December 30, 1948: Kiss Me, Kate opens on Broadway. Back in 1935, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were married and playing the leads in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Arnold Saint-Subber watched the married couple battle during the run of the play and in 1947 he asked Samuel and Bella Spewack to write a play about what he had seen a decade earlier. Bella asked Cole Porter to write the music and lyrics for the production. The play had a pre-Broadway run at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia beginning on December 2 and opened on this night at the New Century Theatre on Broadway. It ran there for 19 months before moving to the Shubert on Broadway and ran for a total of 1,077 performances. The original Broadway production was directed by John Wilson and choreography was by Hanya Holm. The original cast included Alfred Drake, Patricia Morison, Lisa Kirk, Harold Lang, Charles Wood, and Harry Clark.
Cole Porter was born in Indiana in 1891 to one of the wealthiest families in the state. His mother was musically inclined and Cole learned violin at age six and piano at age eight. She dominated the boy’s upbringing. His father was a poet and it is thought his influence came through in the wonderful lyrics his son would later create. The overriding force in the family was J.O. Cole – Cole’s grandfather and purportedly the richest man in Indiana. His dream for his grandson was that he would become a lawyer. The boy was sent off to school in Massachusetts and graduated as valedictorian of his class. As a reward he was sent to Europe. When he returned and entered Yale University, he did so as an English major with a minor in music. He wrote 300 songs while at Yale.
World War I intervened and Porter served in the French Foreign Legion. In 1919, he married a divorcee who was eight years older than he was. She found the marriage advantageous in upholding her social status and he could pose as a heterosexual in a time when homosexuals were not accepted. They remained married until she died in 1954 and seemed devoted to each other. Porter’s success at songwriting was full throttle in the 1920s and 1930s. He was in a serious horseback riding accident in 1937 which left him disabled and in constant pain. His shows in the early 1940s were not quite flops, but did meet with his former success.
And then, Kiss Me, Kate opened. It was his most successful musical ever and the only time one of his shows had over 1,000 performances. It was the first time he wrote the music and lyrics as firmly connected to the script – an integrated musical. In 1949, the first time a Tony Award was presented for Best Musical, it was given to Kiss Me, Kate. But Porter’s life was falling apart. His mother died in 1952 and then his wife died in 1954. After 34 operations on his injured right leg, it had to be amputated in 1958. He lived out the remaining years of his life as a recluse. He died of kidney failure in 1964 at the age of 73.
My sole inspiration is a telephone call from a director.
It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.
Good authors, too, who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose… anything goes.
Most gentlemen don’t like love, they just like to kick it around. – all from Cole Porter
Also on this day: Once in a Blue Moon – In 1982, the only total eclipse of a blue moon in the entire century took place.
Countess Bathory – In 1610, the Blood Countess was stopped.
Ted on the Loose – In 1977, Ted Bundy once again escaped from prison.
Not So Special – In 1924, Edwin Hubble announced that we were not alone.
Hat Trick – In 1896, the first hat trick during a Stanley Cup playoff game took place.