Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fond Farewell: End of the Day

Our planet is going to be glimmering just a bit more dimly from now on without the presence of one of the entertainment world's sunniest stars, Miss Doris Day. While we paid full-on tribute to Day long ago right here, we couldn't let her recent passing go unnoticed by Poseidon's Underworld. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 3rd, 1922 (in the suburb of Evanston, a scant three miles from my house) to parents of German ancestry, her birth name was Doris Kappelhoff. She took an interest in dance which led to the winning of a local contest with a boy partner and the two teens were packed and about to leave for Hollywood when Doris was severely injured in a car/train accident.
The 5'7" youth possessed a freckled face, thick honey-blonde hair and long legs. But those legs would never dance professionally again. While convalescing (which wound up a long, frustrating experience), she found herself singing along with her radio and discovering a talent for vocals. Her idol was Ella Fitzgerald, known for her smooth, clean, distinct notes and phrasing. Before long, the teen landed a job with Les Brown's orchestra - now as Doris Day, married a trombonist and gave birth to a son. But by the time she was eighteen she was a single, unemployed mother. Her own mother, ever supportive and faithful about her daughter's talent, insisted that she try her luck in Hollywood and that she did.
She was immediately signed with Warner Brothers following a screen test arranged by an agent and the unseasoned gal soon landed a starring role in Romance on the High Seas (1948.) She'd been heard singing at a Hollywood party by director Michael Curtiz. Though she was horrified at her own amateurish performances in the daily rushes and wanted acting lessons, Curtiz forbid it, exclaiming his appreciation of her on-screen naturalism.
Over the next four years, Day made thirteen films, many of them colorful, old-fashioned ones like On Moonlight Bay (1951) or By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) with an occasional change of pace such as 1951's dramatic Storm Warning, opposite Ginger Rogers.
Captivating the public from the start, Day was one of the brightest new musical comedy stars to come along in some time. Though she didn't feel particularly close to Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall (who were real life friends) during Young Man with a Horn (1950), she got on well with most of her costars such as Jack Carson and Gordon MacRae.
Soon she was demonstrating that she could play both period romantic parts as well as contemporary musical comedy, always with that sunny, gently raspy, singing voice which gave a lot of people comfort over the years. (In 1945, prior to her film debut, she'd recorded "Sentimental Journey," which was a smash hit and meant a lot to returning WWII servicemen and their loved ones.)
By 1953, she'd proven that she could carry a lighthearted musical romp, but was ready to try something with a little zest to it.


