Give Now  »

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

Noon Edition

'Kiss Me Kate' and Cole Porter’s Comeback

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript

Transcript

MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "MOONGLOW"

Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

After World War II, the career heights of composer Cole Porter seemed to be mostly behind him. However that all changed in 1948, when Porter scored one of his biggest smash successes, the award-winning musical Kiss Me Kate. This musical, with songs like “Too Darn Hot” and “So In Love,” kicked off a victory lap for the composer’s final years, which included musicals like Can-Can and films like High Society. On this episode, I’ll explore these late songs of Cole Porter, sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and more.

It’s Kiss Me Kate and Cole Porter’s Comeback, coming up next on Afterglow

MUSIC - LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “NOW YOU HAS JAZZ [LIVE]”

“Now You Has Jazz” performed by Louis Armstrong with Trummy Young live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957. Cole Porter wrote that song for Armstrong and Bing Crosby to perform in the 1956 film High Society. However, Porter, ever the wordsmith, apparently struggled with the jazz lingo.

MUSIC CLIP - JIMMY DORSEY, "ALWAYS TRUE TO YOU IN MY FASHION"

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, ...

The 1930s, while most of America was struggling through the depression, were the heyday of songwriter Cole Porter. His wit and skill created a string of hits for both stage and screen during that decade, including The Gay Divorcee, Anything Goes, and Born To Dance, penning such enduring songs as “Night And Day,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

As the 1940s began, it seemed the successes would continue for Porter. But as the decade wore on, the once-king of Broadway and Hollywood seemed to be on the decline, his best work behind him. Shows like Seven Lively Arts and films like The Pirate were flops. An old injury that he sustained from falling off a horse in 1937 was still causing him constant pain. Time magazine said that Porter had become a “wallflower,” and that, quote “Another flop might finish him altogether.” Moreover the successful biopic about Porter’s life called Night And Day, starring Cary Grant as Cole Porter, seemed more like a retrospective about a once great composer.

However, all that changed in 1948 with one musical that put Cole Porter back on top, and sparked a late career Renaissance for the songwriter.

MUSIC CLIP - DICK WELLSTOOD, "SO IN LOVE"

The idea was presented to him by playwright Bella Spewack, and it was a combination of an adaptation of a Shakespeare play with a wacky backstage musical. It was all inspired by the real-life couple of actors Arthur Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, who had acrimonious fights offstage during a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew, but still managed to seem in love onstage. Porter was nervous about the high concept of the show, but Spewack insisted. After three months, they had a musical.

The result was the 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate, which despite having no big star attached, was a resounding success. Reviews at the time proclaimed that the old Cole Porter was back.

The musical was chockablock with now-famous standards, including “Too Darn Hot,” “Always True To You In My Fashion,” and “From This Moment On.” But at the time, most critics agreed that the standout number was “So In Love,” the longing ballad from Act I. The song has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald, with notable hit versions by Patti Page, Bing Crosby, and Dinah Shore shortly after Kiss Me Kate premiered. 

Here’s a version from a decade after the show premiered sung by Peggy Lee. This is the Cole Porter song “So In Love,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “SO IN LOVE”

MUSIC - JO STAFFORD, “WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE”

Two songs from the 1948 Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate. Just now we heard Jo Stafford just a year after the musical premiered with “Why Can’t You Behave?” Before that, we heard Peggy Lee with “So In Love.” That comes from her 1959 album I Like Men, a play on the title of a different song from Kiss Me Kate called “I Hate Men.”

Kiss Me Kate will go down in Broadway history as a special first. In 1949, in a small reception at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, members of the American Theatre Wing were holding their third annual awards ceremony. This year, they decided to give out medallions for the first time, which they lovingly called “Tonys” after the American Theatre Wing’s founder Antoinette Perry. It was also the first year that they introduced the category of Best Musical, and Kiss Me Kate was the recipient of that award, becoming the first in a line of Best Musical winners ranging from South Pacific and The Sound of Music to The Lion King and Hamilton. Porter also won the award for Best Score, further cementing his legacy.

