You're Cellophane!

Not too long ago, I created a Music Man glossary, since that show is so chock-full of period slang and euphemisms. Now, working on Anything Goes, I find the same thing is true. It's part of what make both shows so good -- they create a very real, full world in which these characters exist.

On the other hand, in the original Anything Goes, several the lyrics were full of references to people and things that were popular in 1934, many of which we haven't even heard of today. So a lot of the original lyric for "You're the Top" and "Anything Goes" would just be baffling to audiences today; and instead of listening to the song, they'd be feeling left behind and confused. Those lyrics had to be revised for the revivals.

Mitchell Morris writes in his article "Lists of Louche Living: Music in Cole Porter's Social World," in the book A Cole Porter Companion:
From early in his career, Porter loved references to historical as well as contemporary figures, usually in some brash situation that flatters his audience (we recognize the reference and we get to poke fun at it too). Porter as a lyricist loved metonymic things, particularly lists. On the one hand, these lists frame a particular kind of eroticism -- they most often appear in songs of romance (however ambivalent) and employ potentially endless wit, since the list could hypothetically continue to exhaustion, in the service of courtship. But the list also serves to create an implied social world in which Cole’s immediate audience, who certainly recognize the references, are joined by a larger and more inchoate audience through magazines, recordings, and radio, joined together by their sense of inclusion. And now we return to the difficulties of Porter’s intense social embeddedness -- since he depended heavily on the evanescence of the current reference, his lists can have an unusually short cultural half-life. Even when some brief excavation securely identifies a reference, it takes a great deal of time to unpack the halo of associations that are compressed around it, and that time is the death of wit. But though the wit be diminished in explication, the richness that comes from reconstructing the social network condensed into a single reference offers a different set of rewards.

Contrary to what a lot of directors and actors think, it is not important for the audience to get every reference; but it is important that the actors get them, so that they can live fully and honestly in this world. That sense of reality is the real value of period references. After all, we can enjoy Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan without knowing all the various cultural and political references.

All that said, for actors and directors working on Anything Goes, and for all musical theatre fangirls and fanboys (of which I am one) who just love the show, here is my Anything Goes glossary. Take a look particularly at the juxtaposition of these pop culture references against each other, in their context. Porter is doing some really subtle, sophisticated social commentary in many of these lyrics.

From the original 1934 script:

"Manhattan" -- a cocktail made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. While rye is the traditional whiskey of choice, other commonly used whiskeys include Canadian whisky, bourbon, blended whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey, invented in in the early 1870s at the Manhattan Club.

"Grosvenor House" -- one of the largest private homes in London, torn down during World War I, and replaced with the luxury Grosvenor House Hotel

"Tommy gun" -- the Thompson submachine gun, invented by John T. Thompson in 1918, and became infamous during the Prohibition era.

"rote shot" -- a section of the newspaper with society photographs, called the "rotogravure," after the printing process

"Evelyn" -- a then common British man's name pronounced EVE-lin.

"Snake Eyes Johnson" and Moonface Martin" -- jokes on 1930s gangster nicknames, like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bugsy Siegel, Machine Gun Kelly, Lucky Luciano...

"dicks"  -- law enforcement; a slang term for detectives, originally coined in Canada and brought south by rumrunners during Prohibition. The comic strip character Dick Tracy was named for this term.

"a wireless" -- a telegram

"Mater" -- British for Mother, from the Latin, an intentionally old-fashioned term

"Eight Bells Strike" -- the striking of eight bells on a ship says a four-hour watch shift is over (it's not connected to a specific time on the clock)

"my sea legs..." -- a person's ability to keep their balance and not feel seasick when on board a moving ship.

"Nicholas Murray Butler" -- a famous American philosopher, diplomat, and educator; president of Columbia University, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"Damn white of him" -- originally used under British colonialism, an expression of appreciation for honorable or gracious behavior, under the assumption that white people were inherently more virtuous.

"The Social Register" -- according to Wikipedia, "The social elite was a small closed group. The leadership was well known to the readers of society pages, but in larger cities it was impossible to remember everyone, or to keep track of the new debutantes, the marriages, and the obituaries. The solution was the Social Register, which listed the names and addresses of the families who mingled in the same private clubs, attended the right teas and cotillions, worshipped together at prestige churches, funded the proper charities, lived in exclusive neighborhoods, and sent their daughters to finishing schools and their sons away to prep schools"

"Beefeater" -- actually a ceremonial guard at the Tower of London, but here just referring to a British person, possibly also implying that Evelyn is stiff...?

