With all the ballyhoo of an onstage spanking (and sometimes even two), it’s easy to forget that Lilli Vanessi isn’t the only character in Kiss Me Kate with her bottom at risk.
Paging Miss Lois Lane…
No… not that Miss Lois Lane! (Her place in spanking history was still twelve years in the future when Kiss Me Kate was written.)
Lois Lane isn’t a nosy reporter; she’s the gold-diggin’ second-lead player and first-time actress in Fred Graham’s theater company, playing Bianca in their Shrew production. She’s the one Fred’s trying to seduce, the intended recipient of the flowers that are accidentally delivered to Lilli, starting the chain of events that leads to the spanking.
The character was played on Broadway by Lisa Kirk, third from the left here…
On the silver screen, she was Ann Miller, who’d also been considered for the role in the stage production…
And there’s been a host of other pretty actresses in countless productions since:
And when I say countless…
I really do mean countless!
Lots and lots of Lois!
And in any of her incarnations, what this character needs is, arguably, a good spanking.
Obviously that’s something that we’d all love to see, but it’s also not a completely subjective judgement. Lois presents herself as a romantic who would like to settle down with Bill Calhoun if only he’d stop flirting with other gals: ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’, she sings to him. But her solo in the second act, ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’, is all about how she’s not true to Bill or to any man in any straightforward fashion: she is herself an incorrigible flirt, and the contradiction between the two songs defines a double standard.
Just as the offstage relationship between Fred and Lilli spills spectacularly into the Shrew performance, so does that of Bill and Lois. So it’s pertinent that the very next song after ‘Always True to You’ (or the next but one in the 1999 revision) contains a direct, if playfully expressed, threat to spank her if she isn’t true to him or, using her own idiom in the first act to put it another way, if she doesn’t behave.
Cole Porter didn’t originally intend ‘Bianca’, Bill Calhoun’s only solo number, to be part of Kiss Me Kate. He wrote the song to appease Harold Lang, who played Bill in the original production and who was complaining, in prima donna fashion, that he didn’t have his own center stage moment like the other three leads. Under protest, the irritated Porter gave him his song, but decided to take a subtle revenge by writing lyrics so bad that the number was sure to be cut out (which in the event, of course, it wasn’t). And that’s why he set himself the formidable technical challenge of having to find a lot of rhymes for the name Bianca…
Like many gay men of the theater, notably Frederick Ashton and Ivor Novello, Cole Porter knew a thing or two about the appeal of spanking. He wasn’t responsible for the spanking scene in Kiss Me Kate, nor that in Red, Hot and Blue for that matter, but as a lyricist he already had a spanking track record with the song ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’, which he wrote for the 1938 Broadway musical Leave It to Me! It’s sung by Dolly Winslow, played by Mary Martin,
who flirts with men but ultimately knows where her own best interests lie and won’t leave her rich sugar-daddy. And as she sings, she progressively sheds her clothes…
Dolly is down to her lacy panties when she sings the final verse, which introduces another reason why she must be good to her ‘daddy’:
So I want to warn you, laddie,
Though I simply hate to be frank,
That I can’t be mean to Daddy,
Cause my da-da-da-Daddy might spank –
In matters artistic, he’s not modernistic,
So da-da-da-Daddy might spank.
Spank is the final word of the song, giving it a definite full stop that works well in the context of the musical but less so in a concert program, which is why most recordings of Mary Martin’s performance end the song early on the open, rising phrase, treats me so well. And later, when the song was incorporated into the movie Let’s Make Love (1960), director George Cukor dropped the final verse so that there would be no suggestive hint of the callipygian Marilyn Monroe being spanked…
But I start to digress. My point is that Cole Porter’s lyrics for ‘My Heart Belongs to Daddy’ provide a context for ‘Bianca’, in which one of the less tortuous rhymes is:
Oh baby, will you be mine?
You’d better answer yes or Poppa spanka.
In other words, stop your flirting with other men and agree to marry me, or your (metaphorical) ‘daddy’ will (literally) spank you. It’s a precise pickup from ‘Always True to You’, and it implies at least the prospect of a spanking at some time in Lois Lane’s not too distant future.
But what about the immediate present? It’s worth noting that the choreography in some productions maneuvers Bianca, and therefore Lois, into a perilous position with her three suitors:
But Faux-TK aside, with any Shrew production, the best prospect of a Bianca spanking lies with her termagant sister. In Kiss Me Kate, the title character carries a specified prop, a broom, and some Kates eventually feel it across their own bottoms. Some Biancas have the same experience beforehand, like Robyn Hurder at the hands of Christine Sherrill in the 2015 Shakespeare Theatre Company production in Washington, DC:
Sally Wilfert did the same to Shayla Benoit at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Florida, in 2016:
But it’s a moot point exactly what type of broom is required, and the 2007 production at North Coast Repertory Theatre, California, interpreted it liberally: in the publicity shoot they equipped their Kate, Minderella Williams, with a hairbrush for use on Darcy Daughtry.
And at New Orleans in 2011, the Jesuit Philelectic Society handed Kate a standard Elizabethan instrument of domestic discipline with which to whack Bianca:
And if Bianca gets birched, then so, inevitably, does Miss Lois Lane!
But beware, Miss Vanessi, and not just because of what you have coming to you in your immediate onstage future. Bianca also sometimes takes her revenge…