About a decade later, singer Ella Fitzgerald and record producer Norman Granz set out on a project to celebrate the great theatre songs of the early 20th century, what we now call today “The Great American Songbook.” The first composer on their list to celebrate was Mr. Cole Porter. The 1956 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook was the first album released on the newly minted Verve Record label, and Fitzgerald included four songs from Kiss Me Kate.

Let’s hear two of them now, beginning with Cole Porter’s ode to stifling weather, “Too Darn Hot,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “TOO DARN HOT”

MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “ALWAYS TRUE TO YOU IN MY FASHION”

From the 1956 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook, we just heard “Always True To You In My Fashion” and “Too Darn Hot,” two songs from the 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate.

Kiss Me Kate was just the inspiration Porter needed to jumpstart his career again. Over the next eight years, Porter, who at one point thought his career was over, became a hitmaker once again. His follow up musical Out Of This World, based on an ancient Greek comedy, was campier than most other Porter musicals, and included songs like “Use Your Imagination” and “I Am Loved.” Unfortunately, though, it was not quite the hit he had hoped for. Part of the reason may be because its most enduring song, the song “From This Moment On,” was cut from the production. Porter believed in the song and added it to the film version of Kiss Me Kate a few years later. Sure enough, the song stuck, and has become a tried and true standard.

Here’s a recording of that song from the 1957 album A Swingin’ Affair by Frank Sinatra. This is

Sinatra with Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “FROM THIS MOMENT ON”

Frank Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle in 1957 with Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On.” That was originally cut from Porter’s 1950 musical Out Of This World, and added to the film version of his big hit musical Kiss Me Kate in 1953.

MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “I LOVE PARIS”

Coming up after a short break, we’ll continue to explore the late career of Cole Porter, including the return to his big inspiration: Paris. Stay with us.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - CHET BAKER, “ALL OF YOU”

MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME”

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the late career comeback of Mr. Cole Porter this hour, starting with Kiss Me Kate in 1948.

By the time the 1950s began, Porter found himself in a depressive funk again. He checked himself into a hospital, and despite his success with Kiss Me Kate, was unsure whether he would ever compose another hit. However, he began to work on a new musical around this time that reignited the flames of his youth.

It was called Can-Can, and it was set in turn-of-the-century Paris, a place where Cole Porter lived in the 1920s. Some of his earliest successful musicals, like Fifty Million Frenchmen from 1929 and Paris in 1928, were set in “Gay Paree,” so Can-Can was a homecoming of sorts.

While the critics were lukewarm about the show, audiences loved it and the show ran for nearly 900 performances, nearly as many as Kiss Me Kate. One particular audience favorite was Porter’s ode to the city he once called home, one of his more simple and nostalgic songs “I Love Paris.”

Let’s hear that now. This is Dean Martin from his 1962 LP French Style with Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - DEAN MARTIN, “I LOVE PARIS”

MUSIC - LENA HORNE, “IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME”

Lena Horne’s 1955 hit version of Cole Porter song “It’s All Right With Me,” from his 1953 musical Can-Can. Evidently, Porter was not a big fan of this version, even though Horne was the first one to make it a hit song. He intended the song to be sung slowly, like the way Frank Sinatra sang it in the 1960 film version of Can-Can. However, the song as Porter wrote it was quite long, so Lena Horne and almost everyone else who performed it took it at a quicker tempo so it could fit on a record.

Before that, we heard another song from the musical Can-Can, Cole Porter’s ode to the City of Lights “I Love Paris,” sung by Dean Martin in 1962.

The songs from Can-Can became nearly as famous as the songs from Kiss Me Kate, open to many interpretations beyond those of the French variety. For instance, on the 1960 album Latin A La Lee from singer Peggy Lee, she included two songs from the musical performed in an Afro-Cuban style. 

And let’s hear those versions now. First, here’s Peggy Lee with the Cole Porter song “I Am In Love,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I AM IN LOVE”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “C’EST MAGNIFIQUE”

Peggy Lee from her 1960 album Latin A La Lee, putting an Afro-Cuban spin on two Cole Porter songs from his 1953 musical Can-Can. Just now, we heard “C’est Magnifique” and before that “I Am In Love.”

