Golden Years: Anything Goes in New Haven

Last night the Broadway revival of “Anything Goes,” which had received nine Tony nominations, ended up winning three. As I watched, I couldn’t help but remember one of the great historical anecdotes of J. Press: The time my grandfather Jacobi helped the musical’s composer Cole Porter evade the New Haven police.

During a 1912 football game at Yale Field, just across the street from where the Yale Bowl was being constructed and would open the following year, Cole Porter joined the band for the halftime march down the field to introduce his new song, “Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow Wow Wow, Eli Yale.” By the time the game was over, Porter and his Delta Kappa Epsilon band of brothers were well lubricated and spotted a Chapel Street trolley passing the stadium. Porter gave the cry: “Hijack!”

A “Keystone Kop” chase ensued to York Street, when Porter leaped out of the trolley and ran to J. Press next to the DKE house where my grandfather hid him in the store cellar until the coast cleared.

Jacobi Press and Cole Porter are both long gone, but a commemorative line has stayed in “Anything Goes” since it first opened in 1932. In one scene, standing on a set designed to be the deck of an ocean liner, the romantic lead throws a stuffed animal to his drunk boss, who is heading for the Henley Regatta to cheer for Yale. “Here, Boss,” he says, “I got you the bulldog at J. Press.”

The following year Cole Porter, along with fellow Yalie Dean Acheson, roomed together at Harvard Law School. Porter eventually abandoned law to return to music, but years later, while serving as Secretary of State in the Truman administration, Acheson, who was renowned for his elegance, was featured in a LIFE Magazine half-page portrait that noted his clothes were from J. Press.

In closing, it’s worth looking at the lyrics of “Anything Goes”:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything goes!

Campus shenanigans have certain come a long way since Porter highjacked a trolley. “The world has gone mad” indeed. — RICHARD PRESS

Richard Press is the grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi Press. A graduate of Dartmouth, he worked at the family business from 1959-1991, ultimately serving as president. He also spent four years as president and CEO of FR Tripler. He lives in Connecticut.

32 Comments on "Golden Years: Anything Goes in New Haven"

  1. Jim Kelleth | June 13, 2011 at 7:49 am |

    Love it! This is why Ivy Style and J. Press are two of my favorite bookmarks.

  2. Old School | June 13, 2011 at 8:06 am |

    For those too young to recognize that the phrase “the world has gone mad” is excerpted from the “Anything Goes” lyrics, here is the phrase in context:

    The world has gone mad today
    And good’s bad today,
    And black’s white today,
    And day’s night today…

    It certainly applies to the world today.

  3. A wonderful story. Being from New Haven, and from a very Yalie family, this reminds me of what a rich and varied history both have. My dad is a lifelong J. Press customer, as it was the de facto clothier for many of Yale’s students back in the day, and I grew up attending game after game at the Yale Bowl.

    It also reminds me of the time when my oldest brother, then a Dartmouth undergrad and avid rock climber, broke into Harkness Tower the weekend of the Yale-Dartmouth game. He and a friend hung a big “Yale Sucks” banner off the top. While generally impressed with his ingenuity, our dad was not happy about the crass language.

  4. Old School | June 13, 2011 at 9:23 am |

    @Chris H.

    Re: Your dad’s attitude to crass language:
    Cole Porter felt the same:

    “Good authors too who once knew better words,
    Now only use four letter words
    Writing prose, Anything Goes.”

  5. I play piano and like to sing standards. I’m not particularly good at either, but it’s a lot of fun, especially with a cocktail and young lady to sing duets.

    Porter is my favorite of the big songwriters, more so than Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, etc. My fave tunes to play and sing are:

    You Do Something To Me
    So In Love
    You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To

    There’s a few to start. What are your guys’ favorites?

  6. Doris Day:

    Ella Fitzgerald:

  7. Julie London doing “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”:

  8. Just a couple of lines:

    “Gazing down on the Jungfrau from our secret chalet for two, wunderbar.”
    “If a Harris pat means a Paris hat O.K.”
    “I love the east, west, north and the south of you.”
    “If I care for you forever and I promise to be your slave, why can’t you behave?”
    “But what do you do, at quarter to two, with only a shrew to kiss?”
    “According to The Kinsey Report every average man you know, prefers to play his favorite sport when the temperature is low, but when the thermometer goes way up and weather is sizzling hot, Mister Adam and his Madam are not, cause it’s too darn, too darn hot.”

