The original lyrics for Cole Port’s song “Anything Goes” explained.
“Anything Goes” is a Cole Porter musical that premiered in 1934. To use the vernacular of the time, it was a humdinger. It is still so, even today. A love-lorn young man stows away on an ocean liner sailing to London to be near the object of his affection. His efforts to save her from entering into a loveless marriage result in frequent impostures, frantic hijinks, and lots of dancing and singing. And what singing there was!
There were songs such as “You’re the Top”, “It’s De-Lovely”, “I Get a Kick Out of You”, and of course, the title tune: Porter at his word-crafting, cadence filled, memorable best. The latter song talking about how, even in 1934, it was getting hard to say what was beyond the pale anymore.
The original lyrics of “Anything Goes” included many topical references that Depression Era audiences understood perfectly. As years passed, though, the musical became a staple of high school, college, and amateur productions. And events and people have well known in 1934 faded from memory, replaced with more generic examples of changing times.
But if you ever hear the original version – the lyrics of which can be found, here, you may wonder what several of the comments refer to. As for example…
“When Missus Ned McLean (God bless her)
Can get Russian Reds to “yes” her,
Then I suppose
Evalyn Walsh McLean was an heiress and socialite married to Edward Beale (Ned) McLean, heir to the Washington Post newspaper. They were one of the ‘power’ couples of their day. She was famed, among other things, for using their combined fortunes to give lavish and extremely popular parties.
In the 1920′s, soon after its founding, the McLeans made a very well-publicized visit to the Soviet Union. In those halcyon, pre-Cold War, pre-Stalin days, that was not as shocking as it might seem today. Many American and British leftists were enthralled with the idea of Socialism as a form of government, feeling it might be a panacea for the world’s ills. And there was hope the USSR might actually become the workers’ paradise it said it would be. Porter here is combining the trip and Mrs. McLean’s hostess skills to suggest even the Russian Soviets – often depicted at the time as Puritanical, no-nonsense ideologues – were not able to resist responding to her party invitations by sending their RSVPs with a ‘Yes”.
Rockefeller and Max Gordon?
“When Rockefeller still can hoard en-
Ough money to let Max Gordon
Produce his shows,
Max Gordon was a theater and film producer with a string of successes during the 1920′s and early 30′s. In 1934, he decided that people tired of the Depression wanted big productions. And with massive backing from John D. Rockefeller – who still had deep pockets – Gordon gave them BIG. “The Great Waltz”, a theater biography of Johann Strauss II. With a cast of over 180 players, 500 costumes, and a finale that included a 50 piece orchestra playing on a platform being hoisted above the stage by hydraulics, chandeliers lowering from above, and the whole cast waltzing at once. The musical played to packed houses for months and brought in enough to repay Rockefeller his investment and a lot more besides.
Vanderbilts and Whitneys?
“And that gent today
You gave a cent today
Once had several chateaux.
When folks who still can ride in jitneys
Find out Vanderbilts and Whitneys
Lack baby clo’es,
While there is no certain evidence that the Stock Market Crash of 1929 cost any of the very rich ALL their money, it certainly eliminated a great deal of wealth in the U.S. Something those common folk reduced to riding in jitneys – illegal taxis or buses with a fare of a Nickle or a few pennies – knew too well. The idea that those who COULD still spare a Nickle or a penny were in much better shape than the formerly very wealthy, however, was an appealing one.
The Crash also leads indirectly to the incident touched on. The Vanderbilts and Whitneys were two of the richest families in America. In 1934 one of the youngest members, Gloria Vanderbilt was a nine-year-old child. She was the beneficiary of a $5 million dollar trust fund that her father, railroad heir Reginald Vanderbilt, had set up before his death.
Her mother, also named Gloria, had control of the fund. The stock market crash, and her mother’s prolific spending and unrestrained behavior, raised concerns among relatives about little Gloria’s fortune. And about the safety of the girl herself. Her paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, intervened and demanded a fiscal and parental accounting. The end result was a VICIOUS legal battle in 1934 for custody of little Gloria, with allegations that her mother was unfit and – among other things – would not even buy clothes for her daughter. Gertrude won and Gloria came to live – apparently happily – with her. This was a rather dark reference for an otherwise innocuous song.
“If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction
Instruct Anna Sten in diction,
Then Anna shows
Anna Sten (1908-1993) was a Ukraine-born actress. After initial success in the cinema in Russia and more success as an ex-pat in Germany, she was brought to the United States in the 1930′s by Hollywood studio titan Samuel Goldwyn. The plan was that she would be a rival to Greta Garbo. She was lovely, she was talented; unfortunately, because of her thick accent and an odd inability to appeal to American audiences, her films, starting with “Nada” (1934), weren’t very successful.
Sam Goldwyn was not a native English speaker, either. And he had his own accent, and a tendency to misspeak to the point he was known as Mr. Malaprop (“Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined”, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”). These traits, which the audience of “Anything Goes” would have been well aware of, made this a knee slapper of an inside joke.
“When you hear that Lady Mendl standing up
Now turns a handspring landing up-
On her toes,
Elsie de Wolfe (1865? -1950) was a prominent American personality. An author, an actress, and one of the first female proponents of and most famous names in interior decorating: Making the inside of the house as attractive and appealing as the outside. In 1926 at the age of 61 (and a very rich woman), she married Sir Charles Mendl, a British diplomat. The new Lady Mendl was a devotee of physical fitness and yoga, very spry for her age, and defiantly unconventional. And shortly after her marriage, attending a fancy dress party in France, she caused a massive sensation by making her entrance turning handsprings while dressed like a Moulin Rouge dancer. Eight years later people were STILL talking about it.
“So Missus R., with all her trimmin’s,
Can broadcast a bed from Simmons
‘Cause Franklin knows
Anything goes. ”
In 1934 the Simmons Mattress Company sponsored a weekly radio program hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt. This, while her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was President. She also allowed Simmons to use her name and image for a series of advertisements. Needless to say, this set off a firestorm of controversy. Mrs. Roosevelt refused to back down. Most of her earnings were being donated to charity, and she would not cut off this source of revenue for those helping the poor and needy at a time when the country was still in the depths of the Great Depression just because it wasn’t ‘politic’.
Also, she insisted she and other women had a right to have careers and earn money separate from their husbands. A view that back in 1934, was somewhat startling to some segments of the American public. Indeed, she went on to be a frequent radio commentator and newspaper columnist for years afterward. FDR and his administration supported her in her actions. In part, because they saw it as an outreach to women, who after all DID vote. And in part because, through Eleanor, Franklin could put ideas before the public and issue warnings about the worsening situation in Europe; unofficially, but via a medium he knew Americans were listening to and trusted. Because FDR DID know, when it comes to politics, anything goes.