Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana in 1891. His first name was his mother’s last name. His mother’s father, James Omar Cole (known as J. O.), was incredibly influential in Cole’s early life. J.O. started as the son of a shoemaker, but worked so hard that he became the richest man in Indiana.
His mother, Kate, always had the best clothes and the best education, and was well versed in dancing and music. J.O. was disappointed when this grand lady married Cole Porter’s father, a shy, relatively insignificant druggist from a small town in Indiana. They married without J.O.’s full consent, but he supported them and their children financially for the rest of their lives.
Cole’s Childhood Cole played both the piano and violin and at age six began to play the piano two hours a day, often accompanied by his mother. At age 10, he dedicated his first song, “Song Of The Birds” to his mother. She published one hundred copies and sent them to all her friends and relatives. At age 14, he enrolled in the Worcester Academy and was graduated valedictorian of his class.
His Yale Years At age 21, he went to Yale where he wrote two of Yale’s best known football fight songs (“Bingo Eli Yale” and “Bulldog”) that are still sung today at every Yale football game. He composed lots of songs and several full musicals, most of which boasted of the incredible strength and prowess of Yale men. For his fine portrayal of “the Yale man”, he was voted the most entertaining member of his class. It was here that his homosexuality became evident with his life-long preference for large strong men. He left Yale after writing approximately 300 songs, and six full scale musical productions.
Harvard Law School His mother’s father, the man who paid the bills, told Cole to become a lawyer and not a composer. Cole enrolled in Harvard Law School, but he spent most of his time writing musicals for presentations at Yale. The next year, without telling his grandfather, he transferred to Harvard’s School of Arts and Sciences and went full steam after a career in music. Then he quit school, moved to the Yale club in New York, and wrote incredibly beautiful music for the world to love and cherish.
Marriage as Camouflage In 1917, Porter moved to Paris where he lived and entertained extravagantly. There he met Linda Thomas, an American divorcee who was eight years his senior. They became close companions and married two years later, on December 19, 1919. They had a sexless marriage until she died in 1954, when he was 63. She was the perfect cover for his homosexuality. She was part of the highest social circles of the entertainment industry and he was part of the liberal gay community. She was concerned that his public sexual adventures threatened her social acceptance.
Incredible Pain in his Legs At age 46, he fell off a horse and broke several bones in both legs. His mother and wife talked the doctors out of amputating his legs because they felt that this would destroy his “handsome-guy” image of himself. He was often involved with men with large muscles and big chests, who looked like Greek gods. He spent many hours each day just grooming himself and combing his hair. He remained in the hospital for months, became depressed, and was in such constant pain that doctors tried to relieve him by operating 33 times.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy It is indeed unfortunate that his doctors didn’t know that his severe leg pains were caused by Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a condition in which a person develops incredible crippling pain following operations or accidents. Doctors used to think that this condition was caused by nerve damage, but research has shown that people who have this condition have severe osteoporosis, a thinning and weakening of the bones in an injured extremity that can often be cured with drugs to strengthen bones, such as 60 mg of intravenous pamindronate administered once a week for three weeks. More on Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy
Amputation At age 67, doctors amputated his right leg. This cost him his image as a handsome man with lots of admiring male lovers. He progressively lost his ability to compose and write and his social standing with other men. He went into a deep depression and led a lonely and reclusive life. The only bright spot was that at age 69, Yale gave him an honorary Ph.D. He died of kidney failure at age 73, on October 15, 1964. More about this wonderfully prolific composer
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