Hey, Porter!

Cole Porter Lecture

I think we can all agree that when considering the life of Cole Porter, the same questions arise time and time again: first of all, how come no one puts on follies anymore? I've never seen a good folly before. In fact, I've never even seen a bad one. Proves my point, right? It was the folly/revue/jubilee genre that brought Porter his first break. After having his songs cut from numerous shows, Porter's first hit was that legendary rationalization of risqué behavior of "Let's Do It"—because "even Pekinese in the Ritz do it"—followed a couple of years later by a charming ditty about youthful prostitutes called "Love for Sale"—you know, with "love that's fresh and still unspoiled, love that's only slightly soiled." But the Notorious C.A.P. never claimed to be a role model.

Which brings me to my next question: Whatever happened to the dandy? Dandies had a pretty good run on American culture for a while. Clearly taking sartorial cues from his contemporary, Mr. Peanut, Porter was the decadent man about town, blazing trails for the likes of Capote and Warhol before the whole lifestyle sputtered out. Now relegated to syndicated entertainment shows, the dandy has fallen on hard times. Can't a man wear an ascot and sip a martini without being required to talk about fashion with Barbara Walters? There was a time, friends, there was a time. Where are the yacht parties peppered with acrobats and Daisy Buchanans, illuminated by Chinese fireworks and vintage champagne? Even the swells in Newport seem to prefer B to the E to gin martinis nowadays. In dandier times, Porter was the toast of the world, laughing loudest in the presence of diplomats and celebrities. While Porter was still alive, Warner Brothers produced a biopic documenting his riches-to-riches struggle to the top of the songsmith heap. Who other than Cole would be suave enough to request that perhaps Cary Grant play the lead?

No doubt Porter's role as an unsung progenitor of hip-hop and master of the corsage will be discussed this week around midafternoon tea at the Bowers.

Cole Porter Lecture at the Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 567-3600; www.bowers.org. Thurs., Nov. 16, 1:30 p.m. $8; members, $6.

 
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