Cole Porter’s follow-up to Can-Can would be his last Broadway musical. It was called Silk Stockings, based on an old Greta Garbo film called Ninotchka, and it was a farce set in the Soviet Union, the U.S.’s new Cold War foe. Porter worked on the musical with George S. Kaufman and Abe Burrows, two stage veterans who just completed their successful production of Guys and Dolls. Silk Stockings was a moderate success on Broadway, enough that it was turned into a Hollywood film two years later starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.

Despite its moderate success, the musical did not churn out as many hit songs for Porter as Kiss Me Kate or Can-Can did. The one song that did survive was “All of You,” sung by Fred Astaire in the film. 

Let’s hear that familiar song sung now by Nancy Wilson in 1960. This is Nancy Wilson with Cole Porter’s “All Of You,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - NANCY WILSON, “ALL OF YOU”

Nancy Wilson, from her 1960 album Like In Love, with the Cole Porter song “All Of You.” That comes from Porter’s 1954 musical Silk Stockings.

Despite his late career Renaissance, the mid 1950s were a tough time for Cole Porter. His mother passed away in 1952, and his wife and best friend Linda passed away in 1954. Even though theirs was an unconventional relationship—Cole was a closeted homosexual—the death of Linda still took a toll on his personal life. Nevertheless, the songwriter had a few more tricks up his sleeve, his final artistic contributions occurring only on film and television, rather than on the stage.

One of those films was the 1957 MGM musical Les Girls starring Gene Kelly and Mitzi Gaynor. It’s an interesting film, told three times from the perspective of the three leading ladies, Rashomon style. But it only produced one memorable song—and that song was really only memorable because it evoked the popular French style of Porter’s earlier success, Can-Can.

This is Tony Bennett with that song now. This is “Ça, C'est L'amour,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - TONY BENNETT, “ÇA, C'EST L'AMOUR"

“Ça, C'est L'amour, a Cole Porter song from the 1957 MGM film Les Girls. That was Tony Bennett, recorded that same year.

Cole Porter’s last official musical contribution was the music and lyrics to the CBS television special Aladdin in 1958. The special aired only once, and had only mild success as an LP—none of its songs are particularly well-remembered today. After that, Porter ran into more health problems, forcing him into retirement before passing away in 1964. But right before Aladdin, Porter had one more resounding success: the 1956 MGM film musical High Society

High Society was a musical adaptation of the successful play and film The Philadelphia Story, which became a career changer for star Katherin Hepburn. In High Society, Grace Kelly plays Hepburn’s role, with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra standing in for Cary Grant and James Stewart, respectively. And instead of being a yacht designer, like Cary Grant was in The Philadelphia Story film, Bing Crosby plays a jazz musician—naturally.

High Society also co-starred Louis Armstrong, performing with his band on screen. With a cast that included many of jazz’s iconic stars, the music was clearly the biggest draw of this film.

To close off this tribute to Cole Porter, I’ll play three songs from the show now, featuring all the stars I’ve mentioned so far. First up, here’s one of the ballads from the show, sung by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, and one of the last great hits by Cole Porter. This is Cole Porter’s “True Love,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - BING CROSBY AND GRACE KELLY, “TRUE LOVE”

MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “YOU’RE SENSATIONAL”

MUSIC - LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “HIGH SOCIETY CALYPSO”

Three songs from Cole Porter’s last hit, the 1956 film High Society. Just now, we heard Louis Armstrong and his orchestra taking us home with the “High Society Calypso.” Before that, Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle with Porter’s song “You’re Sensational.” And starting that set, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly from the film performing Porter’s last big hit song “True Love.”

Thanks for tuning in to this Cole Porter edition of Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, "WHY CAN'T YOU BEHAVE"

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.

