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Cole Porter

Cole Porter was born on June 9, 1891, in Peru, Indiana; he was named for his mother, Kate Cole, and his father, Sam Porter. Sam was a pharmacist, but Kate was the daughter of one of the richest men in Indiana at the time, James Omar Cole (known as J.O.). J.O. subsidized Cole's parents' income so his daughter, Kate, could continue her proper, wealthy lifestyle; as a result, Cole became accustomed to the same lifestyle and his taste for the finer things continued throughout his life.

Cole began piano lessons at age 6. He also studied the violin but quit because he preferred the sound of the piano. Cole composed his first song at age 10; it was called Song of the Birds and was written for his mother. Kate was a big supporter of Cole's career from its earliest beginnings, publishing his early pieces and financing music projects in exchange for Cole solos and showcases.

Cole attended high school at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts and graduated valedictorian. He then went on to study at Yale College where his true career as a composer began to take shape. He wrote six full-scale productions and over 300 songs for various fraternities and student organizations while he was at Yale; many of his fight songs are still used by the university today.

Upon graduation from Yale, Cole enrolled in Harvard Law School (mainly to please his grandfather), but his focus was almost exclusively on his music. He soon left Harvard to move to New York, quickly becoming a part of the Manhattan social scene with his quick wit and engaging personality.

Cole's first Broadway show, See America First, was produced in 1916; unfortunately, the show was a flop. Upset by the show's less-than-stellar reception and ready for new adventures, Cole moved to Paris in 1917 in the midst of the first World War. During the war he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, but many reports of his military involvement during that time were untrue or blown out of proportion, propagated by American press reports; it's likely Cole was intentionally vague in interviews of the time, however, to justify his French residency to his family.

In 1918, Cole met American divorcee Linda Thomas, already a society figure and a wealthy woman in her own right. They became very close friends and married on December 19, 1919. Their nuptials also doubled their financial resources and social standing; it was a mutually beneficial relationship. With Linda's support and guidance, Cole's career finally took off. After several years of hard work and a few notable notices, he had his first big hit in 1928 with Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love from the musical Paris. A string of subsequent hits soon cemented his position as one of America's most important composers alongside such luminaries as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern.

Cole suffered a horseback riding accident in 1937, fracturing both legs and causing him acute (and often excruciating) pain for the rest of his life. Doctors suggested amputation, but at Linda's insistence they didn't follow through with it; she felt it would destroy Cole's spirit. The accident was a devastating occurrence, nonetheless, and the ensuing depression was deep and lasting. At Linda's urging, however, he did continue to write. Cole experienced his last and greatest triumph with the Broadway production of Kiss Me, Kate. The production was considered an instant classic and won the first ever Tony Award for Best Musical.

Linda Porter passed away on May 20, 1954, a victim of emphysema; Cole was devastated. Without Linda standing guard, Cole's right leg was amputated in 1958 and his spirit was broken; he never wrote another song. Cole died on October 15, 1964, and was buried between his wife and father.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

Cole Porter Facts

Birth NameCole Albert Porter
BirthdayJune 9, 1891
BirthplacePeru, Indiana, USA
Date of deathOctober 15, 1964 (age 73)

Selected Filmography

Not available.