1953's Calamity Jane provided that and more as she broadly portrayed the tomboyish heroine (seen here brandishing a vaguely phallic handgun!) She wore pants for much of the film, set up housekeeping with a frilly female companion and sang about a "Secret Love," giving many Lesbian fans something to celebrate for decades after! It was her own personal favorite film and it was the first take of "Secret Love," a song she adored, that was used.
In 1955, she explored a role with even more meat to it, that of real-life singer Ruth Etting, whose involvement with a gangster (played by James Cagney) led to a certain amount of pain and heartache. The film was Love Me or Leave Me and Day showed off her still-notable dancing skills in it.
In 1956 she was selected by no less than Alfred Hitchcock for one of her best roles, that of the mother of a young kidnapped boy in The Man Who Knew Too Much. She and on-screen husband James Stewart try desperately to not only retrieve their boy, but also foil an assassination attempt. Once again, she was fretful about her acting and sure that the near-silent director wanted her fired until he assured her that he had been saying nothing to her about her acting because she was doing precisely what he desired for the role!
Also in 1956, she starred in the (hyper)dramatic Julie, with Louis Jourdan. This tale of dangerously obsessive love upset Day quite a bit. The untrained actress tended to live out her parts on the screen for real versus manufacturing feelings and expressions for the camera. The whole thing left her feeling depleted.
More in line with her personal tastes was the spirited musical The Pajama Game (1957), which placed her opposite handsome John Raitt. It was a rare chance for him to essay a role he'd done on Broadway while she replaced Janis Paige, who'd been the top-billed lady in Day's debut Romance on the High Seas a decade prior!
Though her career had been significant and mostly steady, it was about to get a HUGE shot in the arm. Glossy producer Ross Hunter was putting together a slick, sophisticated new comedy and wanted to feature Day with a whole new sexy, ultra-glamorous image. She was somewhat resistant to the idea until he informed her that she had "one of the wildest asses in Hollywood" and he thought it was high time she showed it off!
The film Pillow Talk (1959) paired her with Rock Hudson, who was exploring his first real attempt at comedy, and the two made sparks fly. They became immediately close friends, gave each other wacky nicknames, giggled throughout the filming and proceeded to make two more successful comedies together. Their chemistry and prominence in the genre led many fans to think they'd done even more of them. Along for each of the three was Tony Randall, who added immeasurably to the formula. Both Day and Hudson benefited incredibly from this new arc in their respective careers. Day was nominated for an Oscar, which went to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top.
Day returned to dramatic (actually hilariously over-dramatic) films one final time with the scream-fest Midnight Lace (1960.) Decked out in a stunning Irene wardrobe, Day put herself through untold misery enacting a character who was being tormented to the point of total hysteria. She would not do so again.  
Day was one of THE box office draws for several years and one of the few females to top the box office since the glory years of the 1930s and '40s. She was paired with legends like Clark Gable (Teacher's Pet, 1958) and Cary Grant (That Touch of Mink, 1962), as seen here, as well as the aforementioned Kirk Douglas and James Stewart. There had also been Frank Sinatra (Young at Heart, 1954) and would be David Niven (Please Don't Eat the Daisies, 1960) and Jimmy Durante (Billy Rose's Jumbo, 1962.)
When she wasn't entangled with Rock Hudson, there might be James Garner or Rod Taylor, as seen here. Other gents she costarred with included Richard Widmark, Jack Lemmon and Peter Graves.
By the mid-'60s and romps like Caprice (1967), as seen here with Richard Harris, her formula films were beginning to wane a bit. Her husband-manager Marty Melcher was wringing her appeal dry in mid-level movies turned out as if on a conveyor belt.
Always fit Doris wasn't shy about showing off her still-sexy physique, so long as the subject matter wasn't vulgar (as she described one of the roles she turned down, that of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, 1967.) Still, she was becoming tired and audiences' tastes were shifting.
Her final feature, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) was a family comedy with Brian Keith and elements of Day's self-effacing slapstick. She still looked radiant, but up and comers like Barbara Hershey (who played her daughter) and dozens like her were emerging as the new stars on the block. When Day's husband died suddenly, she received a shock that went well beyond the death of a loved one...
...she was informed that she was deeply in debt, her hard-earned millions gone to bad investments and mismanagement. Not only that, she'd been signed to headline a weekly television series that she knew nothing whatsoever about! To her credit, she honored the commitment, but changed the format time and again to suit her. The Doris Day Show ran five seasons and put her back on her feet. She used as its theme, "Que Sera, Sera," the Oscar-winning song she introduced (and initially disliked) in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Despite her squeaky clean image, Day did enjoy life (and was married four times in all.) Oscar Levant once quipped, during the height of her "good girl" period, "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin." A highly attractive, effervescent personality with a terrific body, she attracted many suitors from fellow actors to sports figures.
One regret she had, though it certainly wasn't something she could be blamed for, was that so many of the dazzling fashions she sported in her many romantic romps, were accented with fur. (The black hat in the prior photo was almost surely faux by that point in her career.) For decades, fur coats and clothing signified the pinnacle of luxury and that was something Hollywood expressly espoused. Day developed a deep love for animals and became an advocate for their welfare, so anything made with true fur was anathema to her. 
Once The Doris Day Show ended, she only performed before the cameras on rare occasions. The still-radiant fifty-three year-old did the 1975 TV special Doris Day Today (in which she sang "The Way We Were" as shots of her famous leading men appeared beside her) and then slipped into relative obscurity.
That's not to say she was an inactive recluse. She just settled into Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and spent her time caring for an ever-increasing menagerie of dogs and spending time with her son and his family. She also owned a hotel nearby. She was ultimately awarded a hefty settlement from the man who'd mismanaged all her money and left her strapped for cash.
In 1985, she returned to television to host a celebrity pet show called Doris Day's Best Friends. Seen here is fellow Carmel resident (and onetime mayor) Clint Eastwood. The low-key show became infamous for having as its first guest a terribly ill and bedraggled looking Rock Hudson, kicking off a firestorm of controversy over his battle with AIDS.
Day almost entirely left behind all the stiff, glittering artifice that had marked her prolific time as a highly-popular movie actress (though it must be said that even within those situations, she always attempted to balance it with more natural and down-to-earth moments such as slapstick/humiliation comedy or outdoorsy scenarios.)
Instead, the still-lovely Day lived on her terms, resistant to dwell on her starry past, only giving interviews on the rarest of occasions and happily seeing to her gorgeous grounds and her many furry friends. She did return to Hollywood in 1989 to accept the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes and was rapturously welcomed, but managed not to be tempted to work as an actress again.
Behind the sun was a fair share of shadow. She had been abused by her first husband, widowed by her third, had seen her life earnings cast to the wind and later had to bury her only son in 2004. But the plucky, positive Day always kept a bright outlook and remained an effervescent person right up to the end when pneumonia claimed her at ninety-seven. Gone she may be, but fans will never forget the remarkable Doris Day.