  9. You should go see the new Woody Allen movie, in which Cole Porter makes an appearance.

    The film also makes some interesting observations about folks who pine for eras other than their own (not that anyone around here does that). For folks of less philosophical bent, Owen Wilson wears a killer natural-shouldered glen plaid sport coat during several scenes in the movie.

  10. Cole Porter was certainly a musical genius. How much more he might have achieved had he not been hobbled by his deviancy! (I feel the same way about Picasso.)

    My 6-year-old daughter sometimes sings “Night and Day,” which is a hauntingly powerful song. It’s not only one of her favorites, but one of mine as well. She can sing some other songs performed by Fred Astaire, too, like “Cheek to Cheek” (Berlin) and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (ditto).

    I’ll have to start getting the sheet music for some of these Great American Songbook tunes and return to the keyboard so she & I can do some duets.

  11. Outraged By Ignorance | June 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm |


    Re: “hobbled by his deviancy”


    Has it never occured to you that many of the greatest creative artists “suffer” from the same “deviancy”?

  12. Churchill Dot | June 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm |

    Cary Grant as Cole Porter:

  13. @Henry

    Leave it to Henry to find a new way to show his bigotry in nearly every one of his posts.

  14. G. Bruce Boyer | June 14, 2011 at 7:23 am |

    What a marvelous story. Mr. Press should write a memoir.

  15. Christian | June 14, 2011 at 8:48 am |

    Did anyone see the Kevin Kline as Cole Porter biopic “De-Lovely”? My god I think I saw it at a preview during my Hollywood years…

    Has some of the most atrocious mangling of standards I’ve ever heard. Rock singers have no idea how to approach this kind of material.

  16. As if Kevin Kline as Cole Porter wasn’t enough, how about Robert Alda as George Gershwin and Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart!

  17. Certainly better than anything one can hear nowadays:

  18. Greg K., PA | June 14, 2011 at 10:54 am |

    Just saw Anything Goes at my alma mater this year. They did an excellent composite of the revival and original versions. For being a fairly small, regional liberal arts school, they have an amazing music program and those kids put on a great production.

  19. CKDexterHaven | June 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm |

    Christian – Excellent site. I must say that I’m rather partial to “Ev’ry Time We Say Good-Bye.”

  20. Henry the Bigot doesn’t seem to realize the contribution that Jews and gays have made to the survival of trad/ivy style.

  21. Yes, it has occurred to me that many others, artists or otherwise, have suffered from the same deviancy as Mr. Porter, and yes, I think it harmed them, too.

    People have the notion that somehow, deviancy of any sort makes artists “better” or more expressive or something positive like that. Why must that be so? What about the huge number of greats, in all fields of human endeavor, who, while still suffering from the full range of human faults and foibles, were not deviants? I think they vastly outweigh the deviants. In any case, correlation is not causality.

    I respond to the mindless charge of “bigotry” thusly: I do not hate people who engage in homosexual behavior, but I do hate that they harm themselves and others with their unnatural behavior.

    P.S. to “Outraged By Ignorance”: Why do leftists so often think that people who disagree with them are “ignorant”? What arrogant and self-righteous folk you lot are! Homosexuals suffer from a higher incidence of a range of mental illnesses than the general population, and are more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior than the population at large. Regardless of the as-yet inconclusive research on genetic influence, blaming behavior on genetics removes from us our free will, as well as our responsibility for our actions. I find such a position reprehensible.

  22. Uh, Scribe? What on earth are you talking about when you mention Jews? What makes them relevant?

  23. Drew Poling | June 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm |

    The only thing that “hobbled” Porter was a horse.

  24. Conservative Republican | June 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |


    Hitler put gays and Jews in the same basket. You risk being labelled as a Jew-lover if you only attack gays. Bettwer watch out.

