Cole Porter in Hollywood: What A Swell Party It Was
Cole Porter, the musical toast of Peru Indiana, Paris and New York City, also had a profound effect on Hollywood and the movies.
Like his peers Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart and Richart Rogers, his songs brought Broadway and Hollywood together in diverse and wonderful ways. Mary Martin, for instance, became an overnight star on Broadway in the Porter vehicle “Leave It To Me!” The woman who would eventually fly thru the air on wire cables as “Peter Pan” stopped the show with a mock strip tease performed on top of a cabin trunk while singing “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”. She would later appear as herself in the 1946 Porter biographical musical epic “Night and Day,” auditioning for Cary Grant, who played Cole Porter in the film.
“DuBarry Was a Lady,” which starred Bert Lahr and Ethel Merman on Broadway in 1940, was made into a 1943 movie with Lucille Ball and Red Skelton in the leading roles, but used very little of the original Porter score.
But Hollywood would soon be further Porter attenuated. His “I Concentrate On You” was one of the big hits from the movie “Broadway Melody of 1940,” while the 1943 film “Something to Shout About” contained the lovely “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”.
Another Porter tune, “Don’t Fence Me In” provided enjoyable moments in the 1944 film “Hollywood Canteen.” That same year, Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” was heard on Broadway in the 1944 show, “Seven Lively Arts.” It would become Ella Fitzgerald’s favorite song of all time.
The amazing “Kiss Me Kate” opened on Broadway on December 30, 1948, starring Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison. The fabulous score included “Why Can’t You Behave”, “Wunderbar”, “So In Love”, “We Open In Venice”, “Too Darn Hot”, and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.
Hollywood, not to be outdone, followed with the movie version in 1953, starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller — with a cameo appearance by one Alfred Viola, dressed in a strange costume and playing the guitar. When I asked Al why he had never told me about his bit part in the movie when I had heard all of his other stories many times over, he replied: “How could you tell it was me?” and Howard Keel. “Kiss Me Kate” is and was one of my favorite movies ever, followed closely by the 1956 film “High Society,” which would be one of Porter’s last projects.
The film stars Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm and Louis Armstrong as himself. Musicians appearing as part of Armstrong’s band included Edmond Hall (clarinet), Trummy Young (trombone), Billy Kyle (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), and Barrett Deems (drums).
Notable not only for Grace Kelly’s last acting role before she became Princess of Monaco, and for being the first on-screen pairing of Sinatra and Crosby, it was also Porter’s first new film score in more than ten years. Noboby who has seen the film will ever forget the scenes and scoring of the classic “True Love,” “Well Did You Evah?” and “Now You Has Jazz,” a bonafide improvisational take on the interaction between singer and instrumentalists that has not been topped yet in a movie. Orchestrators Conrad Salinger and Nelson Riddle and bandleader Johnny Green must have had a lot of fun recording the soundtrack. Armstrong looked like he was having a deliciously time throughout, especially when he and the band launched a glib “High Society Calypso” in the movieland version of a band bus road trip to the Newport Jazz Festival, then in it’s debut infancy stage and the catalyst for this extraordinary romp.
Now you has jazz…jazz…jazzz.
Singer/bandleader Judy Chamberlain specializes in live music for celebrity weddings in California, Arizona, Texas and beyond. She can be reached at 714 319-9242