12 comments:

Martin said...

What a tribute, Poseidon! I'm typing with tears in my eyes. Doris was definitely one of a kind, in the best possible way. Pure class and talent.

http://ricksrealreel.blogspot.com/ said...

Lovely summation, Poseidon!

Doris seemed to enjoy her stardom and legacy, and I'm glad Day got to enjoy some well-earned decades of comfort and happiness after some bad marriages and investors.

A life well-lived and a beautiful legacy of work to remember her by!

Sigh,

Rick

hsc said...

A beautiful tribute, Poseidon!

Doris Day was always one of my favorites growing up-- I think "Que Sera, Sera" was one of the first songs I ever learned. I saw a number of her films in the theater, and always tried to catch them on the Late Show or later, on AMC. I even watched "The Doris Day Show" throughout its ever-changing run.

My absolute favorite Doris Day film was "The Thrill of It All." "Pillow Talk" of course is another fave, especially with the ironic overtones Rock Hudson's mind games take on now.

My mom was a big fan as well-- she's the one that got me hooked as a kid-- and one of the last things we did before she passed away in 2002 was watch "Move Over, Darling".

Thanks for this look back at Doris Day's life and career! She'll be missed!

Poseidon3 said...

Martin, thank you so much! I'm sure there's more to it than my musings, but if I helped in any way to provide emotional release to you then my work here is done. It made me feel good that you enjoyed this photo essay.

Rick, I agree completely with everything you said, naturally. Thanks! I'm glad you liked this.

hsc, thanks very much! I almost always enjoy Doris in about anything (though I have to admit I have not really delved into her earliest movies much.) I love her in "TMWKTM," which was I think the first one I ever saw with her. Somehow, strangely enough, "Send Me No Flowers" stands out to me. I like that she's MARRIED to Rock, instead of beating around the bush as it were, and Tony Randall, Clint Walker and Paul Lynde - among others - have fun roles in it too. I agree, however, about the layers of "Pillow Talk." No one ever got as incensed on the phone as Doris! LOL

Gingerguy said...

I have been sad this week (those hits keep coming too with Peggy Lipton and Tim Conway) but also so happy that everyone is talking about Doris Day. Poseidon you did a beautiful tribute here with such great photos. The later ones she looks so gorgeous and now I can appreciate how great and still natural she looks in her 50's. She really did make the world a better place and I am so glad she's appreciated. Storm Warning is really disturbing, have seen it once. Julie is such a scream, I have been watching the trailer on youtube and it's hilarious. I was talking to someone recently about Calamity Jane and she didn't see any of the lesbian code in that movie, while to me it's so obvious, including the song "A Woman's Touch" lol. Last but not least I adore Midnight Lace, she is even great in a bad movie. I will always love Doris Day, rest in peace.

loulou de la falaise said...

