My father graduated from Yale in 1913.
At the time, getting into Yale must have been a bit like making a reservation at 21. If you were one of the fortunate few, the only real question was did you want a table at seven thirty or eight thirty.
He played football (“badly, very badly”), was a member of the mandolin club, and was fired early on as drama critic at the Yale Courant for asking Sarah Bernhardt rude questions about her love life.
In later years, he found that boys from his dorms, ones with names like Pinky, Weasel, and Lefty, were now ambassadors to Sweden, vice presidents of General Electric, or on the board of the Federal Reserve. And he came to remember that one of the boys down the hall, someone he barely knew back then, was Cole Porter.
“He had this boola-boola image that he liked to present in his songs about all the camaraderie and good times of college life, but he wasn’t very well liked. Just the opposite. He was a little guy, sort of awkward and a bit of a loner, and he was pretty badly teased. More than teased. The football players used to stuff him in a laundry basket and roll him down several flights of stairs. I never did that. But I also never tried to stop them. I should have. I didn’t.”
They reconnected, briefly, when my family got financially involved in his musical Kiss Me Kate in 1948 and held backers’ auditions at my parents’ Midtown apartment. As my dad recalls:
I took him aside before the audition started, we went out on the terrace, and I mentioned Yale and the rooms I’d been in, and he just nodded. Those couldn’t have been happy times for him, no matter how he liked to present them. He was bullied pretty badly.
“Oh, they weren’t so bad,” he shrugged.
I reminded him about the laundry basket banging away down the stairs. Bump. Bump. Bump.
But he shrugged again and pulled out a cigarette case, a gold cigarette case, and he lit up a cigarette. He didn’t puff on it, he just held it there in front of him and looked at it and nodded.
“It wasn’t so bad,” he said, finally. “At least they left all the laundry in it. So it didn’t hurt that much.”
The Letters of Cole Porter, edited by Cliff Eisen, was recently published by Yale University Press.
Brian Cullman is a musician, producer, and writer living in New York City.