On a side street in the friendly little town of Peru, Indiana, we came across the handsome two-story home where one of America’s most beloved and prolific composers was born.
Cole Albert Porter was born June 9, 1891, the only child of Samuel Fenwick Porter, a druggist, and Kate Cole Porter. His maternal grandfather was the wealthy and powerful James Omar Cole, who made his fortune speculating in coal and timber, and was known as “the richest man in Indiana.”
Porter’s strong-willed mother, who grew up with wealth and privilege, loved music and insisted her son start music lessons at a young age, playing for two hours a day while he was growing up. By the time he was six, he could play both the piano and violin.
It was important to Kate Porter that her son excel at everything, and she had the resources to ensure that it happened. When he was fourteen, she falsified his school records to state that he was a year younger and thus exceptionally bright for his age, as compared to his peers. She also financed student orchestras with the understanding that her son would be guaranteed star billing for his violin solos and even used her father’s influence to make sure that the local media gave the young musician glowing reviews.
Samuel Porter was a quiet and shy man, no match for his wife or her father, who dominated the family. James Cole expected his grandson to become an attorney and sent him to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts in 1905. The young man was popular and did well in his studies, being named class valedictorian. After he left Worcester Academy, he entered Yale University in 1909.
After graduating from Yale, Porter enrolled in Harvard Law School in 1913. But he had a plan for his life, and it did not include returning to small town Indiana for a career in business or the law. He dropped out of law school and began studying music instead. While his mother encouraged the switch, it was kept secret from his grandfather, who was not only paying for his education but had also subsidized his parents’ comfortable lifestyle throughout their marriage.
Porter’s gift for music not only made him popular with his fellow students, it also brought him early success; he wrote some 300 songs while at Yale, including the football fight songs Bulldog and Bingo Eli Yale that are still played at the college today.
After graduation from Harvard, Porter moved to Paris, where he quickly became involved in the elite social scene, throwing and attending parties that were described as extravagant and scandalous. While there, he did not have to hide his homosexuality. It was also in Paris that he met and married Linda Lee Thomas, an American divorcée eight years his senior. They had been close friends and confidantes, and the marriage was one of convenience, giving them both a cloak of respectability.
Porter was busily writing compositions all along, with a modicum of success, while living an extravagant lifestyle financed by an inheritance from his grandfather, who died in 1923. He finally found success in 1928, at the age of 36, when his musical Paris became a Broadway hit.
Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Cole Porter produced a string of hit songs for Broadway musicals, including You’d Be So Easy to Love, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, In the Still of the Night, Don’t Fence Me In, My Heart Belongs To Daddy, Night And Day, I Get A Kick Out Of You, and Too Darn Hot, to name just a few.
Cole Porter seldom returned to Peru, and when he did, it was only for brief visits. His later years were filled with pain and depression. In 1937 he had been seriously injured in a horseback riding accident when his mount rolled on him, crushing his legs. His doctors said that his right leg would have to be amputated and that he might lose the left one as well, but he refused to have the procedure. He was hospitalized for seven months and lived in constant pain for the rest of his life.
His mother, with whom he had been close all of his life, died in 1952, and his wife followed two years later. In 1958 he developed complications in his right leg due to the earlier injury, and after a series of operations did not help, he reluctantly allowed the limb to be amputated. He never wrote another song after the amputation, and the rest of his life was spent in seclusion, allowing only a few intimate friends to visit. Cole Porter died on October 15, 1964, at the age of 73. He is buried with his parents in Peru’s Mount Hope Cemetery.
Today the house where the composer was born is an inn, with a small museum and gift shop. His 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood is on display at the Miami County Museum in Peru. And though Cole Porter has been gone for over fifty years, the music he gave us lives on as a legacy to the man from Peru.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – What doesn’t kill you gives you a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a sick sense of humor.