PAUL LYNDE: Sardonic Clown

It’s difficult to say what role I first discovered Paul Lynde. I was born in the winter of 1966, and throughout my childhood in the late sixties and seventies, he was everywhere. Never a leading man, yet he was a standout in small roles in the most popular films, tv shows, and game shows. For a comedic actor who always got the minor roles, he was so beloved that he had his own television show- even his own Halloween special.

Paul Edward Lynde was born June 13, 1926 into a large family (2 sisters and 3 brothers) in Mount Vernon, Ohio. His parents were Hoy Corydon Lynde and Sylvia Bell Doup. His father owned and operated a meat market and was also a local police officer, including time spent as the sheriff of the jail. Both Hoy and Sylvia died in 1949, months apart, in their early 50s. The family tree bad ticker would be passed down as an early death for their son, Paul, too.

Inspiration for a life as an entertainer came early to Paul. When he was barely five years old, his mother took him to see the dramatic silent epic Ben-Hur (Ben-Hur: The Tale of Christ, 1925). His dreams were locked in from that moment forward. He was musically inclined- played the bass drum in the Mount Vernon High School band. Paul graduated from Northwestern University in 1948 where he studied drama, then made his way to New York City. His fellow Northwestern classmates included Cloris Leachman, Jeffrey Hunter, and Patricia Neal. Upon revealing his plans for pursuing an acting career in the ‘big apple,’ PL was quoted, “my dad hit the roof and I hit the road, simultaneously.” After juggling odd jobs, he started doing stand-up acts in the supper club, “Number One Fifth Avenue,” then eventually landed acting on Broadway.

His big Broadway break was in the musical revue, “New Faces of 1952” which included comedy and musical skits and introduced rising newcomers Eartha Kitt, Alice Ghostley, Robert Clary, and Carol Lawrence. After hundreds of runs, it was later filmed as, “NEW FACES” in 1954. In 1956, Lynde co-starred with Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett in the sitcom, “Stanley” and “The Martha Raye Show.”

The 1960s was Paul Lynde’s sweet spot. He was constantly working on every medium, in high-demand. He began his role as the father Harry MacAfee on the original Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960. He would later reprise that same role in the popular 1963 film. Noting the eclipsing popularity of co-star Ann-Margret, Lynde recalled, “I was in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ on Broadway – played the father. I was in the film version, but they should have retitled it ‘Hello, Ann-Margret!’ They cut several of my and the other actors’ best scenes and shot new ones for her so she could do her teenage-sex-bombshell act.”

In 1960, he wrote and released a comedy album, “Recently Released.” All six tracks are his original material. But, television would be his most popular home during this decade. Starting in the early sixties, he would pop up as a familiar face on variety shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Dean Martin Show,” and many sitcoms including “The Munsters,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Gidget,” “That Girl,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Phil Silvers Show,” “The Patty Duke Show,” “The Flying Nun,” and “F Troop.” He was also a regular on “The Red Buttons Show” and various Perry Como shows/specials.

This decade ushered in his film career beyond BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), with hits like: SON OF FLUBBER (1963), UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE (1963), FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG (1964), SEND ME NO FLOWERS (1964), BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965), THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966), and HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968). Two of these films he co-starred with my personal favorite funny leading lady, Doris Day.

In his typical scene-stealing hilarity, Lynde performs in drag for a bathroom scene. He noted,” I had a drag scene in Doris Day’s The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). An elegant gown. Actually, it was more expensive than any of the ones Doris had to wear. That day that I came in fully dressed and coiffed, I was the belle of the set! Everybody went wild! Doris came over and looked me up and down and told me, ‘Oh, I’d never wear anything that feminine.'”

Beginning in 1965, Paul Lynde took on his most famous television role, Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched.” He was so beloved as the prankster warlock that many would assume his performances well outnumbered the only 11 episodes he acted. In fact, his initial role on “Bewitched” was a completely different role. During the first-season episode “Driving is the Only Way to Fly” (air date March 25, 1965), he portrayed a mortal, “Harold Harold,” Samantha Stephens’s nerve-wrecked driving instructor. Audiences clamored for more Lynde. Star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband director/producer of the show William Asher agreed. Thus the recurring “Uncle Arthur” was created. “The Joker is a Card” (air date October 14, 1965) was his debut. His final appearance was in “The House That Uncle Arthur Built” (February 11, 1971) in the series’ seventh season.

