Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cole Porter -- "Too Darn Hot" (1948)

I'd like to stop for my baby tonight
And blow my top with my baby tonight
But I'd be a flop with baby tonight
'Cause it's too darn hot

Cole Porter’s musical, Kiss Me, Kate, opened on Broadway in 1948 – before most American homes had air conditioners.  

One of the reasons my in-laws bought a house on Cape Cod sixty-plus years ago was to escape the awful heat and humidity of summers in Washington, DC.  Now that we have air conditioning in our homes and cars, my family usually suffers more from the heat and humidity on Cape Cod than we do in Washington.  

Fortunately, the Cape Playhouse – where we recently enjoyed a revival of Kiss Me, Kate -- has excellent air-conditioning.

Here's a photo of the Cape Playhouse that I took as we were walking to the performance:

Here's a picture of the Playhouse in the daylight:

The Cape Playhouse, which claims to be the oldest professional summer theatre in America,  opened in 1927.  The star of the first production was Basil Rathbone, a famous British actor who was best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in fourteen movies that were filmed between 1939 and 1946.  

Other stars who have appeared at the Cape Playhouse include Bette Davis (who worked at the theatre as an usher first), Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart, Helen Hayes, and the 18-year-old Jane Fonda.

A very young (and very blonde) Bette Davis
Kiss Me, Kate is about the production of a modern-day play based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  The play within the play opens in Baltimore – where the weather is just “too darn hot.” 

The leading man and leading lady are a divorced couple who are still strongly attracted to one another, but the course of true love never did run smooth (to quote Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  Of course, there’s a happy ending – this is a Broadway musical, after all – but the two stars spend most of the play fighting like cats and dogs.

The Taming of the Shrew scores low when it comes to political correctness.  The plot revolves around the determination of a wealthy father to find a husband for his elder daughter, Katherina – a stubborn, man-hating shrew who wants no part of marital bliss.
When Petruchio, a suitor who is motivated by greed, shows up and begins to pitch woo, the shrew fights him tooth and nail.  But he uses reverse psychology to turn her into a very obedient wife.  

I remember seeing the 1967 Franco Zefferelli-directed movie of The Taming of the Shrew, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  Taylor's Kate defies Burton's Petruchio at the end of the movie, undercutting what appears to be Shakespeare's misogyny and making the movie more palatable to modern audiences. 

Taylor and Burton's romance began during the 1963 filming of Cleopatra (the most expensive film ever made if inflation is taken into account).  Both were married at the time, but they both managed to get divorced and married each other in 1964.  The infamously stormy marriage ended in 1974, but the couple remarried the next year, separating for good shortly thereafter.  (Their relationship somewhat mirrors that of the two main characters in Kiss Me, Kate.)

Kiss Me, Kate goes a step farther than Shakespeare's play did – Petruchio not only plays mind games with Kate, but eventually puts the shrew over his knee and gives her a good spanking to make her behave.  It’s not easy for a modern-day audience to accept Kate’s transformation from independent-minded woman to submissive wife – especially when that transformation is accomplished largely through assault and battery – but the Cape Playhouse production downplayed this aspect of the plot enough to make the outcome palatable.

Cole Porter was one of the greatest American songwriters of all time.  He learned the violin and piano when he was a child, and began to write songs at a young age.  When he attended Yale, he was a member of the original Whiffenpoofs, the oldest and most famous collegiate a cappella group.

But Porter’s wealthy and domineering grandfather wanted him to be a lawyer, not a musician, so he went to Harvard Law School after graduating from Yale.  (His first-year roommate was Dean Acheson, who was Secretary of State in the Truman Administration.)  Porter didn’t enjoy his legal studies, and with the dean of the law school’s encouragement, he enrolled in Harvard’s music school.  He and his mother kept the move secret from his grandfather.

Cole Porter was a lefty
Porter married a wealthy divorcee who was eight years his senior when he was 28.  His wife was well aware that he was a homosexual when they wed, but their marriage of convenience seems to have been satisfactory to both – they remained married until she died 35 years later, and were by all accounts quite devoted to one another.

It’s interesting that Porter’s greatest Broadway success was a play about a tempestuous but passionate heterosexual love affair.  The contrast between his characters’ relationship and his relationship with his wife – which was devoid of romance or sex, but always friendly and pleasant – could not be greater.

Porter had a way with words -- that might be the understatement of the century -- and he was never more clever than in "Too Darn Hot."  Here’s the original Broadway cast recording of “Too Darn Hot," which has more double entendres than you can shake a stick at:

Here's a video from the 2002 UK production.  The staging and choreography is very similar to what we saw at the Cape Playhouse:

Click below if you’d like to buy the song from Amazon:


  1. Interesting--both Jimi Hendrix and Cole Porter were left-handed. I notice this because I'm a southpaw, as is my favorite lady of song Ms. Evie Sands. Although she usually plays a left hander Carvin guitar, she also has a Fender Stratocaster Jimi Hendrix tribute model--the headstock label reads "redneF".