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25 Little Known Facts About "Kiss Me Kate"

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The film's poster, which shows the controversial spanking scene.

The film's poster, which shows the controversial spanking scene.

Background: Facts 1-4

  • Although most of the plot is fictional, the concept of backstage bickering between a husband and wife was based on real-life theatrical duo Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. In 1935, they starred together in a production of Taming of the Shrew.
  • In writing the score, Cole Porter made an effort to respond musically to Rodger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, which had popularized the strong cohesion between songs and action. Ironically, Rodgers and Hammerstein pulled out of Kiss Me, Kate to create the musical Me & Juliet. While KMK was a runaway success, Me & Juliet is considered one of the worst R&H shows ever written.
  • Cole Porter’s mother, who encouraged his musicianship from a young age, was named Katherine but almost always went by Kate. He enjoyed using the name in his projects, including in a cut song from Anything Goes called Kate the Great.
  • At the time the musical was adapted into a film (1953), the 3-D craze was sweeping the nation. MGM was eager to produce films to satisfy the demand. As such, Kiss Me Kate became the first, and possibly only, musical film ever to be filmed entirely in 3-D.
"Dick, dick, dick, dick-a-dick-dick..." Actual lyrics from the score.

"Dick, dick, dick, dick-a-dick-dick..." Actual lyrics from the score.

About the Songs: Facts 5-8

  • Miraculously, the censors left the song Tom Dick or Harry completely in tact. The song is brimming with suggestive wordplay and repeats the word dick no fewer than 10 times in 20 seconds. The term dick was not yet commonly recognized slang in the 1950s. However, given the way Porter organized the song, specifically, the “Harry Dick or Tom” line, it would seem the songwriter knew exactly what he was doing.
  • Although most of the original score remained intact for the film, the song Bianca was cut, but strangely not completely. One backstage shot shows Ann Miller and several performers dancing to the song, but not singing any of the lyrics.
  • Although many of Cole Porter’s more brazen lyrics were cut completely, the 1953 New York Times review lauded the adaptation. It claimed the film was actually an improvement on the stage show.
  • From This Moment On, one of the major hits from the score was actually never supposed to be in the movie at all. Porter wrote it for a show called Out of This World, an overtly sexual romp about philandering Roman gods. The show was overly long and the director cut the number, much to the dismay of Porter, who insisted it be used in this film.
Ann Miller and her trio of suitors.

Ann Miller and her trio of suitors.

About the Actors: Facts 9-14

  • Anne Miller’s character in both the film and the musical is Lois Lane, the alliterative moniker of Superman’s love interest. Whether or not this was intentional was never explained by the authors of the book.
  • When it came time to film the spanking scene at the end of the first act, Kathryn Grayson, with help from the costume designer, hid a plank of wood in her dress to surprise Howard Keel.
  • The sailor who sporadically appears in the alleyway during the number for Always True to You in My Fashion is actually choreographer Hermes Pan making a cameo.
  • Howard Keel was reportedly informed that he was not the first choice to play Fred The studio would have preferred to cast Laurence Olivier or comedian Danny Kaye.
  • Although he was not the first choice of MGM to play Fred, Howard Keel was considered a Broadway dynamo. He remains the only actor to ever sing two main roles in two different Broadway shows on the same day. The two shows were Oklahoma! and Carousel, both Rodgers and Hammerstein shows which were running simultaneously.
  • Neither Keenan Wynn nor James Whitmore, who play the two gangsters, had ever acted in a musical before. The two had great difficulty with the choreography but felt silly practicing. When it finally came time to demonstrate their Brush Up Your Shakespeare dance, the two actors had barely practiced and failed miserably. The director, however, thought this was an intentional choice and insisted they were brilliant for having thought so deeply about their characters.
Ann Miller singing a fast-tempo version of Too Darn Hot.

Ann Miller singing a fast-tempo version of Too Darn Hot.

Film vs. Stage Changes: Facts 16-20

  • The first scene of the movie, in which Fred and Lilli meet with Cole Porter to discuss the show, is not present in the stage show. This new scene was added to contextualize the feuding couple’s relationship. It also gave Ann Miller a chance to perform a rapidly sung and largely bowdlerized version of Too Darn Hot, which was deemed too darn long to be performed as originally intended.
  • The character of Lilli’s new lover is completely different in the film and stage versions. Originally written to be a straight-laced and somewhat domineering military man, the studio likely worried that portraying the armed forces negatively would be problematic. As such, the character in the film is renamed Tex and was now a cattle baron.
  • The question of whether a comma should be included in the title has been a matter of some controversy. Although the film’s poster does not use a comma, the marquee shown in the film does.
  • For unknown reasons, the amount of money that Bill owes to the gangsters was changed from $2,000 to $10,000. This likely had something to do with censorship, but why 2 grand was considerably more acceptable than 10 grand remains something of a mystery.
  • At the time Porter wrote the stage show, LB Mayer was the head of MGM. The songwriter included a passing reference to him with the line “not stars like LB Mayer’s are we.” However, by the time the film was adapted, Mayer had just been forced out of MGM in a nasty dispute. Thus the new line says "Shakespearean portrayers” instead of the ousted exec.
The innovative dance section of From This Moment On.

The innovative dance section of From This Moment On.

After the Show: Facts 21-25

  • The stage version revitalized Cole Porter’s career. After a horseback riding accident left him partially disabled, his later shows, though quite successful, were critically panned. Kiss Me, Kate, however, was the longest-running show he ever wrote, running for over 1000 performances.
  • Although the film was well received and is widely regarded as a classic, the initial box office receipts were a disappointment. This was partially due to the massive expense of filming a full-fledged Technicolor musical in 3-D.
  • Kiss Me, Kate won the first-ever Tony Award for best Musical in 1949. The film was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Call Me, Madam, starring Ethel Merman.
  • Bob Fosse, who later became a noted choreographer, got his big break from this film. Specifically from the From This Moment On number, which was inspired by modernist dance. It is still noted today for its acrobatic virtuosity.
  • Tommy Rall, who played Bill the gambler, was a highly successful dancer in the 1950s. However, he rarely got the chance to sing. This film, which required him to sing in several numbers, helped establish him as a singer. In the 1960s, he revitalized his career by transitioning to opera, where he was a noted tenor.