Fudging Cole Porter’s Age

“Cole’s elfin size and agile mind may have also helped endear him to students and faculty, especially since he was thought to be twelve and just about the youngest in his class. Actually Cole was fourteen when he enrolled at Worcester.”[1]

 

“Cole’s records at Worcester Academy have listed his birth date erroneously as 1893 which would have made him twelve that year, the youngest in the class. Actually he was fourteen, the deception having been foisted many years before by Kate in the attempt to make her son seem a prodigy.” [2]

 

“Kate also taught him to make up stories about himself. She used to take two year off his age so he would to be even more of a child prodigy than he was.” [3]

 

“The time was nearing for Cole to set off for boarding school. As we have seen, Katie had detected in her son at an early age his gifts as a composer and performer, and she did what she could to encourage and develop those gifts. Her ambition for him may well explain the otherwise mysterious fact that Worcester Academy records identify Cole as twelve years old at the time of his registration when he was actually fourteen. (Having misrepresented himself at boarding school, Cole continued in later life to be cavalier about his age, and at least three of the passports he acquired show different dates of birth: 1891, 1892, and 1893).” [4]

 

Early photograph of Cole Porter at Worcester Academy

Early photograph of Cole Porter at Worcester Academy

 

From the information supplied by the seven full biographies of Cole Porter[5], Kate Porter actively changed her son’s age to give the impression that that he was a musical prodigy. This activity made the biographers believe that she did this because she was the stereotypical stage mother heavily promoting her son. Part of the promotion was that it was exceptional that such a young boy attend an Eastern boarding school. It is accurate that Cole was thirteen when he applied, but he turned 14 years old in June, 1905 three months prior to his arrival at Worcester Academy. The stage mother image may have been abetted by the biographers who mentioned that the school records indicated that Cole was born in 1893. Unfortunately, the only records that the Academy furnished them was an alumni record which gave an incorrect date of birth. In reality, this deception was never promoted at Worcester because Cole’s correct date of birth and age were listed in the school records. The actual report card books indicted his correct date of birth, so it was never a factor as far as the Academy was concerned.

Why did Cole and Kate Porter create the myth that he was a prodigy by fudging his age? The story was probably a smokescreen to cover up the fact that Cole needed to go away from home. It is known that the family’s life was miserable, and moreover that his relationship with his father was poor. What is possible is that his father was very abusive to him and that Kate concluded that he needed to get out of their home. Thus, rather admit that fact to her family and friends in Peru, she actively promoted the myth that he was musical prodigy who was ready for the demands of a strong academic school like Worcester Academy.

 

Yale Questionnaire filled out by Cole Porter at his graduation (Permission of the Yale University Archives)

Yale Questionnaire filled out by Cole Porter at his graduation (Permission of the Yale University Archives)

Kate was not the only one guilty of fudging of her son’s age- Cole did it too. In a questionnaire at his Yale graduation, he gave the wrong information on his age. Question c. How old will you be (year, months and days) June 18th 1913? He answered twenty-one when he was actually a year older. Question g. was Date of birth (give day, month, year) and he wrote June 9th, 1893.[6]

 

Cole’s Age for Worcester Academy was typical

 

Cole Porter's first report card stating his correct age.  (American Antiquarian Society collections)

Cole Porter’s first report card stating his correct age. (American Antiquarian Society collections)

As far as Worcester Academy was concerned, Cole’s age was not exceptional. He turned fourteen three months prior to entering Worcester Academy, which Abercrombie maintained was fine, “There are sixteen teachers at Worcester Academy. Fifteen live in dormitories and one on campus. At fourteen, a boy ought to be able to enter first year of our course”. [7] To one inquiry, he indicated the range of age of boys “is 13 to 18 or 19 though there are 5 or 6 considerably older than 20 and rarely a boy under 13. The average age is about what should be found in a prep school. I would say that boys of 14 years of age would be from 8 to 10% of the total enrollment, so 90% are over 14 years old.” [8]

 

