Yale library gets Cole Porter material

November 29, 1992

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A trove of Cole Porter material, written while he was a college student and discovered in a house in Kennebunk, Maine, has been acquired by the music library of Yale University.

The collection includes notes, lyrics and doodles as well as the score and lyrics for a football song and the outline for a college musical, both previously unknown. The 700 manuscript pages were written in pencil in Porter's neat, loopy hand while he was at Yale, from which he graduated in 1913.

The material is in eight small stenographic pads and three large notebooks that also have classroom notes on college courses ranging from Shakespeare and the 19th-century English poets to psychology and musical counterpoint. The notes are interspersed with Porter's fragmentary lyrics, doodles and comments.

One of the most prolific artists of the American musical theater, Porter wrote nearly 800 songs and two dozen musicals, several of which were turned into films. While at Yale, he wrote several musical entertainments, six of which were produced by the Yale University Dramatic Association or his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and two football songs, "Bingo Eli Yale" and "Bulldog," which remain popular at Yale today.

His first Broadway show, "See America First," was a flop, but after the success of "Fifty Million Frenchmen" (1929), "Gay Divorcee" (1932) with Fred Astaire, and "Anything Goes" (1934) with Ethel Merman, Porter was ranked alongside Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. He is known also for such standards as "Night and Day," "Let's Do It," "I Get a Kick out of You," "Begin the Beguine" and "It's Delovely."

Robert Kimball, a historian of the American musical theater and with Brendan Gill the co-author of the recently reissued biography "Cole," said the discovery provides "rare insight" into Porter's creativity.

"Also," he said, "it's wonderful to read Porter's attentive note-taking in a course on Shakespeare, and then sense his mind beginning to wander as he sketches out some lyrics. We see how he loved to play with words."

One of the racy verses Porter drafted during a lecture on "Pericles," "Antony and Cleopatra" and "Coriolanus" goes:

"Hell hangs o'er us

Like a sword of Damocles

We're the chorus

Of a box of Ramses"

William McBrien, a professor of English at Hofstra University who is working on a biography of Porter and is studying the notebooks, said of them: "It's not that they change our view of Porter but rather bolster what we know about such matters as his marriage, his Epicureanism, his intellectual interests and the things that influenced him."

Mr. O'Brien said he was struck by comments in the notebooks indicating that Porter was deeply impressed by the relationship between Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. After suffering from depression in his youth, Wordsworth went to live with his sister. The relationship proved restorative, and soon Wordsworth published his first important poetry.

"Wordsworth's relationship with his sister was based on domesticity and not sex," Mr. O'Brien said. "This helps us to understand Porter's marriage to the socialite Linda Lee Thomas. Although Porter was gay, his relationship with Linda was profound. When she died in 1954, that was the beginning of his decline."

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