"Coliseum" -- the famous amphitheater in Rome, built in 70-80 AD

"Louvre Museum" -- the world's largest museum, in Paris, holding some of our great works of art, including the "Mona Lisa."

"Symphony by Strauss" -- German composer Richard Strauss was still actively writing operas and concert works when Anything Goes opened.

"Bendel bonnet" -- a ladies' hat from Henri Bendel, the upscale women's specialty store still today based in New York City, selling handbags, jewelry, luxury fashion accessories, home fragrances and gifts

"Shakespeare Sonnet" -- Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, fourteen-line poems

Mickey Mouse -- you have to remember that for these characters living in 1934, Steamboat Willie premiered only six years ago, and Mickey was still only in black and white...

"Vincent Youmans" -- Broadway composer of many musicals, including No, No, Nanette, Hit the Deck, and several Hollywood films

"Mahatma Gandhi" -- still in the middle of his historic fight for independence for colonial India from Great Britain at this moment

"Napoleon Brandy" -- an "extra old" blend of brandy in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years

"The National Gallery": Famous art gallery in Washington, D.C.

"Garbo's salary" - according to an article on, "After the success of Flesh and the Devil (1927), Greta Garbo demanded that MGM raise her salary from $600 per week to $5,000 per week. Louis B. Mayer hemmed and hawed, so Garbo sailed to Sweden. Eventually Mayer gave in and Garbo sailed back. $5,000 per week comes to $260,000 per year, or the equivalent in today's dollars of $4.6 million per year."

"cellophane" -- according to Wikipedia, "Whitman's candy company initiated use of cellophane for candy wrapping in the United States in 1912 for their Whitman's Sampler. They remained the largest user of imported cellophane from France until nearly 1924, when DuPont built the first cellophane manufacturing plant in the US. Cellophane saw limited sales in the US at first since while it was waterproof, it was not moisture proof—it held water but was permeable to water vapor. This meant that it was unsuited to packaging products that required moisture proofing. DuPont hired chemist William Hale Charch, who spent three years developing a nitrocellulose lacquer that, when applied to Cellophane, made it moisture proof. Following the introduction of moisture-proof Cellophane in 1927, the material's sales tripled between 1928 and 1930." Our story is set in 1934.

"Derby winner" -- the 1934 running of the Kentucky Derby was its 60th!

"You're a Brewster body" -- the frame for a Bentley or Rolls Royce luxury car

"A Ritz hot toddy" -- a specialty drink of the Ritz Hotel bar in Paris

"the sleepy Zuder Zee" -- The Zuiderzee was a shallow bay of the North Sea in the northwest of the Netherlands. The characters in Anything Goes know this because in 1928, sailing events for the Amsterdam Summer Olympics were held on the Zuiderzee.

"Bishop Manning" -- Episcopal Bishop of St. John the Divine Cathedral in Manhattan.

"A Nathan panning" -- a bad review from New York drama critic George Jean Nathan

"broccoli" -- something of a novelty in 1934, having been farmed commercially in the US only since the 1920s, and the first advertising campaign on its behalf didn't occur until 1929. So in 1934, broccoli was the culinary cutting edge

"a night at Coney" -- Coney Island

"Irene Bordoni" -- French actress who starred on Broadway in Cole Porter's 1928 musical Paris, introducing the song "Let's Do It" (which had replaced "Let's Misbehave")

"a fol-de-rol" -- a useless ornament or accessory, nonsense

"Arrow collar" -- the famous "Sanforized" collar on Arrow Shirts. The Arrow Collar Man became an advertising symbol in the 1920s for rugged masculinity.

"Coolidge dollar" -- the very sound, very strong American dollar, under President Calvin Coolidge, before the Depression

"Fred Astaire" -- Broadway and film star of musical comedies

"(Eugene) O'Neill" -- Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright of powerful dramas, including Anna Christie (1920), The Emperor Jones (1920), The Hairy Ape (1922), Desire Under the Elms (1924), Strange Interlude (1928), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), and others

"Whistler's Mama" -- the famous painting actually called Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, best known as Whistler's Mother, painted by the American painter James McNeill Whistler in 1871

"Camembert" -- A mellow, soft cheese with a creamy center first marketed in Normandy, France.

"Inferno's Dante" -- Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) author of The Divine Comedy, the third part of which deals with Inferno (Hell).

