“Fifty Million Frenchmen” (1929), see my posts of 6/18/17 and 1/13/18, was one of Cole Porter’s first successful, Broadway shows. The timing of its opening was problematic as it was introduced in the midst of a stock market collapse to mixed reviews. The panicked producers were so anxious to stimulate good publicity that they even paid Irving Berlin to advertise his positive feelings about the show, the laughs and “one of the best collections of song numbers I have ever listened to”.
Porter quickly takes deadly aim at U.S. congressman, Andrew Volstead, by staging the show’s opening chorus at the Ritz bar in Paris with a male ensemble singing “A Toast to Volstead”. Volstead, who had introduced the National Prohibition Act in the House of Representatives, prohibiting the sale of liquor in the US, was a natural target for Porter, who opposed the Puritan tendency of some Americans to try to legislate against personal freedom, especially sexual freedom.
Some have accused Porter of racial prejudice, citing one song from the show, “The Happy Heaven of Harlem”, which contains verses they feel are insensitive. While he could be patronizing with blacks, his biographer, William McBrien, reveals that Porter also associated them with spontaneity and vigor, qualities he greatly admired.
The lyrics of “A Primitive Man” also hint at Porter’s not being above winking indirectly his own appetite for a bit of rough;
“Find me a primitive man Built on a primitive plan, Someone with vigor and vim, I don’t mean the kind that belongs to a club, But the kind that has a club that belongs to him. “ “The only man who’ll ever win me Has gotta wake up the gypsy in me”
A tom-tom beat and wah-wah muted trumpet seem the perfect accompaniment to Lee Wiley on this rendition of one of Porter’s most witty songs.