|About this Recording
8.120888 - PORTER, C.: Aladdin (DuPont Show of the Month, CBS TV) (1958) / Les Girls (Film Soundtrack) (1957)
Aladdin Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
All of Cole Porter’s life was like one of those contrapuntal melodies that his rival Irving Berlin was so fond of: a jingly-jangly upbeat tune played against a deeply-felt, often melancholy melody.
With Porter, the surface was always opening night-bright, full of smiles and parties, champagne and diamonds, beautiful people doing lovely things.
But underneath was a world of pain and suffering, fear and anxiety.
The old cliché “Laughing on the outside, crying on the inside,” could have been invented for Porter, and nowhere was this dichotomy most apparent than in the final two works of his career: Les Girls (1957) and Aladdin (1958).
The songs from this film and this teleplay are jaunty, saucy, racy, irreverent – all the adjectives normally applied to Porter’s work.
True, they are not pitched anywhere near the level of quality that marked his earlier triumphs and Porter himself admitted that the level of drudgery involved in finishing these two final assignments was unmatched in his life.
But that’s only to be expected, considering the physical and psychological turmoil he was in during their creation.
On an internal level, it seemed as though the demons of inadequacy and loneliness he’d been running from all of his life had finally cornered him with no way out.
Porter had lived since his college years as a closeted gay male, seeking release in random relationships or paid encounters. But he needed an emotional anchor to his life and he found that in his wife, Linda.
From their marriage in 1919, the two of them formed a strange but solid partnership. Their union may have been sexless, but it was far from loveless and when she died in 1954, Porter truly felt like he had been cast adrift.
He also was experiencing major doubts about his worth as a creative artist. His last big hit had been 1948’s Kiss Me Kate, but since then, there had been one flop (Out of This World) and two other shows (Can-Can and Silk Stockings) which succeeded, but found critics insisting that the shows “were not up to his old standard”.
In fact, since the opening of Silk Stockings, he had not received a single offer to work on a Broadway show and the man who was once the King of Broadway must have known the bitter irony in only being offered film and television work.
But all of this psychological pain took second place to the physical traumas now ravaging his body.
Ever since a tragic riding accent in 1937 had crushed the bones in both legs, Porter had been living in constant pain. A vain man, he refused to even discuss the possibility of amputation and opted instead for a series of thirty surgeries.
As a result, he existed on a cross-addicting regime of alcohol and pills, which eventually caused him severe mental and physical damage.
Chronic depression led him through a series of electro-shock treatments from 1950 on and by 1956, when he was starting work on Les Girls, his lifetime regime of booze and barbiturates took their toll on his internal organs, leaving him with a huge bleeding ulcer, which penetrated through his pancreas.
The situation was finally corrected by major surgery early in 1957 and it was while recovering from it that he was invited to work on Aladdin.
It’s obvious that Porter, then in his mid 60s, was really in no condition to work, but he felt he had to push on. “It’s the only thing that gives me the courage to wake up again in the morning,” he told his old friend, musicologist Albert Sirmay.
And the truth is that, while neither Les Girls or Aladdin is from Porter’s top drawer, only a confirmed Porter scholar can see the strain under which the two projects were composed.
Les Girls, in particular, has that distinctive Porter sheen. The songs were composed after John Patrick’s screenplay was completed, which might be one reason that they seem to fit the characters so well.
The title song is one of Porter’s snappiest and the chemistry of Gene Kelly with the saucy Yankee of Mitzi Gaynor, the sophisticated Briton of Kay Kendall and the endearing gamine of Tania Elg crackles through the lyrics.
But elsewhere, although the numbers have some sparkle, they seem like second carbons of earlier Porter hits, with You’re Just Too, Too! owing a lot to “You’re the Top” and Ça, c’est l’amour having more than a passing resemblance to “C’est Magnifique”.
Kelly’s Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal)? on the other hand is a perfect piece of Portermania. No one could yearn as well as he could.
Effortless though the score may seem, Porter confided to colleagues that he had to write a dozen numbers before he came up with the five that pleased his Hollywood masters.
Porter approached Aladdin with trepidation, not just because of his depleted physical condition, but because Rodgers and Hammerstein had just scored a huge success with their television musical, Cinderella and he knew that critical and popular comparisons were unlikely to work in his favour.
But the addition of wit and playwright S.J. Perlman as author of the libretto swayed Porter over and he agreed to tackle the project.
He set to work with all of his usual organization and since any true creative impulse was lacking, he sought refuge in exhaustive research.
The witty, rapid-fire Come To The Supermarket (In Old Peking) wasn’t the result of a madcap burst of inspiration, but rather Porter pouring over numerous books about the ancient Chinese city and had scholarly friends prepare lists of products available in the market at that time.
The love songs for the score are sadly generic as if the “Begin the Beguine” man had nothing left to say about passion, but he did rally a bit with the lyrics for the last song Porter ever finished, Wouldn’t It Be Fun (unfortunately cut from the actual telecast but included on the album as presented here).
One has to view with bittersweet emotions the final lines, which could have been about Porter as well as the Chinese emperor:
While the film critics were kind to Les Girls in its 1957 release, the television pundits tore into Aladdin after its 21 February 1958 broadcast, calling it “a pretentious ordeal.”
But Porter paid no heed, because he was already having to prepare for the amputation of his right leg in April, 1958 and although he lived until 1964, he was later to say that “I felt I died that day.”
Still, listen to his voice on the brief introduction to the demo tracks that serve as a bonus on this recording and you’ll hear the man in full: feisty, funny and “so in love” with the art of songwriting.
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