One of the most distinctive traits about Paul Lynde is his delivery of lines. His uniquely sarcastic, drawn-out speech often followed by his own laughter became his signature. This allowed him a career in animation. His voice work included one of my warm memories from my childhood, the cranky but lovable rat “Templeton” in “Charlotte’s Web” (1973). His other voice works include: “Mildew Wolf” from “Cattanooga Cats” (1969 – 1971, Hanna-Barbera), “Claude Pertwee” on “Where’s Huddles?” (1970, Hanna-Barbera), and “Sylvester Sneekly” on “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop” (1969 – 1970, Hanna- Barbera).

His longest running role is undoubtedly on the game show, “The Hollywood Squares.” A simple premise of tic-tac-toe hosted by Peter Marshall premiering in 1966, Lynde was an immediate hit with his sharp one-liners that often took on a double-entendre edge. He was placed as “center square” regular on the show which provided a higher likelihood for his frequent appearances. The show ran for over a decade, with both daytime and primetime time slots. Lynde appeared in a whopping total of 707 shows. He left the program in 1979 over a dispute on salary, and was persuaded to return in 1980 after ratings slipped after his absence. He remained until the show’s cancelation in February of 1981.

His one-liners from those fifteen years on “The Hollywood Squares” are so hilarious they are still considered comedy gold to this day. You can find clips on YouTube and I highly recommend if you ever need a pick-me-up from an arduous day. (The Best of Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares: https://youtu.be/ebBh2pjpIXc )

Lynde’s life was not void of controversy and heartache. His sexuality was an open secret in Hollywood. His jokes were often veiled jabs at his closeted homosexuality. Hiding and then mocking his own sexuality was likely a major contributor to his own alcohol and drug abuse. Like so many brilliant artists that excel in comedy, there is often a mask hiding the pain. For Lynde, he lived in a time when Hollywood wanted queerness hidden- or the center of the party joke. Lynde had to deliver both.

Tragedy hit July 13, 1965 when Paul Lynde and his friend, a 24 yo struggling actor from Nebraska James “Bing” Davidson, returned to their hotel room at the Sir Drake hotel in San Francisco after a night of hard partying. Drunk and loud, Davidson was known for his pranks and tempted fate at the balcony. According to sfgate.com,

“Davidson, heavily intoxicated and in a jocular mood, turned to Lynde and told him, “Watch me do a trick.” Lynde watched, laughing, as Davidson opened the eighth-floor window and climbed out. For a moment, Lynde thought Davidson had his feet on a ledge down below. But then Davidson’s face turned ghastly and he gasped, “Help me, I’m slipping!” 

Lynde ran to the window, reaching for his friend’s wrists. Down below, a pair of passing beat cops heard screams and joined a gathering crowd staring up at the Sir Francis Drake. Davidson could be seen scrambling, trying desperately to boost his leg back up to the open window. He tried three times before his hands lost their weak grip and he fell to the pavement below. He died on impact.”

That horrible accident didn’t affect his career. But I have a hard time believing that Lynde’s mental health was not forever and deeply rocked by this event. Likely deepening his already present substance addictions. The 1970s brought fewer roles and more frequent public intoxications. After appearing as an occasional guest on “The Donny and Marie Show” (1976 – 1978) for a couple of years, Lynde engaged in a drunken argument with the police outside a local tavern and never appeared in the show again.

According to his biographers, Steve Wilson and Joe Florenski of “Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story,” (2005), Lynde was ‘Liberace without a piano’ and that most 70s viewers described him as “a frustrated bit player and character actor on a daytime game show.” Well, I certainly hope not.

By the early eighties, Paul was ready to become sober for a comeback. Yet it was too little, too late. Paul Lynde died of a massive heart attack at the age of 55 in 1982, discovered at his Beverly Hills home after failing to appear at a birthday party. He is interred at the Amity Cemetery in Mount Vernon, Ohio next to family, including his beloved brother Private Coradon Lynde, who died at the Battle of the Bulge in WW2. Paul’s estate was willed to his two surviving sisters.

Paul Lynde brings me so much joy whenever I see him, no matter how brief the role. To me, that level of scene-stealing talent is the very definition of “what a character!” I’ll leave you with a few highlights of Paul Lynde’s witty zingers…

Peter Marshall: “In “Alice in Wonderland,” who kept crying “I’m late, I’m late?” Paul Lynde: “Alice, and her mother is sick about it.”

Peter Marshall: “Paul, can you get an elephant drunk?” Paul Lynde: “Yes, but he still won’t go up to your apartment.”

