Cole Porter puts on the Ritz…

…London Barbican puts on Cole Porter.

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

“The play(Semi-Monde)’s alternative title, Ritz Bar, betrayed its origins. The Ritz Hotel in New York had two bars, one a men’s bar well known for its homosexual clientele. Here Beverley Nichols saw Cole Porter, looking like a ‘startled leprechaun’, sipping Pernod and casting his ‘dark, syrupy little eyes to the white and gold ceiling’, devising ‘his devastating little rhymes’. The other bar was mixed; when Porter met his wife, the couple switched from the former to the latter.

(Cole Porter married the society beauty Linda Lee Thomas in 1919. Her first husband was the rich newspaper owner Edward Thomas, whom she had divorced in 1908, citing Teddie Gerrard as co-respondent. Cole Porter was later introduced to Teddie at a party. ‘I don’t know whether I should meet you or not,’ said Teddie, ‘you see, I was your wife’s ex-husband’s mistress.’)

The Ritz Hotels in Paris and London also had bars known for their homosexual clientele; the London was notorious enough to be closed down by the Ministry of Defence during the Second World War, deemed detrimental to service discipline…

…They sailed for Tunis on 4 May (1926), but were back in Palermo by the eighth. From there they sought the high society of Venice: Cole and Linda Porter, and Elsa Maxwell and Dickie Fellowes-Gordon were already there.

The Porters, each independently wealthy, had spent the past three summers in Venice, where they threw increasingly elaborate parties – for one, they built a floating nightclub on the canal. That summer they rented the imposing Palazzo Rezzonico, where a whole series of charity shows and balls were planned, with the jeunesse doree (and some not so young or golden) as guests: Tallulah Bankhead, Diana Cooper, Oliver Messel and Elsie de Wolfe (who that year, at the age of sixty, married Sir Charles Mendl).

Here Coward experienced the liberated hedonism of Cole Porter’s circle. Dickie Fellowes-Gordon recalled that the American got into trouble with the law when he tried to bed a reluctant gondolier. In addition to ‘indiscriminate sexual experimentation, heavy drinking was commonplace, and hashish, opium and cocaine were tried by most members of this Lido set’. (John Chapman) Wilson, no mean drinker, was quickly part of the scene; he, Coward and Porter were photographed in their belted swimming trunks, a tanned trio posed in diminishing size, Wilson with Coward’s arm slung easily over his lover’s shoulder, Porter bracing his chest to look bigger for the camera.”

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