A very warm and hazy day for May in New York
Gramercy Park West. 3:45 PM. Photo: JH.

Last night Daryl Roth, Marvin Hamlisch, Douglas Cramer, Hugh Bush and Douglas Leeds hosted a private screening of De-Lovely at the MGM screening room. The new Irwin Winkler directed movie musical, written by Jay Cocks and based (very broadly) on the life of composer/lyricist Cole Porter and his wife Linda, stars Kevin Kline as Porter, Ashley Judd as Linda Porter, and Jonathan Pryce as Porter’s heavenly producer. There were performances by Natalie Cole, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette and Robbie Williams, all very contemporary, all of which demonstrated that Cole Porter, who died forty years ago, wrote songs that have no age (one of them, which was sung by Kevin Kline – “Experiment” – was written in 1919 and introduced by Gertrude Lawrence).

After the screening, the New York and Hollywood stellar crowd hopped into their limousines and over to the Hotel Plaza Athenee on 37 East 64th Street for a big dinner. Just before the screening, Peggy Siegal announced that the stars of the film could not be there because they were in Cannes for the Film Festival and screening of the picture over there. In the crowd, besides the hosts and hostess, I saw Arlene Dahl and Marc Rosen, Wendy and Leonard Goldberg, Tommy Tune, Larry Kramer, Paige Peterson, Chris Cerf, Sondra Gilman-Falla, William Ivey Long who was with Fernanda Niven; Parker Ladd and Arnold Scaasi, William Lauder, Rex Reed, Lynn Wyatt, Barbara Guggenheim, Nancy and John Novogrod, Fred Zollo, Jackie Rogers, Chappy Morris and Melissa Stanley, Annette Tapert and Joe Allen, Elaine Stritch, Freddie and Carole Guest, Dixon Boardman, Terry Allen Kramer and Nick Simunek, Jed Bernstein, Judy Agisim.

Linda and Cole Porter

This is the second film biography of Cole Porter. The first, starring Cary Grant and Alexis Smith was made in the mid-1940s and in retrospect is admired for its production values and otherwise ignored for its hokey story of the Porter marriage which was in reality what the French would call a mariage blanc. Cole Porter was homosexual and whatever Linda Porter’s sexual orientation was, it was nothing like the kind of sadly-disappointed-but-stoically-loyal-and-loving of the Ashley Judd (and Alexis Smith) portrayal.

Nor does either film present the age difference between the two: Linda married her first husband in 1901 when Cole was still a ten-year-old living with his parents in Peru, Indiana. Born Linda Lee, a Southern belle who traced her roots (like Jacqueline Onassis) to the Lees of Virginia, she divorced her very wealthy newspaper owning husband in 1912 – after a violent and unhappy marriage.

Linda and Cole met at a party in Paris to which he had come to entertain (non-professional) with his piano and his songs. That was 1918. Cole was 27 and polished, and Linda was 40 and a very sophisticated woman of the world. She was completely charmed by the devilishly witty charmer. They married two years later and moved into a hotel particulier that she bought for $250,000 (about $10 million in today’s currency) on rue Monsieur near the Eiffel Tower. Before he met Linda, Cole Porter was the grandson of a rich man brought up in a small town in Indiana, educated at Yale and was living in Europe with among others, his Yale roommate, the now immortalized friends of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gerald Murphy and his wife Sara.

Despite his school associations and his financial stability, it was the older and wiser Linda Lee who introduced him to the world that he became identified with in legend. It was also an approved union by Cole’s doting mother Kate who brought up her son with great social aspirations – all of which were realized beyond her wildest dreams. Linda Porter also advanced his career with her connections. Although he was clearly a genius songwriter, his first big Broadway hit came when he was 41, in 1932 – the Gay Divorce starring Fred Astaire (who introduced “Night and Day”).

In life, Porter was famous amongst his friends for his joie de vivre and amongst many of his male friends, for his seemingly limitless sexual enthusiasm. When the Porters moved temporarily to Hollywood (so he could write for the movies, MGM specifically), he was deluged by the company of eager and willing beautiful young men.

This social activity did not appeal at all to Linda who liked the glitterati of society in New York and Paris. The marriage was stretched to almost estrangement for some time because of this, although by this time, they’d been married for almost twenty years. By that time, Linda was already in declining health with chronic respiratory problems. Nevertheless, although it was a sexless marriage, it was enduring and strong.

Linda died after a long illness at their apartment in the Waldorf Towers, and despite her wish to be buried on a hillside on their property in Williamstown, she was buried alongside his mother at the family plot in Peru, Indiana. Her husband, who mourned her loss deeply, by then a double amputee because of a horrendous horse-riding accident thirty years before, died only ten years later.

The rich and complex relationship of the couple is cosmeticized and air-brushed beyond recognition of their reality in this film, as it was in the Grant-Smith opus a half century ago. Howbeit, the great Cole Porter songs, inspired with wit amplified by his wife’s devoted professional encouragement, is the real legacy of their union and fills De-Lovely up there on the screen, in the performances of the two stars, Kline and Judd and the guest stars singing. A joy, all joy.

Anthony Paige
Barbara Guggenheim and Wendy Goldberg
Doug Leeds and Paige Peterson
Sondra Gilman-Falla
Peter Glebo and Tommy Tune
Peggy Siegal
John Novogrod
Hugh Bush
Geoffrey Bradfield
L. to r.: Daryl Roth and Larry Kramer; Barbara Jakobson and Celso Falla.
Doug Cramer and Wendy Goldberg
Cathy Graham and Leonard Goldberg
Arnold Scaasi and Parker Ladd
Steve Graham and Miss Novogrod

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May 19, 2004, Volume IV, Number 83
Photographs by DPC/NYSD.com

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