Peter Marshall: “What is a pullet?” Paul Lynde: “A little show of affection…”

Peter Marshall: “Paul, Snow White…was she a blonde or a brunette?” Paul Lynde: “Only Walt Disney knows for sure…”

This article is my contribution to the 11th annual What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of (https://aurorasginjoint.com/2023/01/08/what-a-chacracter-11-morning-edition/ )Once Upon a Screen/ @CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly. We encourage you to read all the participating bloggers’ articles published throughout today.

A Dog, a Dinosaur Bone, and a Delinquent… Go to the Beach with BACHELOR FLAT (1962)

After an unusually cold April, May suddenly feels more like a scorching July and makes me yearn for the beach. Or, classic beach movies. When I nostalgically recall of summers of my youth, silly sex comedies of the 60s often filled my days. I wasn’t old enough to see them first-run so my screenings were likely a decade or two later, running in syndication on television. Squeezed in amongst the carefree flicks of Annette and Frankie and Elvis, I have fond memories of Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1962).

The story is simple enough and whips along with chaotic energy, driven by the basic premise of mistaken identity… and sex. Starring Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer, Terry-Thomas, and Celeste Holm, BACHELOR FLAT offered a popular cast. Terry-Thomas portrays British professor Bruce Patterson, a highly-disciplined and mild-mannered college professor who seeks the calm, simple life: digging up dinosaur bones, the serenity of his beach house, and the love of his fashion designer fiancee, Helen Bushmill (portrayed by Celeste Holm). Problems arise when this (until recently) lifelong, shy bachelor is hounded by sex-starved women; many are his students, who find his old school British accent and stoicism more than just charming- also challenging and irresistible. The professor rents his beach house from Helen while she’s out of the country, building her international fashion career. Helen also rents her parking pad adjacent to her beach house to law school student Mike Pulaski (Richard Beymer), who lives in his modest camper with his cute dachsund dog, “Jessica.” Trouble brews again when a seventeen year old girl named “Libby” (Tuesday Weld) shows up, who claims to be a street-wise teenager delinquent on the lam from the law. She manages to charm both bachelors Bruce and Mike before her true identity is revealed. Even sweet “Jessica” finds trouble in a way that echoes a famous dog (Skippy) character, “George” from BRINGING UP BABY (1938).

At the time of filming, Tuesday Weld was eighteen years old yet had been acting since early childhood- a childhood where she was expected to be the bread winner and grew up fast. Very fast. By the time she turned a mere twelve years old, she had already spent the last 2 years battling heavy drinking, love affairs, a nervous breakdown, and a suicide attempt. Her ability to play a teen role for many years, coupled with her acting skills and professionalism, kept her in high demand. Weld’s private life was about as famous as the roles she turned down, including: LOLITA (1962), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), TRUE GRIT (1969), CACTUS FLOWER (1969). In this film, she seems much older than her character’s high school senior status, even though she’s playing someone her own age. Not surprising.

Not even 2 months after wrapping up his role as “Tony” on WEST SIDE STORY (he was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, Best Actor, Comedy or Musical), Richard Beymer began production on this light comedy, filmed over at 20th Century Fox studios and on location along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. No doubt this young actor was a hot ticket and on the rise to stardom. He was nominated in 1962 for another Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer, Male” and a Golden Laurel award for “Top Male New Personality.” He continued to work, mostly in television, including his iconic return to the David Lynch famed “Twin Peaks” series (1989 – 1991, 2017). Beymer discovered his creativity exceeded beyond acting and pursued writing, cinematography, and filmmaking documentaries.

British born Terry-Thomas was an actor who found international appeal and fame. Born Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens, he chose the stage name Terry Thomas when he tried his hand at theater after a long string of vocations that failed to pan out. He later added the hyphen, which he felt represented his signature gap between his teeth. With his trademark looks and catchphrases (“jolly good show”), Thomas was equally popular in films on this side of the pond. By the 1960s, he became a beloved actor in meatier character roles, often with a low-brow comedy edge, such as: IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963), HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965), THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES… (1965), HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968). Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1971. He tried to pick up parts here and there in the 1970s and 1980s, but it grew more difficult to act as the disease progressed. He became nearly destitute financially, selling off his estate, living in a meager flat with growing medical costs and unable to work. Friends and fellow actors created a fundraiser on his behalf so he could live out his days in dignity. He died in 1990 at the age of 78 years old.

Celeste Holm was a successful and prolific actress across stage, television, and film. She gave strong performances early in her film career including GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, 1947 (she won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), THE SNAKE PIT, 1948, COME TO THE STABLE, 1949 (she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), ALL ABOUT EVE, 1950 (again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). Starting early in the 1950s, Holm transitioned to mostly television roles for the rest of her career, which continued right up until her final year. She passed away at age 95 in 2012, after working over a hundred acting credits.

