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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