Cole Porter was arguably the finest writer of popular music the 20th Century ever produced. While he composed standards which on the surface celebrated straight romance like Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love and Night & Day, he was in reality a gay man who secretly enjoyed a host of affairs and one-night stands, hidden by a showbiz marriage of convenience.

De-Lovely, one of his biggest hits, is the title of the biopic starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd that was released in July 2004. The film featured performances from contemporary artists like Robbie Williams & Elvis Costello. Both Kevin and Ashley spoke to OutUK correspondent Ron Dicker in this exclusive interview whilst they were launching the film in Cannes.

Kevin Kline is not surprised that De-Lovely highlights Porter's homosexuality and tortured brilliance. Just as it was inevitable that Michael Curtiz's 1946 Porter movie, Night And Day avoided them. "In that period, people were more willing to accept the mythology, a good story," says Kline, who plays Porter in the updated version.
Kevin Kline & Ashley Judd ©2004 MGM.
"Whether we've become too clinical now, we're more interested in the pathology than the romance of a story." De-Lovely, which closed the 2004 Cannes festival, presented Porter as a tragic dandy whose voracious consumption of men helped fuel his creativity in writing dozens of sly pop standards. It nearly ruined him, too.
Linda Porter, his wife of convenience and deep friendship, did not have blinkers on. She chose to look the other way, standing by her man until he no longer stood by her sense of decorum. When the Porters moved to Hollywood so he could write musicals for bigger bucks, he indiscreetly indulged in a bevy of bronzed and buffed lovers.

"She didn't leave because he was being unfaithful," said Ashley Judd, who plays Linda. "She didn't leave because she felt betrayed. She left because he was increasingly self-destructive in his hedonistic sex life. That was criminal activity back then. It's impossible to imagine what would have been done to him beyond scandal."

Kline had said earlier that the movie would not pull punches about his sexual preference. "But Linda was Cole's muse, his inspiration, and his task mistress," he said. "The bottom line is that they had a deep and abiding love for one another."


Linda Porter came back after her husband had a crippling horse-riding accident in 1937, and they remained together until her death by emphysema in 1954. He never wrote another song afterward. The movie also features a later male love of Porter's whom his wife had hand-picked for him so he would not be alone.

"Everyone is deeply desirous of being authentically known and appreciated and accepted by someone, whether it's a parent or a partner," Judd said. "They had that kind of connection. We're talking about a marriage without sex that in Cole Porter's own words was stunningly intimate."

Kline arrived at a hotel restaurant off the Croisette in suit and tie. Far more handsome and taller than Porter, Kline did not aim for impersonation. But he did re-learn the piano for nine months to get in touch with Porter's essence. Kline has a song dance background, winning a Tony for the musical The Pirates of Penzance. He also has a 1988 Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda.


De-Lovely director Irwin Winkler (My Life As a House) preached art above total accuracy in his pastiche, which is woven together by pop stars such as Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Robbie Williams singing from Porter's catalogue. Elvis Costello and Diana Krall also perform.

The movie begins with a dying Porter in his New York City apartment in 1964. Enter a man named Gabe (Blow, Gabriel, Blow, is one of Porter's songs and Gabriel is an angel, get it?), played by Jonathan Pryce, who has the ability to re-conjure scenes from Porter's life as if they were watching a rehearsal from the back row. The moments, like the songs, play out like a greatest hits compilation.

How the film was to connect with modern audiences -- straight and gay -- was a major concern at all its premieres. Kline balked at the idea of modern singers essaying songs from the '20s and '30s and '40s, then figured that if any entertainment figure's appeal could transcend generations, it would be Porter's.

"At the risk of oversimplifying and self-aggrandizing, it's the same reason we're interested in Mozart and Beethoven," Kline said. "He wrote great music and it's unforgettable."

A handful of biographies cover Porter's rise from Indiana to Yale to Broadway with his first musical, See America First, in 1916. But the scattershot narrative of De-Lovely picks up when Porter meets Linda Lee, the richest and prettiest divorcee in Paris, in 1918.

That was when Porter's career took off. His first hit was Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love from the musical Paris. He continued to crank out popular works such as Be a Clown, Don't Fence Me In, In the Still of the Night, Too Darn Hot and, of course, De-Lovely.

Many were laced with double-meanings that reflected on his own lifestyle and that of his rich and powerful friends. Kline called him a unique combination of self-indulgence and hedonism.

This time, Cole Porter, the movie, comes a lot closer to Cole Porter, the man.

"A lot of songs they wouldn't play on radio because they were too risque," Kline said. "He pushed the envelope. He was hot."


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