Holm was a popular actress with a highly likable screen persona but somehow got stuck always playing second fiddle to the lead. Ya know, that Eve Arden type who was a gal’s best pal who would repeatedly play the bridesmaid, but never the bride. (In regards to both Holm and Arden, I’d say I’m dumbfounded as to why these first-rate actors could ever be considered second bananas.) Interestingly, Celeste Holm is finally the bride in BACHELOR FLAT, although we never quite make it to the wedding. It’s disappointing we don’t see more of Holm in this picture, as we do the other main cast. I would blame the youth-focused 60s for pushing the Weld and Beymer romance more, but Thomas gets a lion’s share of screen time in comparison. Then again, he’s being chased by bikini-clad young women (who also look too old to be in school) so that may explain his more generous screen time.

Director Tashlin was ready for a rom-com in familiar waters. He began his directing career with animated Looney Tune features in the 1930s and 1940s. With a strong instinct for slapstick and physical comedy, Tashlin transitioned to feature films, directing films starring powerhouses such as Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jayne Mansfield, and Doris Day.

Fascinating trivia. What do Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Reynolds have in common with this film? There’s a little mystery surrounding a dress worn by Roxanne Arlen as “Mrs. Roberts,” a neighbor. At first sight it is clearly a copy of one of the most famous dresses in fashion in film history, the ‘subway dress’ worn by Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. But could it be the actual Marilyn dress designed by Travilla, which was later auctioned as part of the Debbie Reynolds collection? Was it loaned out by the studio for this film and altered to fit this actress? Many rumors and speculations have circled over the decades to this mystery. This article from The Marilyn Monroe Collection site breaks down the details. What do you think?

Is this the real deal- or a knock-off?

I believe 60s sex comedies are highly misunderstood. They’ve been given a bad rap as too silly and misogynistic. But I contend these films like BACHELOR FLAT are actually a parody of sexism and rooted in a deep history of physical comedy with nods to slapstick and screwball comedy. And who doesn’t long for the nostalgia of the summer flicks of our youth?

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This piece on Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1961) is my contribution to the CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association) Spring Blogathon. I am a proud member of this group of talented writers. Please explore the other bloggers’ submissions for this year’s “Fun in the Sun” theme.

Celebrating Life, Death, and Ricky Gervais in GHOST TOWN (2008)

 

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Brit funny man Ricky Gervais is known for his brutal humor, as the controversial host of the Golden Globes, as the creator/writer/star of the original (2001 British version) “The Office,” and for his outspoken stances on atheism and animal rights. On his comedy styling, he never holds back and everyone is equally vulnerable to his verbal barbs.

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For a man who has very firm beliefs on the after-life (lack thereof in his case), Gervais has taken on the subject more than once in his career. In David Koepp’s GHOST TOWN (2008), Ricky is perfectly cast as the anti-social, easily annoyed, and cynical dentist Bertram Pincus. He’s the sort that will go out of his way to avoid social pleasantries to a dishonest and unkind effort. He goes through a life-altering experience when he comes out of a colonoscopy seeing ghosts. Turns out, Bertram discovers he was dead for seven minutes during the procedure and this has left him in a unique position where he is the only one who can see and chat with the dead.

Here is an example of Dr. Pincus’s typical difficulty in being ‘sociable’ with others, as he answers the pre-colonoscopy questionnaire:

Hospital Nurse: “Date of birth?”

Bertram Pincus: “Why?”

Hospital Nurse: “What day were you born?”

Bertram Pincus: “No, I understood the question. Why do you need to know that?”

Hospital Nurse: “Let’s leave it blank. Weight?”

Bertram Pincus: “Last night or this morning?”

Hospital Nurse: “You pick.”

Bertram Pincus: “Hundred eighty-two pounds.”

Hospital Nurse: “Number of alcoholic beverages consumed per week?”

Bertram Pincus: “Why do you need to know that?”

Hospital Nurse: “Well, they want to know.”

Bertram Pincus: “Well, I’m sure “they” want to know a lot of things, but I don’t want my intimate details auctioned off to the highest bidder, willy-nilly.”

Hospital Nurse: “I’ll put zero. Marital status?”

Bertram Pincus: “Pass.”

Hospital Nurse: “Profession?”

Bertram Pincus: “Irrelevant.”

Hospital Nurse: “Food allergies?”

Bertram Pincus: “I’m not going to be eating here.”

