Born to the wealthiest family in Peru, Indiana, Cole Porter enjoyed life at exalted levels of society, both in the United States and in Europe. He was famous for his witty and suggestive lyrics as well as his beautiful, memorable melodies. A devastating riding accident in 1937 left him physically damaged but did not impair his creative genius. Photographs, video clips and samples of his songs add to the discussion of Cole Porter’s personal and professional life.
Shakespeare On Broadway
Shakespeare’s plays often included music, but no one thought of adapting a Shakespeare play into musical comedy until Rodgers and Hart created The Boys from Syracuse in 1938. It is a close adaptation of The Comedy of Errors. Since that show’s success, many other adaptations have been written; the most successful are West Side Story and Kiss Me, Kate, based on Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew respectively. In these three cases, dream teams of Broadway talent created lasting masterpieces.
Fred Astaire & Friends
Fred Astaire’s career began in Vaudeville when he was six years old and danced with his older sister, Adele; it continued on Broadway and went on to great success in the movies. Besides his ten movies with Ginger Rogers, he starred with Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, and others. And his dancing career was followed by serious acting, even earning him an Academy Award nomination for his work in On the Beach. Astaire had a lasting influence on dance in America. Bob Fosse and Michael Jackson are among the dancers and choreographers who have expressed their debt to Fred Astaire.
Rodgers & Hart
Rodgers and Hart met in 1919, when Lorenz Hart was working on shows for Columbia University and Richard Rodgers was still a high school student. The two found they had a similar vision of what musical comedies could be and they began working together. They had a song placed in a Broadway show that very year. Six years later their first full Broadway show made them famous; that was followed by many more successes on Broadway and in Hollywood. They wrote more than five hundred songs together before Hart’s alcoholism led to his early death.
Gerald & Sara Murphy
Sara and Gerald Murphy were at the centre of the arts world in France in the 1920s. The children of wealthy New York businessmen, the Murphys moved to Paris and then to Cap D’Antibes, where their generosity supported such friends as the writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald; the painters Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger; and the composers Igor Stravinsky and Cole Porter. The tragedy that struck their family inspired Archibald Macleish’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, J.B.
Tin Pan Alley &
Broadway in the '20s
Most of the standards of the Great American Songbook were written for Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. Both terms refer to geographical locations, but their meanings go beyond geography and are linked to styles of music. A look at the locations, the personalities, and especially the songs will acquaint you with Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and many other songwriters.
Known for his hilarious bumptious and vulgar movies, Mel Brooks does not advertise his more serious side. Even the silliest of his movies make brilliant use of music and songs (many written by Brooks himself). He also created Brooksfilms, a production company that is responsible for 84 Charing Cross Road and The Elephant Man, among other films. This look at Brooks’s life and work focuses especially on his use of music.
P. G. Wodehouse
The creator of Jeeves, that perfect gentleman’s gentleman, and Bertie Wooster, his ‘mentally negligible’ employer, was already famous as a Broadway writer and lyricist before these fictional characters became known. He used elegant prose and inventive figures of speech to build complex, farcical plots. Wodehouse’s career – and his equanimity – were badly hurt when he was accused of collaborating with his Nazi captors during World War II, and he spent the rest of his life in the United States, still writing successfully about his imagined world of British landed gentry.