musicals

Happy Birthday, Cole Porter

On June 9, 1891, songwriter Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, the only child of the wealthiest couple in town. Porter grew up in refinement, attending Yale to study English then Harvard to study law. His interest in music turned from a hobby to a passion, and he gave up law to pursue composition. It is fairly well known that Porter was a closeted homosexual, but in the early 1920’s that simply wouldn’t do. While living in Paris, he entered a marriage of mutual friendship to wealthy socialite Linda Lee Thomas. Though Porter experienced only minor successes abroad, his wife encouraged him in his work. Once he returned stateside, he fared well on Broadway despite the crash of 1929 and began writing songs for Hollywood.

Much of Porter’s work is included in the Great American Songbook, performed by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and more recently, Harry Conick, Jr. and Michael BublĂ©. Some of Porter’s best known songs include Night and Day (1932), I Get a Kick Out of You (1934), I’ve Got You Under My Skin (1936) and From This Moment On (1950). In addition to popular songs, Porter wrote the musical scores for the hit stage shows Anything Goes (1934) and Kiss Me Kate (1948), both adapted as successful films.

Porter’s wife, Linda, and his mother both died in the early 1950’s, and later in the decade Porter underwent an amputation of his right leg. He lived in relative seclusion in New York and stopped writing music. On October 15, 1964 at seventy-three years old, Porter passed of kidney failure. Porter was a huge contributor to music history, and his life was the subject of two biopics, 1946’s Night and Day starring Cary Grant, and 2004’s De-Lovely starring Kevin Kline. Chances are you’ve heard or seen a Porter song. His extensive body of work remains popular and continues to be re-imagined by contemporary acts.

Eartha Kitt sings Night and Day
Ella Fitzgerald sings I Get a Kick Out of You
Frank Sinatra sings I’ve Got You Under My Skin

MM MyHeartBelongsToDaddy

Marilyn Monroe performs “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”

In Honor of Frank Sinatra

“You gotta love livin’ baby, cause dyin’s a pain in the ass.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes. The Chairman of the Board. The Voice. One of my all time favorite stars. You just can’t beat Frank Sinatra. He enjoyed a long, dynamic career as a singer, actor, playboy, and professional VIP, passing of a heart attack on May 14th, 1998 with an elegant send off on May 20th. Not bad for 82 years on this earth, many of them spent with Jack, Johnny, Jim and the Marlboro Man.

Francis Albert Sinatra was born on December 12, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey (there’s something about a celebrity who keeps their given name that I find very endearing). Sinatra never finished high school, though his instincts didn’t steer him wrong–leading him to a singing career early on. While performing in night clubs during his early twenties, he caught his big break by signing with Tommy Dorsey and his famous orchestra in 1939 (one of my favorite years). The Voice burned up the charts and Sinatra became the teen idol for the 1940’s. Later that decade, he starred in a trio of musicals with another one of my favorites, Gene Kelly, giving lovable performances in Anchors Aweigh (1945), Take Me Out to the Ball Game and On the Town (both 1949). He starred and sang in other memorable musicals including Guys and Dolls opposite Marlon Brando, High Society with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby, and Pal Joey with Rita Hayworth.

Sinatra proved he could be a dramatic heavy hitter as well, winning the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Maggio in 1953’s Pearl Harbor romance From Here to Eternity, and scoring a Best Actor nomination for his performance of a heroin addict in 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm. During the 1960’s, he starred in a variety of comedies, dramas, and war time films, including The Manchurian Candidate and a handful of films with fellow Rat Packer Dean Martin.

I enjoy watching Sinatra on screen, but I think most people associate Sinatra with his voice, a smooth-as-silk and easy sound. As his heart-throb image wore off in the late forties, his larger than life Vegas image gained momentum in the fifties. I haven’t heard a single Sinatra recording I didn’t like. Whether he’s singing melodic hits from the Great American Songbook or crooning through “Luck Be A Lady” or “Witchcraft,” listening to Sinatra is comforting. It feels cool, romantic, and genuine.

Since his was a very public life, I’m adding His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra to my summer reading list in the interest of gaining some more perspective on this fascinating man.

In Honor of Gene Kelly

“The song has ended, but the melody lingers on.”

Gene Kelly (8/23/1912 – 2/2/1996) is one of the most famous dancers of all time, and is one of my favorite people to watch on screen. Starring in some of the most popular movies of the 40’s and 50’s, Kelly cemented his name in Hollywood history with his athletic style, innovative choreography, and his respect for dance as a medium to tell a story.

As a kid in Pittsburgh, Kelly and his four siblings took dance lessons at the urging of his mother. He teamed up with his brother Fred and hit the nightclub circuit (as I suppose Don Lockwood’s background scenes from Singin’ in the Rain may be somewhat autobiographical). After earning a degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh, Kelly took his chances in New York City, making it to the stages of Broadway. His big break came in 1940, when, at 22 years old, he won the lead in the hit musical Pal Joey (17 years later, Frank Sinatra would play the lead on film with Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak). Metro Goldwyn Mayer studio head Louis B. Mayer caught Kelly’s performance and quickly offered him a movie contract.

If you were a dancer in the 40’s, MGM was mecca: the studio produced the biggest movie musicals with the brightest stars, best scripts, and most talented crew. Kelly made his big screen debut opposite Judy Garland in 1942’s For Me and My Gal. In 1944, he played the male lead Danny McGuire in Covergirl with a pre-Gilda Rita Hayworth, which made him a star. Kelly teamed up with a young Sinatra for Anchors Aweigh (1945), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) and On the Town (1949). AA had Kelly dancing opposite Jerry Mouse as the first film to incorporate animation and live action. Scenes from OTT were shot at famous New York City landmarks, making it the first musical filmed on location.

In addition to playing lead roles, Kelly collaborated with film makers as a director and choreographer, and he is primarily responsible for two of the greatest film musicals of all time, An American in Paris (1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). For these films, he cast an unknown Leslie Caron and a young Debbie Reynolds, respectively, in the roles that launched their successful careers. AAIP won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1952 and features an elaborate 17-minute ballet sequence at the end of the film, the first of its kind. Kelly was given a special honorary Academy Award “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” Singin in the Rain ranks on numerous lists and surveys as the most popular musical of all time, and has been released around the world in several languages.

In 1996 at 83 years old, Kelly passed in his sleep after a series of strokes. Even though he is gone, his incredible performances will live on film. He is remembered as the man who sings in the rain, and the every-man who made dancing masculine.