Hospital Nurse: “Are you allergic to sticking plaster?”

Bertram Pincus: “What a ludicrous question. I’m not answering any more of these, really.”

Hospital Nurse: “Do you smoke?”

Bertram Pincus: “Stop it.”

Hospital Nurse: “Do you wear dentures?”

Bertram Pincus: “Madame, listen.”

Hospital Nurse: “When was the last time you ate?”

Bertram Pincus: “A pertinent question at last. Yesterday, lunchtime. Thanks for asking. I had a tuna sandwich. Toast was soggy, but…”

Hospital Nurse: “Did you drink the laxative solution?”

Bertram Pincus: “Yes.”

Hospital Nurse: “Did it work?”

Bertram Pincus: “It was as advertised.”

Hospital Nurse: “Did you evacuate your bowls?”

Bertram Pincus: “I drank copious amounts of drain-cleaning fluid. What followed was fait accompli.”

Hospital Nurse: “Sir, what I’m asking is if you were…”

Bertram Pincus: “I shat. Okay? Good. Again and again. It was like a terrorist attack down there in the darkness and the chaos, the running and the screaming, okay?”

Hospital Nurse: “Fine with me.”

Bertram Pincus: “Good.”

Bertram Pincus: “Gross invasion of my privacy, this.”

Bertram hates people, dead or alive, so this poses an issue when he meets his neighbor Gwen (Tea Leoni), who is the polar opposite. Gwen is grieving the recent loss of her husband (Greg Kinnear as Frank) but her true nature is energetically bubbling with life.

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Frank is a sleazeball of a husband/ghost who cheated on his wife when he was alive and feels threatened now that his wife is potentially getting serious with a new man (Billy Campbell as Richard). Selfishly, he asks Bertram to get close to Gwen to help thwart her moving on, while threatening to have a multitude of ghosts all over NYC pester him if he doesn’t comply.

This film is essentially a formula romcom, but with a ghostly twist. As we watch Bertram fall for Gwen, we see him embrace kindness and shed his lack of humanity. He learns the life lesson in the beauty of unselfishly helping others.

Ricky Gervais, Ghost Town_

I can’t help but think that Ricky Gervais is secretly Irish. There’s a joke amongst my Irish rooted family that we look at death differently. Irish are known for embracing death, sometimes through poetry and song or via dark humor, as a celebration of life. We are unusually comfortable with the topic.

Not that Gervais wrote this screenplay. Director David Koepp (a popular screenwriter of modern classics like Jurassic Park) co-wrote this with John Kamps. This role suits Gervais well. As we watch Pincus evolve into a better human being, Gervais showcases his knack for making audiences laugh as easily as cry. The irony is of course that atheist Ricky Gervais is perfect for this heavenly role that focuses on the after-life head on.

With other projects since this role, Gervais has returned recently to a theme that tackles life after death. No ghosts or heavenly assertions, Gervais’s “After Life” (2 seasons, 2019 – 2020) on Netflix explores the life of a man in mourning, whose singular joy came from his recently deceased wife. He dwells in her memories, through flashbacks and home videos, and thoughts of suicide are frequent. He clings to his bitter, anti-social wit with a myriad of colorful characters that intersect in his life. Yet gradually he begins to see that life may be worth living when he becomes invested in their lives with small acts of kindness. This is especially true in his loyalty to his dog.

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With both of his roles in GHOST TOWN (2008) and “After Life,” Ricky Gervais displays a masterful ability to make us laugh and deeply touch our hearts, while centering on a topic that many find typically not very entertaining. Death is usually taboo in comedy, if addressed in earnest. Which he manages to walk that fine line of death in sincerity and comedic lines that induces snorting out loud. No easy task. As the best and generally most controversial comics often do, a brutally honest approach, with a mirror held up to society, is often the funniest.


*This piece was written in memory of Kathleen Feindt-Bailey (1960 – 2020), the recently passed wife of Steve Bailey, a friend, fellow blogger, and aficionado of classic comedy. See his work at: https://moviemovieblogblogii.wordpress.com/ or the The Life Goes On Blogathon, Hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlogII.

 

 

THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962)

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Doris Day was 40 years old when Delbert Mann’s THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) premiered, cementing her ridiculous (yet popular) reputation as the “world’s oldest professional virgin.” At this point, she was flourishing in her career within a string of crowd-pleasing sex comedies and rom-coms from the late 1950s that continued into the 1960s. THAT TOUCH OF MINK followed a sure-fire formula with successful films like PILLOW TALK (1959) and LOVER COME BACK (1961), co-starring her good friend Rock Hudson and reliable sidekick, Tony Randall.