Kiss Me Kate

The album cover for the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me Kate.' The musical won the first ever "Best Musical" Tony Award in 1949. (Album Cover)

After World War II, the career heights of composer Cole Porter seemed to be mostly behind him. However that all changed in 1948, when Porter scored one of his biggest smash successes, the award-winning musical Kiss Me Kate. This musical, with songs like “Too Darn Hot” and “So In Love,” kicked off a victory lap for the composer’s final years, which included musicals like Can-Can and films like High Society. On this episode, I’ll explore these late songs of Cole Porter, sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and more.


Rise And Fall in the 1930s and 40s

The 1930s, while most of America was struggling through the depression, were the heyday of songwriter Cole Porter. His wit and skill created a string of hits for both stage and screen during that decade, including The Gay Divorcee, Anything Goes, and Born To Dance, penning such enduring songs as “Night And Day,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

As the 1940s began, it seemed the successes would continue for Porter. But as the decade wore on, the once-king of Broadway and Hollywood seemed to be on the decline, his best work behind him. Shows like Seven Lively Arts and films like The Pirate were flops. An old injury that he sustained from falling off a horse in 1937 was still causing him constant pain. Time magazine said that Porter had become a “wallflower,” and that, quote “Another flop might finish him altogether.” Moreover the successful biopic about Porter’s life called Night And Day, starring Cary Grant as Cole Porter, seemed more like a retrospective about a once great composer.

However, all that changed in 1948 with one musical that put Cole Porter back on top, and sparked a late career Renaissance for the songwriter.

Kiss Me Kate

The idea for the new musical was presented to him by playwright Bella Spewack, and it was a combination of an adaptation of a Shakespeare play with a wacky backstage musical. It was all inspired by the real-life couple of actors Arthur Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, who had acrimonious fights offstage during a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew, but still managed to seem in love onstage. Porter was nervous about the high concept of the show, but Spewack insisted. After three months, they had a musical.

The result was the 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate, which despite having no big star attached, was a resounding success. Reviews at the time proclaimed that the old Cole Porter was back.

The musical was chockablock with now-famous standards, including “Too Darn Hot,” “Always True To You In My Fashion,” and “Why Can't You Behave?” But at the time, most critics agreed that the standout number was “So In Love,” the longing ballad from Act I. The song has been recorded by Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald, with notable hit versions by Patti Page, Bing Crosby, and Dinah Shore shortly after Kiss Me Kate premiered. 

The Tony Legacy

Kiss Me Kate will go down in Broadway history as a special first. In 1949, in a small reception at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, members of the American Theatre Wing were holding their third annual awards ceremony. This year, they decided to give out medallions for the first time, which they lovingly called “Tonys” after the American Theatre Wing’s founder Antoinette Perry.

It was also the first year that they introduced the category of Best Musical, and Kiss Me Kate was the recipient of that award, becoming the first in a line of Best Musical winners ranging from South Pacific and The Sound of Music to The Lion King and Hamilton. Porter also won the award for Best Score, further cementing his legacy.

About a decade later, singer Ella Fitzgerald and record producer Norman Granz set out on a project to celebrate the great theatre songs of the early 20th century, what we now call today “The Great American Songbook.” The first composer on their list to celebrate was Mr. Cole Porter. The 1956 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook was the first album released on the newly minted Verve Record label, and Fitzgerald included four songs from Kiss Me Kate.

Out Of This World

Kiss Me Kate was just the inspiration Porter needed to jumpstart his career again. Over the next eight years, Porter, who at one point thought his career was over, became a hitmaker once again.

His follow up musical Out Of This World, based on an ancient Greek comedy, was campier than most other Porter musicals, and included songs like “Use Your Imagination” and “I Am Loved.” Unfortunately, though, it was not quite the hit he had hoped for. Part of the reason may be because its most enduring song, the song “From This Moment On,” was cut from the production. Porter believed in the song and added it to the film version of Kiss Me Kate a few years later. Sure enough, the song stuck, and has become a tried and true standard.

Can-Can

By the time the 1950s began, Porter found himself in a depressive funk again. He checked himself into a hospital, and despite his success with Kiss Me Kate, was unsure whether he would ever compose another hit. However, he began to work on a new musical around this time that reignited the flames of his youth.