I enjoyed her book, it was one of the better "celebrity-tell-alls". Her life sure wasn't a giant strawberry milk shake but she was blessed with an innate goodness. When I was a kid my sisters and I were obsessed with 'Please don't eat the daisies" and the little boy saying "cokee-cola." (that movie seems to have disappeared).

joel65913 said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely. One of those losses, like Debbie Reynolds, that hits you in the solar plexus and takes a lloonngg time to digest.

Yes she had a long and very fruitful life and 97 is nothing to sneeze at but especially since she had been doing so well it just feels sudden.

LOVE her and she is always entertaining and charismatic onscreen no matter whether its one of her top films or a piece of crap like the aforementioned Caprice (what a terrible film though the fashions are eye popping and Richard Harris is a fine actor).

I know she felt that in her first series of films her performances were rough but the first two, Romance on the High Seas and My Dream is Yours, are among my favorites of her pictures. She's so relaxed and engaging.

I also love her films with Gordon MacRae, they are just two sunbeams radiating good cheer, but then I LOVE Gordon MacRae and think he is terribly undervalued. A lot of that is the fact that he was probably at the wrong studio, Warners musicals while pleasant time passers are rarely great art and didn't place many demands on him. He certainly had a better singing voice than Astaire or Gene Kelly and while I don't think his acting talent was wide he acquitted himself very well in Oklahoma & Carousel. Then just when he hit his stride with those two films musicals went out of fashion.

Anyway back to Dodo her films rarely demanded much of her dramatically, probably a mixture of niche and choice on her part, but when they did she was up to the challenge. She was never better than in Love Me or Leave Me and that's where her Oscar nomination should have come from. Julie is a hooty mess, entertaining in a train wreck sort of way. Much the same can be said for Midnight Lace though at least that has Myrna Loy. That's not to say that I don't enjoy it as much as a rich dessert!!

Fortunately her legacy will live on and I can always count on any of her films to buoy my spirits should I need them lifted.

A one of a kind star and a wonderful woman.

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I didn't post any for whatever reason, but Doris actually still looked great into her 80s/90s! I guess that beaming attitude (with probably some gentle help here and there along the way) really paid off. I hope things look up for you soon. You deserve it! (BTW, I also liked Peggy and especially Tim. He was a terrific part of my childhood with all his wondrous "Carol Burnett Show" characterizations.)

loulou, I think her book was considered one of the best celebrity auto-bios because it was frank, but kind, and felt genuine. I think it was probably one of the first five or so I ever read (and I've read hundreds since!) I use to see "PDETD" rather often about a decade or so ago, but recently, yes, it's not been aired much - if at all!

Joel, so glad you liked this post. I can never understand the lack of appreciation for Gordon MacRae's luscious voice, one of my favorite musical theatre voices. He deteriorated rather sadly, but who knows, maybe it was because he couldn't get the type of parts and movies he deserved when others were soaring (not to take away from Astaire and Kelly, whose dancing put them on an entirely other level.) Take care and thanks!

Ken Anderson said...

A really glowing tribute to one of my early favorites (although I had to keep it a bit to myself as a kid, otherwise my sisters would have teased me). Her movies always seemed to be on Saturday afternoons when I was growing up and I was ever in awe of how she balanced a seemingly effortless naturalism with old fashioned show-biz polish.
Always thought she'd get a special Oscar before she died, but lacking that, tributes like your shows that there was never any lack of appreciation for her from the public. Great photos, too!

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks, Ken! It might be cliche, but one thing about Doris' movies is that anyone can watch them, kids or adults, and not be worried that a stray cuss word, boob or worse will suddenly pop out! LOL Okay... maybe you might see Paul Lynde in a dress... but, hey, in 2019 that could happen at Wal-Mart! Sometimes I wish she'd have been willing to push her boundaries more (such as with "The Graduate"), but she stuck to her guns and did it her way. I hope she was happy. She seemed so.

Unknown said...

Poseidon,

Thank You for giving Doris such wonderful send off.
She represents my only anchor to a gentleness and
talent now bygone and will never be replaced or forgotten.

XOXO

KIKI From SF

Poseidon3 said...

Thank you for commenting! I'm glad you liked this. :-)