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Replacing Rock in this take is… wait for it… my favorite dashing hunk of the silver screen, Cary Grant as “Philip Shayne.” Replacing Randall as his second banana here is Gig Young as “Roger.” Replacing Thelma Ritter’s wisecracking maid from PILLOW TALK, or the more subtle spin of Ann B. Davis (yes, Brady Bunch’s family maid “Alice”) as her secretary in LOVER COME BACK, is the wonderfully sardonic roommate, Audrey Meadows, “Connie.” There are more recognizable character actors sprinkled about such as the creepy clerk from the unemployment office, “Everett Beasley” perfectly and hilariously portrayed by John Astin.

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Speaking of unemployment, that’s why I’m discussing this film. When Steve over at Movie Movie Blog Blog announced his “Unemployment Blogathon,” I immediately thought of this film. In the opening scene, Doris Day (my favorite actress, in case I failed to mention) as “Cathy Timberlake” makes her way to the unemployment office to file her weekly claim, with a job interview scheduled to follow. While filing her unemployment benefits claim, she runs into persistent obstacles from Beasley’s (John Astin) less than subtle pick up lines and sexual harassment. She thwarts his advances only to later have a long limousine splash her head-to-toe via a large mud puddle, as she waits to cross a busy NYC corner. Nothing makes for a solid first impression on a job interview than being drenched in mud. It’s wealthy business tycoon, Mr. Shayne’s (Cary Grant) limo, and he doesn’t stop.

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Frustrated, Cathy vents to her friend and roommate Connie (Audrey Meadows), who works at the automat across the street from Mr. Shayne’s. Spotting Cathy from his office window, Shayne sends his executive assistant Roger (Gig Young) over to apologize on his behalf. As you can imagine, this hands-off approach doesn’t fly with feisty Cathy.

Cathy Timberlake: How would you feel? Here I am, he practically runs me down and then drives right away! And doesn’t have the decency to apologize himself. Furthermore I have a job interview and have to go like this. He doesn’t care. 
Roger: Ohhh… 
Cathy Timberlake: You know what I’d like to do? 
Roger: Throw the money in his face? 
Cathy Timberlake: Exactly! I’d like to throw that money right in his face. 
Roger: Would you? 
Cathy Timberlake: Yes, I would. 
Roger: I’ve waited seven years for this moment. You come with me! 

She marches over to give Shayne a piece of her mind, with Roger cheering her on. But with one look at the breathtaking Shayne, her fire has fizzled and she suddenly turns doe-eyed, love-at-first-sight, and weak in the knees.

She proceeds to jet set around with him all day, as she charms his VIP business clientele. Impressed by her beauty as well as her business networking savvy, Shayne proposes a trip to Bermuda. Pretending to be more sophisticated than her “girl from Upper Sandusky” image, Cathy accepts despite her roommate’s discouragement. Things go rocky from there, as Cathy is nowhere near as cosmopolitan as she pretends to be. Certainly, not without a wedding ring first.

A funny scene revolving around unemployment occurs when Cathy lands a job in an office that appears to sort credit card accounts and billing. Her gig doesn’t last for very long. Upon discovery that it really wasn’t her own savvy that secured her position, but rather her Shayne connection, she’s infuriated. Again. In her rage, she randomly starts punching buttons on a huge sorting machine and marches out, unaware of her subsequent damage. In assessing the damage, Philip Shayne: “The Four Horsemen now have a riding companion. There’s War, Famine, Death, Pestilence, and Miss Timberlake!” There are few things more charming than Doris Day on-screen percolating frustration and anger.

You should note that these sex comedies from the 1960s played it safe despite the majority of the plots centered on sex, or the struggles around sex. Films like this were the bubble-gummed twist on an alternative to the ‘free love’ sexual revolution, which was blossoming just around the corner. Also, it may be tough for a modern, woke, #MeToo audience to watch them with today’s perspectives and not be aghast by the overt sexism. But keep in mind, even back then, they knew this was closer to parody than reality. (If you want to read more on this sex comedy sub genre from this era, take a look at my thoughts over at Classic Movie Hub: “Sex Comedies of Sixties”)

As for these caveman-like standards for gender equality, and societal norms for things like pre-marital sex, it’s a movie magic to imagine a vibrant, talented, and intelligent beauty like Doris Day approaching 40 years old playing the virginal, naive “girl” who is intended to be in her early twenties. Even Cathy and Connie’s apartment set-up feels more like a college dorm room, with their twin beds crammed into a shared room. Additionally, Cary Grant was 18 years her senior, and 58 years old when THAT TOUCH OF MINK was released in theaters. But do we notice or care about such glaring age issues? Not with the gorgeous, age-defying likes of Doris Day and Cary Grant. Such pesky truths melt away from the very moment our gaze first greets them.