"the great Durante" -- comedian/actor Jimmy Durante. His first film was in 1930, but he had made 19 films by 1934

"de trop" -- a mispronunciation of the French phrase de trop, meaning too much, not wanted, unwelcome

"A Waldorf Salad" -- a salad of apples, walnuts, raisins, celery, and mayonnaise, originated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.

"Berlin ballad" -- A romantic song by American songwriter Irvin Berlin, who by 1934 had already written standards like "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "What'll I Do?", "Blue Skies," and "Puttin' on the Ritz." A few years later, in 1938, Berlin would write "God Bless America."

"an Old Dutch master" -- a Dutch master painter like Rembrandt, but ALSO a brand of cigars

"Mrs. Astor" (changed to "Lady Astor" in 1962) -- Mrs. John Jacob Astor, leading New York socialite.

"Pepsodent" -- toothpaste introduced in the USA in 1915 by the Pepsodent Company of Chicago. The original formula for the paste contained pepsin, a digestive agent designed to break down and digest food deposits on the teeth, hence the brand and company name. Pepsodent was among the first big radio advertisers, sponsoring the Amos and Andy radio show from 1929-1939. Also, from 1930 to late 1933 a massive animated neon advertising sign for the toothpaste, featuring a young girl on a swing, hung on West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City.

"the steppes of Russia" -- a region of grasslands joining Europe and Asia -- Around 1930 the Soviet Union wanted to attract foreign tourists to bring in currency and improve its external image. On Stalin's and the Party's initiative a national tourist agency was founded. Intourist was responsible for attracting, accommodating and escorting all foreign guests.Western advertising styles were applied to appeal to the target audience. Intourist posters pictured a tourist paradise, not a country of laborers and peasants. Trains were no icons of progress but a comfortable way of transport. Intourist women were not working hard in a factory but were either fashionable or exotic.

"Pants on a Roxy usher" -- the famous Roxy Theatre in Manhattan ("the Cathedral of motion pictures") had a squad of ushers who were trained like an army platoon and wore very tight pants.

"a dance in Bali" -- an island in Indonesia, that was becoming an artist magnet in the 1930s, as its native population was turning out really radical artworks for export, and at the same time, the West was seeing the first photographs of Bali and its culture

"[Sandro] Botticelli" -- an Italian Renaissance painter

"[John] Keats" -- an English Romantic poet

"[Percy Bysshe] Shelley" -- an English Romantic poet, who was a political, social, and artistic radical

"Ovaltine" -- the "flavored milk supplement," that sponsored the Little Orphan Annie radio show from 1933-1940.

"G.O.P." -- Grand Old Party, i.e. Republicans.

"Tower of Babel" -- Biblical tower in the land of Shinar, the building of which ceased when a confusion of languages took place.

"Whitney stable" -- the socially prominent Whitney family bred famous horses

"Mrs. Baer's son, Max" (also referred to as "Maxie Bauer") -- Max Baer, World Heavyweight Champion in the 1930s (his son, Max Baer Jr. played Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies)

"Rudy Vallee" --  1920s/1930s crooner, who often sang through a megaphone and later starred in the original production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

"Phenolax" -- a  pink flavored wafer laxative, first introduced in 1908

"Drumstick Lipstick" -- brand of makeup manufactured by Charbert, a French cosmetics firm.

"brig" -- military prison

"in irons" -- shackled

"The Dean boys" -- baseball players and brothers Dizzy and Daffy, members of the famed "Gashouse Gang," the 1934 St. Louis Cardinal baseball team, which won 95 games, the National League pennant, and the 1934 World Series -- just months before Anything Goes opened!

"Max Gordon" -- Broadway producer from the 1920s through the 1950, famous for extravagant productions

"Jitneys" -- independent taxi cabs or small buses. The joke here is that the middle-class folks who can still afford to take a cab, here in the middle of the Depression, would be shocked to find out that some of the richest Americans (in this case, the Vanderbilt and Whitney families) had lost nearly everything.

"Vanderbilts and Whitneys" -- two prominent rich families in New York

"Sam Goldwyn" -- movie studio head

"Lady Mendl" -- an American actress, interior decorator, author of the influential 1913 book The House in Good Taste, and a prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society. Her morning exercises were famous, including yoga, standing on her head, and walking on her hands.

