Miss Otis Regrets
Cole Porter spent many holidays in Paris throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Ada "Bricktop" Smith was a close friend, and he frequented Bricktop's, whose "modern" performing acts certainly influenced or informed the erudite and dense lyrical content of Porter’s songs. However, despite her assertion and references to that assertion in articles by journalists, Porter did not write "Miss Otis Regrets" for Bricktop. According to Charles Schwartz's book Cole Porter: A Biography (Da Capo Press, 1979; ISBN 9780306800979), the song began during a party at the New York apartment of Porter's classmate from Yale, Leonard Hanna. Hearing a cowboy's lament on the radio, Porter sat down at the piano and improvised a parody of the song. He retained the referential song’s minor-keyed blues melody, and added his wry take on lyrical subject matter common in country music: the regret of abandonment after being deceitfully coerced into sexual submission. Only instead of a country girl, Miss Otis is a polite society lady.
Friend and Yale classmate Monty Woolley jumped in to help Porter "sell it", pretending to be a butler who explains why Madam can't keep a lunch appointment. In the previous 24 hours, Miss Otis was jilted and abandoned, located and killed her seducer, was arrested, jailed, and, about to be hanged by a mob, made a final, polite apology for being unable to keep her lunch appointment. This performance was so well received, that the song evolved, "workshopped" with each subsequent cocktail party, many of which were at the Waldorf-Astoria suite of Elsa Maxwell, to whom Porter dedicated the song. The "smart set" that attended these parties, known to use wit or wisecracks to punctuate anecdotes and gossip, began using references to "Miss Otis" as a punchline. Porter incorporated the tale of "Miss Otis Regrets" into Hi Diddle Diddle later that year.
“Miss Otis” entered the lexicon of American pop culture, its enormous popularity and commercial success indicated when, a year later, Al Dubin and Harry Warren included an homage to Miss Otis in their song "Lulu's Back In Town", written for the 1935 film Broadway Gondolier. A man sings about getting ready for a date with Lulu, focusing all his attention on this awesome girl who's visiting town after having moved away: "You can tell all my pets, all my blondes and brunettes, Mister Otis regrets that he won't be around.”
Truman Capote, in his article published in the November 1975 issue of Esquire Magazine, relates a story Porter told him. Porter used "Miss Otis" as a punchline in the 1950s, opening the door to dismiss a presumptuous man from his home. Porter handed him a check as he said "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today. Now get out."
The song was recorded by Alberta Hunter with Jack Jackson and His Orchestra and Ethel Waters with The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, both in 1934; Charles Trenet, Cab Calloway and His Orchestra in 1935; Édith Piaf (as "Miss Otis Regrette") in 1946; Marlene Dietrich sang it as "Mein Mann ist verhindert" (written in German by Lothar Metzl) with Jimmy Carroll & Orchestra in 1951; Frances Faye in 1953; Ella Fitzgerald in 1956; Fred Astaire in 1960; Nancy Wilson in 1962; Tammy Grimes in 1963; Nat King Cole in 1966; Jose Feliciano in 1969; The Lemonheads in 1993; Kirsty MacColl in 1990; Linda Ronstadt in 1998; Bryan Ferry in 1999; Jenny Toomey, backed by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts in 2002; Clare Teal in 2003; Labelle ; Patricia Barber in 2008; and Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco in 2018 ; Rosemary Clooney, Lonnie Donegan, Billie Holiday, Richard Manuel, Carmen McRae, Bette Midler, The Mills Brothers, Joan Morris, Rufus Wainwright, Josh White, Buddy Moss (under the title of "Madam") and many others.