An essential tool in this film’s charm box is an immaculate sense of style- from the set designs to the stunning wardrobes. The film delights us with a fashion show, too. Three-time Oscar nominee (including for this film) George Milo was the set decorator, and was notable for his work on several Hitchcock classics. The art direction came from two of the best in the industry, Robert Clatworthy (nominated for 4 career Oscars including Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and this film, plus a win) and Alexander Golitzen (nominated for 11 career Oscars, with 4 wins including SPARTACUS). The costume designer was Rosemary Odell, who was contracted to Universal from 1945 to 1967. She was adept in handling a variety of demands as she worked on westerns, noirs, and comedies from over a hundred pictures, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), and horror-comedies like Abbott and Costello monster flicks.

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But here, the gowns and wardrobe pieces are as impeccable as Day and Grant themselves. Doris Day was a standout for her stunning fashions, and there’s no doubt Cary was known as the best dressed man in Hollywood for decades. He took a heavy hand in advising Day on her apparel and contributed his own personal books to enhance the set for key scenes. For example, he was the one who chose her raincoat, from an ad he saw, and arranged to get it in person. He was very meticulous in this regard.

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In her autobiography, Doris Day wrote: “Of all the people I performed with, I got to know Cary Grant least of all. He is a completely private person, totally reserved, and there is no way into him. Our relationship on That Touch of Mink (1962) was amicable but devoid of give-and-take…Not that he wasn’t friendly and polite – he certainly was. But distant. Very distant. But very professional – maybe the most professional, exacting actor I ever worked with. In the scenes we played, he concerned himself with every little detail: clothes, sets, production values, the works. Cary even got involved in helping to choose the kind of mink I was slated to wear in the film.” (source: imdb)

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The only problem the two faced on set was that each insisted a preference for a right profile for closeups. Cary Grant was the true professional and conceded. Not exactly the warm and fuzzies felt from the on-screen chemistry of leading men like Rock Hudson or James Garner, which better suited Day’s naturally warm and approachable persona behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, Grant assisted Gig Young in preparing for his role by suggesting he play up the neurotic obsessive character akin to Tony Randall’s similar roles, which worked well. Young often played the more serious or romantic types but I enjoyed him so much in this comic bit as Roger that I wish he did more like it. Tragically, Gig Young’s life ended in a murder-suicide with his fifth wife, 31 year-old Kim Schmidt, only 3 weeks after their wedding in 1978. As a big “Honeymooners”‘ fan, Grant rallied to get Audrey Meadows. I’m personally grateful because she’s delightful here as the protective pal with her maternal “honey” catch phrase on a loop.

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What does all of this have to do with unemployment? You’ll have to watch the film to see for yourself. Suffice to say, she may have started at the unemployment line, but she landed up getting the job she really wanted. Despite a few items here and there that don’t quite round the bases like PILLOW TALK, Mann’s THAT TOUCH OF MINK still packs an enduring punch with slapstick fare, style and solid performances.

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Fangirling Doris Day

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My love for Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff is no secret. As a classic film obsessive, I’m often asked who my favorite (male and female) movie stars are. With zero hesitation, Cary Grant and Doris Day. Even her name reflects that Day was destined to be star. Her mother gave her the name “Doris” after the silent film star Doris Kenyon. Later, “Day” was inspired from her early years singing with big band leader greats like Barney Rapp, who suggested she take the Day surname from the song, “Day By Day.” (Take a listen here: https://youtu.be/AqFfe6Y97Yc )

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Dancing was her initial attempt at stardom. She even won a $500 contest that routed her to Hollywood, but those dancing dreams dashed away the day before her trip, due to a car accident which seriously injured her. So her mother encouraged her to switch focus to singing. This landed her on the radio, followed by the concert stage, with bandleader greats like Bob Crosby and Les Brown and His Band of Renown. By the mid ’40s, her sultry yet approachable voice was quite popular, especially with the WW2 troops, and reaching the charts with number one singles such as “Sentimental Journey.” The time had come to transition that magical songbird to Hollywood musicals.

