The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 03, 2015 1:25 am

Getting kick out of Porter

Keiara Carr | The Journal Gazette

When legendary songwriter Cole Porter died in 1964, a laundry list of socialites, dignitaries and universities received pieces of Porter’s estate – ranging from his collection of pianos to a China service and dessert plates.

According to the Chicago Tribune, an aquamarine and ruby necklace that once belonged to his wife, Linda, was left to Ava Astaire, the daughter of renowned performer Fred Astaire, and bequests of $5,000 to $10,000 were given to friends and employees. All of his clothing went to the Salvation Army.

But Porter left most of his multi­million-dollar estate to the folks who knew him before the fame: his first cousin, Jules Omar Cole, and Cole’s son, James, back in his hometown of Peru, Indiana.

Now, more than 50 years later, some of Porter’s items will be on display this weekend for IPFW’s production of "Anything Goes" thanks to Ann Tippmann, who is Porter’s second-oldest living relative. Her mother, Mary Jo Cole Brown, was the daughter of Jules Omar Cole.

Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1939, Tippmann says she has lived most of her life in Fort Wayne.

Although she never met Cole Porter – when he came to Peru, the kids were told he was there to rest, she says – she was raised listening to his music.

"I just think his lyrics are so unusual and so neat – I don’t know how he got by with writing ‘Anything Goes’ in those days. That’s a pretty racy song," she says, laughing.

The 1934 musical "Anything Goes" is a fast-paced romp that tangles nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, her pal Billy Crocker and a couple of gangsters in love triangles and mistaken identities.

Porter’s title song revels in the chaos, as the lyrics read, "A glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. But now, God knows, anything goes."

Cole had already hit his stride, writing "Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)" for the musical "Paris," and "Night and Day" for "Gay Divorce," starring Fred Astaire.

"Anything Goes" gave audiences more favorites, including "I Get a Kick Out of You" and "You’re the Top."

IPFW director Craig Humphrey says that it gives students an opportunity to work with a musical comedy created before the golden age of Broadway.

"This show predates ‘Oklahoma!,’ which really changed the face of musical theater in the 1940s. Suddenly, musical theater would be taken seriously, and the book was integrated with the songs and with the dance," Humphrey says. "This is an example of a pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein model, where there was just songs for the sake of them being there, and the themes would set them up."

"The scenes are very short and the book is silly, and it’s meant to be silly. These were truly the days of musical comedy, before we started thinking of it as a musical play. And that’s been something of a challenge for my students," he adds.

Humphrey says that the Cole Porter’s music contains a timelessness. "Anything Goes" has had two successful revivals on Broadway in 1987 and 2011.

"In the midst of the Depression, (Porter) was writing these songs that were fun and had really clever lyrics. He played with interesting rhythms, and that was part of the whole popular dance movement of the 1930s when people would go out for a night of dancing. I think that Porter spoke to the people," he says.

Tippmann says it’s the pictures of Cole Porter and her grandfather in their early lives that she holds as her most prized possessions.

She has a picture of Cole Porter as a young man, maybe 15 or 16 years old, at boarding school at Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. She says it "wrenches her heart" when she looks at the picture.

"I feel his personality. I kind of know what kind of person he was (from the picture), and I think he was a lonely person," she says. "Part of it was living in the country, being an only child, then sent off to prep school by himself with no family, and then on to Harvard and Yale. He was a lonely person, I definitely get that feeling."

Porter attended Yale University, and as a talented piano player, he joined the glee club, and wrote the fight song, "Bulldog." He would go on to write nearly 300 songs for musicals produced by student organizations during his time at Yale, much to the dismay of his grandfather.

Porter went on to Harvard Law School to please his grandfather but switched to music during his short stint at the university, although his grandfather had the impression that Porter would be a lawyer.

"Aunt Katie (Cole Porter’s mother) didn’t tell him, because she knew that he would have had a fit," she says.

After an unsuccessful musical debut on Broadway, Porter traveled to Paris, where he met widowed socialite Linda Thomas. The couple married in 1919, making a home in Paris before finally garnering a string of theater successes.

He also found success in film with "Easy to Love," "I’ve Got You Under My Skin" and "In the Still of the Night."

Tippmann says her grandfather, Porter’s cousin, was more of a quiet man, far more comfortable in Peru than in Paris or New York City. There were only a few stories about Porter her grandfather thought were worth telling. One was when Porter had a dog delivered to her grandfather’s home by limousine. Tippmann says her grandfather named the dog Can Can as an homage to Porter’s musical.

Tippmann says Porter would come back to Peru to recuperate after several surgeries that stemmed from his legs being crushed in a horse-riding accident in 1937.

In his later years, Porter lost his most intimate confidant when his wife died in 1954. In 1958, his injured right leg was amputated. He stopped writing songs and withdrew from public life. He died in Santa Monica, California, in 1964.

"He was never the same after that," Tippmann says. "He was very depressed. It was like he lost part of his image. Being a famous person, it was probably difficult to go out in public, especially after that leg."

Nowadays, all Tippmann needs to hear is two or three notes while listening to music on Pandora or at a store or restaurant, and she knows immediately that it’s "Cole’s song." But she says there’s something about seeing it on stage that will make "Anything Goes" a different experience.

"Cole wrote the music for Broadway. It’s for the stage, not for TV. And when you see it live, you can see the actors’ faces and their expressions," she says. "It’s really the best way to hear Cole’s music, and I’m really looking forward to it."


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