Sunday, April 3, 2011


Doris Day day didn't step out often into Hollywood events, but when she did--wow.  Here she is a the Academy Awards in 1960, dressed to kill. 

Depending on your source, today is Doris Day's 86th or 88th birthday.  One week after we lost Elizabeth Taylor, here is the perennial, sunshiny Doris--long may she wave.  Doris Day was my first movie star crush.  I was nine and was taken to see PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, with David Niven.  Based on Jean Kerr's (the wife of New York Times Drama critic, Walter Kerr), bestseller. it told the story of a young wife and mother who neatly balances the demands of her theater critic husband, and their four rambunctious children as she is finally able to persuade her husband that their future is to leave their New York City apartment for an easier life in the suburbs.  I recall the first time I saw this movie and being utterly charmed by Doris Day and her easy rapport on screen with her co-star, David Niven.  I loved her fresh scrubbed beauty and easy screen charm.  The camera always loved Doris Day.

With Rex Harrison who drove Doris crazy in MIDNIGHT LACE

Her straw-yellow hair, blue eyes and can-do movie persona made her so appealing. Soon afterwards, I saw this very sophisticated movie with Doris called MIDNIGHT LACE.  It was a mystery about a rich woman living her British husband played by Rex Harrison in London.  Someone was trying to kill Doris.  Turns out it was Sexy Rexy as they used to refer to Mr. Harrison, who was after her fortune, but it was fun to watch Myrna Loy and handsome John Gavin who rescued her from the clutches of her murderous husband.  Doris got to wear some gorgeous costumes designed by Irene, and suffered magnificently, if a bit too hysterically.  That was it. I was a Doris fan for life.

With James Garner, a wonderful co-star in THE THRILL OF IT ALL.  They had chemistry on screen.

In the 60s it was THE THRILL OF IT ALL with James Garner. Doris played a housewife married to a doctor.  The doctor's rich client, owns a soap fortune.  And Doris' natural approach to using the soap in her daughter's bath charms the crusty old chairman who makes Doris a star through a series of commercials. Doris and Garner had chemistry.  The movie had a wonderful script and a terrific cast.  It would be another few years before I saw the film again, and it held up. It still holds up.

PILLOW TALK, the first of three very successful movies Doris made with her good friend, Rock Hudson and the only movie for which she was nominated for an Academy Award 

Cary Grant with Doris in THAT TOUCH OF MINK--not a great movie, but one elevated by the stars enormous personalities and charisma. 

When I was fourteen, I saw PILLOW TALK for the first time and from then on I was a Doris fanatic.  Her chemistry with Rock Hudson coupled with a wonderful script made the film a huge hit and justifiably so.  They recreated the magic more intensely with their next vehicle, LOVER COME BACK.  These romantic comedies stand out as the very best of the their era.  They can be viewed over and over again with pleasure.

As Calamity Jane, the first movie that elevated Doris into an A-list movie star where she would 
remain for the rest of her career.

Years later as an adult, I got the full measure of Doris's amazing talents.  CALAMITY JANE is  a charming movie musical, and Doris' wonderful singing and tomboyish acting was very endearing.  Her performances in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and especially LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, reveal an actress who has more depth than she was often given credit for. There's an imposing physicality to her portrait of Ruth Etting matching the blazing intensity of James Cagney's tough and insecure would-be Svengali.  It's Doris' best film performance.

Doris with James Cagney in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME--certainly Doris' very best dramatic role

The mid-to late 60s saw the diminuation of quality in her films.  Doris' marriage to her producer/husband, Marty Melcher resulted in some strange choices.  As she moved into her middle forties, the films became predictable. The "virgin" tag that stuck to her image began to strangle her film persona.  Then when Melcher died unexpectedly, it was further revealed that their lawyer had boldly stolen her fortune.  It was the first in a series of shocking revelations of marriages in Hollywood between female stars who had been fooled by their less talented husbands and been bankrupted in the process:  Debbe Reynolds, Esther Williams, Rosemary Clooney, Doris and other stars of that era had put their faith and success in the hands of husbands who robbed them blind at the time when they should have been riding into the sunsets of their careers, fortunes in tact.  But it was not to be.  Day was a widow in her late 40s and broke.  Worse, her husband and lawyer had committed her to a TV series for CBS.  Doris's son, Terry Melcher (a record producer), took control of his mother's affairs and while Doris toiled on her eventual hit TV series, which paid her bills and restored a measure of her fortune, her son pursued  a lawsuit against the unscrupulous lawyer.  They won in one of the biggest victories ever recorded by a star who had been duped by her management.  She settled with the lawyer's insurance company and retired to Carmel, Califorrnia where she pursued her real love--animal rights activism, and opened a hotel.