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She was a natural talent on screen. There was something so vibrant, so magnetic about her presence. As a novice to Hollywood in 1947, with her already seasoned voice combined with her stunning beauty, she was a standout even amongst the most shining constellations of stars. Beyond the colorfully light fare of musicals with the likes of Jack Carson, Doris sprinkled in more dramatic roles. In the ’50s, Day took on darker, juicier roles like the jazz singer paired with an obsessive Kirk Douglas in YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950), as Ginger Rogers’ sister embroiled with the KKK in STORM WARNING (1951), as a desperate mother, along with Jimmy Stewart as the dad, fighting to save the life of their kidnapped son in Hitchcock’s 2nd attempt at THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956), and as the abused singer Ruth Etting in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955).

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THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) helped solidify the featured song “Que Sera, Sera” as the reigning signature song of her career. Meanwhile, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME stands as the most memorable of her dramatic roles. Unfortunately, this is in part due to the emotional pains Day suffered while filming the intense scenes of abuse paired with James Cagney. Day and Cagney were only performing roles of course, but during such pivotal scenes Doris couldn’t help but be painfully reminded of her first husband, jazz trombonist Al Jorden, who violently beat her while she was pregnant with her only child, Terry.

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As audiences said goodbye to the ’50s and mega musicals grew out of favor, Doris reinvented herself yet again with sex comedies in the 1960s. Many of these comedies are considered the most memorable of her career to this day. In films like PILLOW TALK (1959), LOVER COME BACK (1961), and THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963), Day reflected society’s changing times as an empowered, talented woman with a career. Many of these films continued to focus on the battle of the sexes, sometimes as a savvy single gal in the workforce, sometimes as a mom juggling multiple roles while struggling to seek greater balance of power. And no one did all of this, while also projecting a powerhouse of stunning fashions, quite like Doris Day.

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Her career started as a jazz/big band singer in 1939 at the age of seventeen. On the Columbia records label, she created over 650 recordings within 2 decades from 1947 to 1967.

Day co-starred with some of the biggest names in the Golden Age of Hollywood during this time. Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, James Garner, Jack Lemmon, and Rod Taylor are just a few. With every role, and every A-list leading man, she shined even brighter. As for her reputation that she was typecast as the virginal girl-next-door, I wholeheartedly disagree. She was following the code handed down to her just like all the other actresses of her time. If you doubt her ability to exude a breathy, come-hither sex appeal, I highly suggest you watch her sex comedies again. (Or, schedule an appointment with your optometrist and cardiologist.)

Before I move on from my fangirling nirvana, I must point out what I believe to be her greatest strength: her instinct for physical comedy and masterful comedic timing.

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I don’t think Doris Day receives anywhere near the credit she wholly deserves for her innate sense of comedy. To me, it always feels like a fresh, new experience to witness her reactions, her interplay with fellow cast performances, her animated facial gestures. Absolutely- and hilariously- brilliant, every time. How is this even possible? I believe the answer lies in her authenticity. Her charisma was straight from the heart.

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Doris Day made her final feature film in 1968, co-starring with Brian Keith in WITH SIX YOU GET EGG ROLL. It’s such a funny and heartwarming movie that reflects very realistic challenges of blending families, a subject I’m personally familiar. Day’s career turned to television appearances, including her own show, “The Doris Day Show” (1968 – 1973).

Sadly, her main reason for even doing the show was because her manager/3rd husband Martin Melcher died, and upon his death, Day discovered he had made arrangements to terminate her Warner Brothers contract and start this TV gig, completely unknown to her. Tragically, she also discovered that Melcher, along with his business partner Jerome Rosenthal, had squandered over $20 million of Day’s earnings over the entire 17-year period of Melcher’s marriage to Doris. She had no choice but to do the show to earn back her money.

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Her strength and tenacity, in addition to her many assets, is impressive. But more so, my love fest with her also stems from those glimmers of a connection to my idol. I don’t share ANY of her talents. Not even close. But I love her fashionista goddess ways. I love that she had freckles. I love her deep passion for animals. (Yes, I belong to the Doris Day Animal Foundation.) I love her lifelong friendship with Rock. And I love that she was a survivor. She survived… a father that left/ran off with her mother’s friend when she was young, abuse from her first husband, death of her child, financial whirlwinds of great success to deeply in debt and back to into the black again, and four lousy marriages with men that clearly didn’t deserve her.

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In my own way, I felt a connection to Doris Day that went beyond admiration. I know many are mourning our darling of screen and song. To me, her light has not faded. Her gifts she bestowed to us continues to shine brightly. So, I’ll pop in my favorite Doris film, then play one of my Doris Day vinyls. See you on the flip side, Doris. I bet Rock is teasingly calling you Eunice right now.

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