"Missus R." and "Franklin" -- Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt

"broadcast a bed from Simmons" -- Eleanor Roosevelt did weekly radio broadcasts sponsored by Simmons mattresses

"Mrs. Ned McLean" -- a socialite who was the last private owner of the Hope Diamond

"Anna Sten" -- Ukrainian movie star

"Swannee River" -- a reference to Stephen Foster's famous song "Old Folks at Home" and to the Gerhwin song "Swanee

"goose's liver" -- pate

"Russian Ballet" -- reference to the 1934–1935 world tour by the DandrĂ©-Levitoff Russian Ballet

"the Oxford movement" -- a 19th-century movement of High Church members of the Church of England which eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism, arguing for the reinstatement of some older Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy and theology. Presumably, Mrs. Wentworth is confusing the Oxford Movement with The Oxford Group was a Christian organization founded in 1931 by the American Christian missionary Frank Buchman.

[For the references in "Anything Goes," see my earlier post on that song.]

[For the references in "Blow Gabriel, Blow" see my earlier post about that song.]

"Sing Sing" and "Joliet" -- famous maximum security prisons

[For an explanation of the intro to "Be Like the Bluebird," see my earlier post about that.]

Additional Things from the 1962 version:

"The Globe American" -- a generic fictitious name for a newspaper

"Hymsie Brown, the fighter" -- a fictitious nicknamed boxer

"you know the New Deal" -- reference to government red tape, bureaucracy

"Toscanini" -- Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. The New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, in 1931, became the first orchestra to offer regular live coast-to-coast radio broadcasts of its concerts, gaining Toscanini unprecedented fame and a remarkable salary of $110,000 per year.

"Milton Berle" -- already a successful stand-up comedian in the 1930s, patterning himself after one of Vaudeville's top comics, Ted Healy (the inspiration for Billy Flynn in Chicago). A year before Anything Goes opened, Berle starred in the short musical film Poppin' the Cork, a topical musical comedy about the repealing of Prohibition.

"tomato ketchup" -- During the 1930s Heinz increased their sales force and advertising, to battle the drop in sales due to the Depression. Heinz salesmen were expected to be at least 6ft tall, impeccably dressed and particularly eloquent at promoting Heinz products. Their equipment ­ which included chrome vacuum flasks, pickle forks and olive spears ­ weighed about 30lbs.

"Chippendale" -- various styles of furniture fashionable in the late 18th century and named after the English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale

"Fourth Dimension" -- according to Project Muse, "During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the fourth dimension was a concern common to artists in nearly every major modern movement: Analytical and Synthetic Cubists, Italian Futurists, Russian Futurists, Suprematists, and Constructivists, American modernists in the Stieglitz and Arensberg circles, Dadaists, and members of De Stijl. Kandinsky’s own awareness of the idea, and the growing interest in Germany in the space-time world of Einstein. Although by the end of the 1920s the temporal fourth dimension of Einsteinian Relativity Theory had largely displaced the popular fourth dimension of space in the public mind, one further movement was to explore a fourth spatial dimension: French Surrealism."

"George Bernard Shaw" -- British playwright (Pygmalion, Major Barbara, Man and Superman, Saint Joan, etc.)

"verse" -- Today, we call the first section of a song the intro, which sets up the topic, before we get to the first verse and main melody (though many songs today don't have one). Then we get the first verse, which introduces the main melody, and then in most pop songs, we get the chorus. Sometimes there's a contrasting section called the bridge. But in Porter's time, the first section was the verse, and what we call the verse and chorus were together called the refrain.

"Tinpantithesis" -- an invented joke word, meaning the Tin Pan Alley (common) antithesis (opposite) of good music

Gullery -- Billy's joke on Mrs. Harcourt

"un peu d'amour" -- French for a little love

"DAR, PTA, and WPA" -- The Daughters of the Revolution, the Parents-Teachers Association, and the Works Progress Administrtion -- three things that do not belong together, but Mooney doesn't know that...

"rout" -- In "Heaven Hop," Bonnie sings, "We're all set for a rout; come on, let's step out!" And rout had another definition that we no longer use. One "dated" definition of the word was "an assembly of people who have made a move toward committing an illegal act that would constitute an offense of riot;" which then came to mean "a crowd of people; rabble," or more to our point, "a fashionable gathering."

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" -- This is drunk Mr. Whitney's response to an Angel saying, "Mr. Whitney, we've been looking for you!" It's a reference to a legendary exchange when explorer-journalist Henry Stanley found missing missionary Dr. David Livingstone (pronounced liv-ing-stun) deep in the African forest in 1871. It's not as random a joke as it seems...

Every day, I find new richness in Anything Goes, new craft, new surprises. It's such diving this deep into a show I've always loved but never thought about that much... Hope you enjoy learning about all this stuff as much as I do! The adventure continues!

Long Live the Musical!

Click Here for Tickets!