who made his fortune in the coal and western timber business. His mother introduced him to the violin and the piano. Cole started riding horses at age six and began to studying piano at eight at Indiana’s Marion Conservatory. By age ten, he had begun to compose songs, and his first song was entitled “Song of the Birds”.
He attended Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905, an elite private school from which he graduated in 1909 as class valedictorian. That summer he toured Europe as a graduation present from his grandfather. That fall, he entered Yale University and lived in a single room at Garland’s Lodging House at 242 York Street in New Haven, CT, and became a member of the Freshman Glee Club. In 1910, he published his first song, “Bridget McGuire”. While at Yale, he wrote football fight songs including the “Yale Bulldog Song” and “Bingo Eli Yale,” which was introduced at a Yale dining hall dinner concert. Classmates include poet Archibald Macleish, Bill Crocker of San Francisco banking family and actor Monty Woolley. Dean Acheson, later to be U.S. Secretary of State, lived in the same dorm with Porter and was a good friend of Porter. In his senior year he was president of the University Glee club and a football cheerleader.
Porter graduated from Yale in 1913 with a BA degree. He attended Harvard Law school from 1913 to 1914 and the Harvard School of Music from 1915 to 1916. In 1917 he went to France and distributed foodstuffs to war-ravaged villages. In April 1918 he joined the 32nd Field Artillery Regiment and worked with the Bureau of the Military Attache of the US. During this time he met the woman who would become his wife, Linda Lee Thomas, a wealthy Kentucky divorcée, at a breakfast reception at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. He did not, as is often rumored, join the French Foreign Legion at this time, nor receive a commission in the French army and see combat as an officer.
In 1919 he rented an apartment in Paris, enrolled in a school specializing in music composition and studied with Vincent D’indy. On December 18, 1919, married Linda Lee Thomas, honeymooning in the south of France. This was a “professional” marriage, as Cole was, in fact, gay. Linda had been previously married to a newspaper publisher and was described as a beautiful woman who was one of the most celebrated hostesses in Europe. The Porters made their home on the Rue Monsieur in Paris, where their parties were renowned as long and brilliant. They hired the Monte Carlo Ballet for one of their affairs; once, on a whim, they transported all of their guests to the French Riviera.
In 1923 they moved to Venice, Italy, where they lived in the Rezzonico Palace, the former home of poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. They built an extravagant floating night club that would accommodate up to 100 guests. They conducted elaborate games including treasure hunts through the canals and arranged spectacular balls.
Porter’s first play on Broadway featured a former ballet dancer, actor Clifton Webb. He collaborated with E. Ray Goetz, the brother-in-law of Irving Berlin, on several Broadway plays, as Goetz was an established producer and lyricist.
His ballad “Love For Sale” was introduced on December 8, 1930, in a revue that starred Jimmy Durante and was introduced by Kathryn Crawford. Walter Winchell, the newspaper columnist and radio personality, promoted the song, which was later banned by many radio stations because of its content. In 1934, his hit “Anything Goes” appeared on Broadway. During the show’s hectic rehearsal Porter once asked the stage doorman what he thought the show should be called. The doorman responded that nothing seemed to go right, with so many things being taken out and then put back in, that “Anything Goes” might be a good title. Porter liked it, and kept it. In 1936, while preparing for “Red, Hot and Blue” with Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman was hired to do stenographic work to help Porter in rewriting scripts of the show. He later said she was the best stenographers he ever had.
Porter wrote such classic songs as “Let’s Do It” in 1928, “You Do Something To Me” in 1929, “Love For Sale” in 1930, “What Is This Thing Called Love?” in 1929, “Night and Day” in 1932, “I Get A Kick Out Of You” in 1934, “Begin the Beguine” in 1935, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” in 1938, “Don’t Fence Me In” in 1944, “I Love Paris” in 1953, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, In the Still of The Night”, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”, “True Love”, “Just One Of Those Things”, “Anything Goes”, “From This Moment On”, “You’re The Top”, “Easy to Love” and many, many more.
On October 24, 1937, taking a break from a re-write of what would be his weakest musical, “You Never Know”, visiting as a guest at a countess’ home, Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, New York, he was badly injured in a fall while horseback-riding. Both of his legs were smashed and he suffered a nerve injury. He was hospitalized for two years, confined to a wheelchair for five years and endured over 30 operations to save his legs over the next 20 years. During his recuperation he wrote a number of Broadway musicals.
On August 3, 1952, his beloved mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage. His wife, Linda, died of cancer on May 20, 1954. On April 3, 1958, he sustained his 33rd operation, and still suffering from chronic pain, his right leg was amputated. He refused to wear an artificial limb and lived as a virtual recluse in his apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. He sought refuge in alcohol, sleep, self-pity and sank into despair. He even refused to attend a “Salute to Cole Porter” at the Metropolitan Opera on May 15, 1960, and the commencement exercises at Yale University in June of 1960 when he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, or his 70th birthday party arranged by his friends at the Orpheum Theater in New York City in June 1962.
After what appeared to be a successful kidney stone operation at St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica, California, he died very unexpectedly on October 15, 1964. His funeral instructions were that he have no funeral or memorial service and he was buried adjacent to his mother and wife in Peru, Indiana.