With Stephen Boyd in JUMBO, one of my favorite Doris Day movies--not a classic, but one where singing, personality, and sheer star power count for a lot. 

Doris Day remains one of the premier box officer stars of all time.  She enjoyed one of the most successful recording careers which lasted from the early 40s to the late 60s.  Her impeccable vocals made her one of Columbia's biggest stars before the arrival of Barbra Streisand and rock and roll changed pop music forever.

I found Doris's polished vocals to be just a bit too surface for my taste, especially as her brand of big-band vocalism wanted.  She wasn't a searching musical performer in an era when Frank Sinatra's and Judy Garland's confessional performing where they wore their hearts on their sleeves.  Doris's recordings are on the same level as the woman who inspired her to become a singer following an car accident that ended her dancing career:  Ella Fitzgerald.  While young Doris recovered, she found inspiration to become a singer via the recordings of Ella, becoming first a band singer and then one of the most popular recording stars spanning two decades from the mid-40s to the mid-60s.  The voice is lovely, the musicianship sure.  But like many band singes, hers was an instrumental approach and she rarely dug below the surface of a song.

Like another popular, squeaky clean movie star of the next generation, Julie Andrews, Doris Day had one of the greatest bodies of a movie star ever.  Don't believe me?  Look at her in the black gown she wears in THAT TOUCH OF MINK.  As Cary Grant starts to kiss her shoulders, the script calls for him to extol the beauty of her shoulders.  There's blond, virginal Doris looking absolutely sexy in that figure hugging gown, her broad shoulders and beautiful decolletage a feast for discerning eyes.  Her figure is a wonder in the buckskin outfit she wears as she sings "Secret Love." in CALAMITY JANE. And she wears her stunning working girl wardrobe to superb effect in PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK TO ME.  Doris was a dish, and like Julie Andrews, often hid her assets under a mountain of costumes.  If Doris were walking the red carpet at today's Golden Globes or Oscar ceremonies, she would put most of her contemporaries to shame.

Doris' last film--WITH SIX YOU GET EGG ROLL with Brian Keith.  Worth a look with an excellent comic cast, a good script and delightful performances.  Out of step with the political winds of the times. but Doris still delivers the magic.  

Today Doris has survived her husbands, her son (Terri Melcher died of cancer a few years ago), and devotes her time to animal rights.  Her's is a dignified retirement where she doesn't seek the public's approval and keeps pretty much to herself.

Doris Day is an increasingly dim reminder of a once fabulous career that ended nearly forty years ago. She is a beloved movie icon with a body of work that many of today's actresses would kill to own and she did it by sheer dint of talent with little press to add spice or tabloid credibility.  She was famous for not drinking and having a soda fountain in her living room.  Maybe Sandra Bullock enjoys some of the affection that Doris Day's fans once lavished on her, or Diane Lane.  In any event, she remains one of the bright movie spots of my youth.  Doris Day's career spanned World War II, the Cold War, McCarthyism,  the Kennedys, rock and roll, the Hippie era, and the studio system.  She was a sunny, delightfully innocent presence in movie theaters, and her popularity rivaled John Wayne's in the public's affection.  She never won an Academy Award, and certainly CALAMITY JANE, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, PILLOW TALK, LOVER COME BACK and THE THRILL OF IT ALL were worthy of a win.

Like Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Natlie Wood, Julie Andrews, Shirley Maclaine, Barbara Streisand, Sean Connery, Sandra Dee, and Sophia Loren, Doris Day was a fixture of my youth, a movie star who was always a pleasure to watch, even when the vehicles were less than her talent was due.

Happy Birthday, Doris.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Doris Day update! My favorite is LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.