  25. Quite the leap there, Conservative Republican. I said nothing about Jews, and thought nothing about them in composing my posts, either.

    But I believe you forgot Gypsies as another group of “problems” in the Third Reich. So, I guess it’s OK to call you a Gypsy-lover?

    Mr. Poling,

    You’re entitled to your opinion, and I to mine. I find “Love for Sale” to be unsavory, and “Experiment” to be downright creepy. I’m not sure Porter would have written those lyrics had he not been on the unsavory and creepy side himself.

    Just to be clear: I acknowledge Porter’s extraordinary talent, and enjoy much of his work. I find it regrettable that his personal life was, shall we say, significantly flawed, and that those personal shortcomings came out in his art–which is inevitable. The private man is the public person.

  26. Leave the bigotry to Face Book. I just can’t abide a university whose name rhymes with jail. Go Crimson!

  27. @Henry

    Henry spins this gem…

    “I do not hate people who engage in homosexual behavior, but I do hate that they harm themselves and others with their unnatural behavior.”

    Henry says he doesn’t hate…oh,except for these two reasons that he hates. (insert eyeroll here) Bigots always attempt to rationalize their hatred. See, Henry only hates gays because they “harm themselves” (what?). It’s only because Henry CARES so much about their well-being that he hates them. Makes perfect sense if you live in conservative bizarro-logic world.

    I’m curious how Henry has been personally harmed by any of Cole Porter’s “deviant” ilk. Maybe he went to Ted Haggard’s church or was a constituent of Larry Craig and felt betrayed?

  28. J. Ivy, your reading comprehension leaves something to be desired.

    First, let me explain what “I do not hate people who engage in homosexual behavior” means: it means I don’t hate homosexuals.

    Next, the second part: “I do hate that they harm themselves and others” means I hate harm.

    There is a difference between people and their actions. I am drawing that distinction.

    Let me rephrase if for you: “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

    And yes, I do care about the well-being of others, and that is precisely the point of criticizing their negative actions: to get them to stop doing that which is harmful.

    P.S. to Christian: sorry to have inadvertently highjacked another thread.

  29. @Henry…

    So lots of dancing in circles there buddy. Lots of wacko assumptions and stereotypes as well.

    What harm are they doing to YOU?

    Why do you assume gay people are hurting themselves? What do you base your statements upon?

    So you LOVE the gays, but you HATE what they do?
    Why do you even care what they do?

    Maybe you hate/hurt yourself for loving the gay.

  30. J. Ivy,

    Are you familiar with Stanislaw Lem’s oeuvre, particularly “Solaris”? A recurrent theme is the futility of humans attempting to communicate with non-human aliens.

    I have that same experience all the time. My traditionalist thoughts are so alien to the modern liberal mind that they cannot even make sense of what I say. All you can do is see the world through the distorting prism of liberalism, where all our traditional values are turned topsy-turvy into something horrible.

    Sin is harmful to those who do it. Homosexual behavior is a sin. Ergo, homosexuals harm themselves by engaging in their sin.

    “Why do you even care what they do?”

    So caring about my fellow man is now a bad thing. Yet another instantiation of liberalism discarding a traditional value.

    Beyond that, the normalization of homosexuality is harmful, even destructive, to our society.

    But you can’t see that. You can’t even see beyond the individual to the society as a whole (“What harm are they doing to YOU?”). The fact is that I have not been personally harmed, but my society has. I won’t expound upon that here; rather, I will refer the interested reader here:

  31. My apologies for derailing the discussion.

    I, too, have seen “De-Lovely” with Kevin Kline. About the only ones who come close to singing the songs acceptably are Kevin Kline (“Be a Clown”) and Vivian Green (“Love for Sale”). Most of the rest vary between awful (Elvis Costello) to execrable (Alanis Morissette).

    You have to go back to greats like Fred Astaire, Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Andy Williams, and the like to get performers who know how to handle the material.

  32. Pale Male | July 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm |

    It’s a wonderful story!

    Porter was one of the great creative forces of the 20th century and produced an amazing body of work. Quite inspirational, too, in light of the constant pain. He likely would have continued if not for the final operations. His spirit was broken.

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