When Patricia Morison first met Cole Porter in 1947, she sang a Rodgers and Hammerstein song for him.
"I thought it was safer," she says with a laugh. Porter must have liked what he heard from the young actress who at the time was not known as a singer."He gave me the score for something called `Kiss Me, Kate' and told me to learn it," Morison recalls. "He was having a difficult time raising the money for the show. It took over a year."
The wait was worth it. "Kiss Me, Kate" turned out to be Porter's biggest musical success and gave Morison the opportunity to play the temperamental Lili Vanessi and sing such songs as "Wunderbar" and "So in Love."
Forty years later, she sang those songs again in New York recently at "A Cabaret for Cole," one of the opening attractions of the First New York International Festival of the Arts.
"Broadway has always been my first love," says Morison who now lives in California. "You never lose that once you've tasted it."
One of the women who turned down a role in "Kiss Me, Kate" was also on hand for the songfest. Mary Martin sang another Porter song, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" from "Leave It to Me," a number she first sang on Broadway 50 years ago. The show was Martin's Broadway debut and the song, a coy striptease number, made her a star.
These two legendary women were not the only attractions at "A Cabaret for Cole." The other singers doing the songs of Cole Porter also have impeccable credentials. They include Karen Akers, Kaye Ballard, Barbara Cook, Michael Feinstein, Hildegarde, Sylvia Syms, Margaret Whiting and Julie Wilson.
The concert was a benefit for the Mabel Mercer Foundation which was founded after Mercer's death in 1984 to widen the audience for cabaret. The singer was generally considered to be the supreme cabaret artist, known for her ability to interpret a song's emotional sense.
From the late 1930s until the late 1970s, she sang in several New York nightclubs including Le Ruban Bleu and Tony's, as well as at the St. Regis Hotel.
Porter was a great friend of Mercer. He thought her rendition of "Just One of Those Things" was the best version ever done.
For Morison, the chance to appear in "Kiss Me, Kate" 40 years ago was a dream come true. To do it, she needed to get out of a commitment to appear in what was a new line of work for actors in 1947 - a TV series.
"I think it was called `The Cases of Eddie Drake,' " Morison says. "I played a lady psychiatrist to whom the detective came and told his stories, lying on the couch."
Morison did get to New York after the producer shot all her 13 segments on the television show in a quick two-week period and she agreed to publicize the series.
"Cole was a wonderful friend," Morison says. "He had an essential musicality. Plus there was the elegance of his lyrics."