It was called Can-Can, and it was set in turn-of-the-century Paris, a place where Cole Porter lived in the 1920s. Some of his earliest successful musicals, like Fifty Million Frenchmen from 1929 and Paris in 1928, were set in “Gay Paree,” so Can-Can was a homecoming of sorts.

While the critics were lukewarm about the show, audiences loved it and the show ran for nearly 900 performances, nearly as many as Kiss Me Kate. One particular audience favorite was Porter’s ode to the city he once called home, one of his more simple and nostalgic songs “I Love Paris,” later sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Dean Martin. 

Other memorable hits from the show included “I Am In Love,” “C’est Magnifique,” and “It’s All Right With Me.” Lena Horne was one of the first singers to turn “It’s All Right With Me” into a hit in 1955. Evidently though, Porter was not a big fan of her version. He intended the song to be sung slowly, like the way Frank Sinatra sang it in the 1960 film version of Can-Can. Singer Peggy Lee sang both “I Am In Love” and “C’est Magnifique” in an Afro-Cuban style on her 1960 album Latin A La Lee.

Silk Stockings and Les Girls

Cole Porter’s follow-up to Can-Can would be his last Broadway musical. It was called Silk Stockings, based on an old Greta Garbo film called Ninotchka, and it was a farce set in the Soviet Union, the U.S.’s new Cold War foe. Porter worked on the musical with George S. Kaufman and Abe Burrows, two stage veterans who just completed their successful production of Guys and Dolls. Silk Stockings was a moderate success on Broadway, enough that it was turned into a Hollywood film two years later starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.

Despite its moderate success, the musical did not churn out as many hit songs for Porter as Kiss Me Kate or Can-Can did. The one song that did survive was “All of You,” sung by Fred Astaire in the film. 

Despite his late career Renaissance, the mid 1950s were a tough time for Cole Porter. His mother passed away in 1952, and his wife and best friend Linda passed away in 1954. Even though theirs was an unconventional relationship—Cole was a closeted homosexual—the death of Linda still took a toll on his personal life. Nevertheless, the songwriter had a few more tricks up his sleeve, his final artistic contributions occurring only on film and television, rather than on the stage.

One of those films was the 1957 MGM musical Les Girls starring Gene Kelly and Mitzi Gaynor. It’s an interesting film, told three times from the perspective of the three leading ladies, Rashomon style. But it only produced one memorable song—“Ça, C'est L'amour,” made famous by Tony Bennett that year—and that song was really only memorable because it evoked the popular French style of Porter’s earlier success, Can-Can

High Society

Cole Porter’s last official musical contribution was the music and lyrics to the CBS television special Aladdin in 1958. The special aired only once, and had only mild success as an LP—none of its songs are particularly well-remembered today. After that, Porter ran into more health problems, forcing him into retirement before passing away in 1964. But right before Aladdin, Porter had one more resounding success: the 1956 MGM film musical High Society

High Society was a musical adaptation of the successful play and film The Philadelphia Story, which became a career changer for star Katherin Hepburn. In High Society, Grace Kelly plays Hepburn’s role, with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra standing in for Cary Grant and James Stewart, respectively. And instead of being a yacht designer, like Cary Grant was in The Philadelphia Story film, Bing Crosby plays a jazz musician—naturally.

High Society also co-starred Louis Armstrong, performing with his band on screen. With a cast that included many of jazz’s iconic stars, the music was clearly the biggest draw of this film. The show included a few memorable songs, including “True Love” and “You’re Sensational,” plus two songs which later became part of Louis Armstrong's on-stage repertoire, “High Society Calypso” and “Now You Has Jazz.” Porter wrote “Now You Has Jazz” for Armstrong and Crosby to perform in the film. However, despite years of writing tunes adopted by the jazz world, the wordsmith Porter apparently struggled with executing the proper jazz lingo for the song.

Music Heard On This Episode

Loading...
Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Afterglow

About The Host