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Porter, Cole (1891-1964)  
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In "Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor)," for example, the speaker complains of her inability to transcend emotional pain even though she is immured in the "regal eagle nest" of her Manhattan penthouse. The sophisticated urban life of the speaker is no compensation for the sorrows of disappointment in love but, as the juxtaposition of height and depth in the refrain suggests, the speaker's pose of stylish aloofness is the only way to combat depression in Porter's world.

Porter wrote of both painful sexual yearning and heartache in a mannered, sophisticated way. Little wonder that Fred Astaire, who could dance seduction with an equally mannered elegance, was Porter's favored interpreter.

Porter's World of Style and Wit

For radio listeners and movie- and theater-goers in Depression- and Eisenhower-era America, Porter's name was synonymous with "fashionable" and "debonair," summoning images of art deco sleekness, tuxedoed elegance, and chilled martinis served on the Lido.

In his songs Porter fashioned a world of style, wit, and refinement that seemed to exist in inverse proportion to the reduction-to-least-common-denominator democratic emphases of the period's political demagoguery.

In contrast to the quotidian world, Porter's was a world composed of superlatives ("You're the Top"), a world as mysterious as the chords of "In the Still of the Night," and one as surprising and intoxicating as "a sip of sparkling Burgundy brew" ("You Go to My Head").

Through his music, as well as through his much photographed and reported-upon social life, he offered middle-class America the thrill of something so sophisticated as to be faintly scandalous and, so, all the more fascinating.

The "Otherness" that he represented was understood by the shrewd to include homosexuality.

Playwright and scenarist Leonard Spielglass recalls that even while homosexuality was disparaged among the population at large, Porter's behavior placed him in "the most exclusive club in New York. That's terribly important to realize--that it was a club into which . . . [the average person] couldn't get . . . . I mean, no ordinary certified public accountant could get in the Larry Hart, . . . [Noël Coward], George Cukor world. That was the world . . . . That was Cole Porter . . . . On the one hand you said, 'They were homosexual--oh, my, isn't that terrible!' On the other hand you said, 'My God, the other night I was at dinner with Cole Porter!'"

Porter's greatest achievement may have been to make straight, middle-class America secretly crave what it publicly despised.

Raymond-Jean Frontain

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Citron, Stephen. Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Kimball, Robert, ed. The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.

McBrien, William. Cole Porter: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Mordden, Ethan. Broadway Babies: The People Who Made the Broadway Musical. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.


    Citation Information
    Author: Frontain, Raymond-Jean  
    Entry Title: Porter, Cole  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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