There were even younger boys, “We receive boys from 11 and 12 upward. We have young men or our faculty, some of whom are older. We have a very admirable and kind matron, a women of large experience and very motherly ways with the boys, who takes an interest in boy’s health, and in the neatness of their rooms and their personal tidiness…” [9] In another letter, he wrote that, “should your young friend attend, he will find other young boys his age.” Academic ability was not too much of an issue: the fact that a “boy of twelve in this day of diffuse and rather inexact training and teaching has learned to read, write and spell is hopeful.” [10]

 

What was unusual was that Cole was a bright boy entering Worcester Academy at a young age. If he had been a troubled boy with issues, that might have been more typical for a boy his age to come to Worcester Academy. The best example of this was Elbert Shirk, who came from Cole’s hometown and was a distant relative. Elbert entered Worcester as a freshman because he was very rambunctious. It was Abercrombie’s philosophy that he could settle such boys down to help them learn to concentrate on their studies. Cole was not a troublemaker, nor was he struggling in school. It is reasonable to believe that his father’s abusiveness behavior forced the Kate to send him away from home.

 

Kate was reasonable with Abercrombie

Worcester Academy alumni card with incorrect age.

Worcester Academy alumni card with incorrect age.

 

Kate’s very active promotion his musical talent caused the biographers to write that she was an overbearing stage mother, but her correspondence with Abercrombie shows her to be quite reasonable in regards to Cole and his behavior. This is significant, because if she had been at all like the pushy image portrayed by her biographers, she would not have been able to communicate with Abercrombie because he had contentious relations with overbearing parents. For example, “Very few boys know while at school what they ought to do in life and this is right; very few ought to know that. In my experience and observation, more boys are embarrassed and handicapped in later life by having their careers picked out for them unwisely by their parents rather than otherwise”. In response to a prospective parent, he replied, “Parents are often too analytical and dissect their children’s nature and acts and motives so minutely as to loose sight of some of the greater traits which reveal themselves with analysis.” [11]

As principal, he was intolerant of criticism and responded harshly. To one mother, “I understand you have been a teacher. I won’t give the boy work because he is unwilling to come up to requirements for work”. Then to her husband, “She came unannounced, then waited until chapel was over. Her words and spirit were objectionable throughout. It ended with an outburst of her personal estimate of me”. This was not the exception, “Your note passes the bounds of frankness and insinuation that a boy’s treatment in this school depends on the amount of his term bill that his parents pay is indignantly resented and altogether unworthy of you. There has never been a boy I have tried to help than your son. He is a most trying boy”. Even compliments divulged bias, “His mother is one of few women who had good business wisdom and sense. She is clear in her mental operations, wise in her judgments, and kind in her spirit of cooperation with me on the boy’s behalf”. He characterized her as an unusual woman who was “kind, full of helpfulness, spirit, and very practical”.

 

 

[1] P.18-19 Cole Porter A Biography by Charles Schwartz. 1977

[2] P. 13 Noel & Cole The Sophisticates Stephen Citron 1993.

[3] P. 20 Genius & Lust, The Creative and Sexual Lives of Cole Porter and Noel Coward, Joseph Morella & George Mazzei 1995.

[4] Cole Porter William McBrien 1998.

[5] “And their only child, Cole Albert Porter, born on June 9, 1892” P. 21 The Cole Porter Story by David Ewen, 1965

 

“I was born in 1891, not in 1893 as my doting friends insist.” P.6 The Cole Porter Story as told to Richard G. Hubler 1965

 

“He succeeded very well, too, until Katie announced that the following fall, at the age of thirteen, he was to go East to school.” P. 24 The Life That Late He Led George Eells 1967  

 

[6] With permission from Yale Archives

[7] (DWA letter 10/233, June 25 06)

[8] (DWA letters10/934, Feb 6 07)

[9] (DWA letters 4/272, Feb 17 02)

[10] (DWA letters17/186)

[11] (DWA letters 17/186)

Posted in Archived Posts | Comments Off on Fudging Cole Porter’s Age