COLE PORTER by William McBrien

COLE PORTER

A Biography

KIRKUS REVIEW

A comprehensive biography that ultimately seems rather like a 400-page Cole Porter song list. McBrien (English/Hofstra Univ.; coauthor, with Jack V. Barbera, of Stevie: A Biography of Stevie Smith, not reviewed) enjoyed the cooperation of the Porter estate and the composer’s relatives; he interviewed surviving friends and colleagues; and he makes extensive use of contemporary periodicals and previous books about Porter. He duly collects the pertinent information and imparts it clearly, from Porter’s 1891 birth into a wealthy Indiana family to his lonely death in 1964 after 27 years of suffering from leg injuries sustained during a riding accident. McBrien conscientiously chronicles Porter’s privileged existence: undergraduate cavorting at Yale; early composing efforts; marriage to an equally affluent widow; his travels through Europe during the 1920s (when he was considered too rich to really devote himself to Broadway); and then his triumph, from the 1930s through the 1950s, as the musical theater’s smartest, sexiest, most sophisticated songwriter. This detailed narrative is long on facts and quotes but short on analysis. Attempting to understand, for example, how the Porters sustained mutual affection even as the homosexual Cole pursued men with increasing openness, McBrien settles for a friend’s reductive explanation that Linda’s unhappy first marriage had put her off sex. It’s a pleasure to read large chunks of brilliant lyrics from Porter’s astonishing array of classic songs (“Anything Goes,” “Love for Sale,” “Night and Day,” “You’re the Top,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”), but McBrien unfortunately devotes much less time to the sinuous melodies and pulsating rhythms that were equally important. His account of Porter’s decline and death acknowledges but doesn’t do justice to decades of pain borne with stoicism and style. McBrien obviously appreciates and loves his subject, but his book lacks two things needed to convey Porter’s essence: wit and rue. (72 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-394-58235-7
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998




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