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« What did you see over the weekend? | Main | Bentonville: Geena Davis, Jamie Brewer, and the Fabulous Freddie Mercury »
Monday
May132019

Doris Day (1922-2019)

by Nathaniel R

"Legend" and "Icon" and "Classic" are all overused words in showbiz prose, and we're as guilty of anyone at letting those words fly out with abandon. But they're nothing like overstatements when it comes to the career of Doris Day, one of the 20th Century's most beloved and successful stars. She began her career as a teenage big band singer and nine years later debuted on the big screen in her most regular genre, the romantic comedy (with or without songs) via Busby Berkeley's Romance on the High Seas (1948).

She was an instant hit with audiences but it took a few more years for her true classics to emerge...

The bulk of the film's she's best remembered for occurred across a fifteen year window, which is somewhat typical of legendary stars output, reaching from the musical comedy western Calamity Jane (1953) through the blended-family comedy With Six You Get Eggroll (1968), which incidentally arrived one year before The Brady Bunch ran with a similar concept of remarriage and sudden double-size families as a TV series. For Doris Day it was hit after hit after hit in the 1950s and 1960s with the romantic comedy Pillow Talk (1959, her sole Oscar nomination) and the Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) taking pride of place in terms of the film's enduring reputations. 

Day was sometimes referred to as a "professional virgin" as a film star, shorthand for her chaste screen persona but she was not sexless so the term is misleading; you don't get that famous and beloved doing romantic comedies if you are. She could flirt with the best of them onscreen. It remains fascinating to us that her most popular period stretched from the early 50s where her screen persona felt most markedly 'contemporary' through the much bawdier and sexually liberated 1960s when her more apple-cheeked persona was in direct contrast to the Elizabeth Taylors, Shirley Maclaines, Sophia Lorens, Catherine Deneuves, and Julie Christies of the time period, if not the Julie Andrews. 

Though Day was never an awards magnet in her lifetime outside of the Golden Globes (where she was a regular nominee and four-time honoree) there was a great push from her loyal fandom for career and lifetime achievement awards and she took home four high profile honors in those terms from the LAFCA, the Golden Globes, the Grammys, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. An Honorary Oscar never came to pass and most believed it was because she wouldn't appear in person to accept it. She turned down similar honors including the Kennedy Center lending credence to those rumors. 

After her heyday, which ended with a five year TV series The Doris Day Show (1968-1973), Day didn't bother trying to hold on to her showbiz fame (but for a brief return to TV in the mid 80s when she famously interviewed her frequent co-star Rock Hudson, then reinventing himself as a primetime soap star) but opted for retirement and philanthrophy, where she became well known as a champion of animal rights. She garnered some negative publicity, too, for her conservative politics but why focus on that when she saved so many doggies? And Republicans then are hardly synonymous with republicans now. They weren't even half as cancerous and blatantly evil as they are in today's political climate.

Some Lists For Fun...

BIGGEST HITS (very rough estimated rank)

Pillow Talk (1959) was so successful that Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, and Doris made two more pictures as a trio: Lover Come Back (1961), and Send Me No Flowers (1964)

 

  1. Pillow Talk (1959)
  2. That Touch of Mink (1962)
  3. Move Over, Darling (1963)
  4. The Thrill of It All (1963)
  5. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
  6. Lover Come Back (1961)
  7. I'll See You In My Dreams (1951)
  8. With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)
  9. Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)
  10. Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

 

MOST FREQUENT CO-STARS (estimated. correct us if we left someone out)

West Point Story (1953) with Gordon MacRae, her most frequent co-star 

  1. Gordon MacRae (6 times)
  2. S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, and Gene Nelson (4 times each)
  3. Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Jack Carson, James Cagney, Bill Goodwin (3 times each)
  4. Eve Arden, Paul Lynde, Gig Young, and Janis Paige (2 times each)

Do you remember the first time you fell for Doris Day?

I think my first encounter was Calamity Jane on a TV showing because her rendition of "Secret Love" has been seared into my brain for as long as I can remember being alive. I also distinctly remember With Six You Get Eggroll from TV airings. Pillow Talk I only discovered in college while trying to catch up on Oscar nominations. What a treat that movie was and remains, even if it's the last kind of movie you'd expect to be up for Oscars. Hence the deliciousness. 

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Reader Comments (41)

A true legend. This marks the end of an era.

No performer was more deserving of an honorary Oscar. They should have given her one even if she wouldn’t show up to accept it. She was the top female movie star of all time.

Really the only movie in which Doris is “the constant Virgin” is “That Touch of Mink” with Cary Grant. In her movies with Rock Hudson, Doris’s characters are clearly willing to go to bed with Rock.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Well, she certainly did live a long life. An icon. May she rest in peace.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Doris Day lit up the world while she was here. And what a lovely glow she's left behind.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterKen

It is such a continuing great pleasure to be watching a color movie and have Doris Day's name pop up in first or second place. You know you're in for something fun and probably even good. That 15 year batting average is probably unsurpassed for audience pleasure as well as money making. That is something that Hollywood should respect.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

I think my first exposure was "The Pajama Game", but my favorite is "Romance on the High Seas". She arrives fully formed, absolutely comfortable with a leading role, and playing more contemporary and adult than she'd get to do again for a while. Love her paired with Jack Carson, too.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

A true legend. There will never be the likes of her ever again.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I think the first one I saw was “Move Over, Darling” with her two time co-star James Garner. That was a remake of the Cary Grant/ Irene Dunne vehicle, “My Favorite Wife”.

In Doris Day’s obituary from The Guardian, UK, by Ronald Bergan:

Of her film persona in the 60s, the critics Jane Clarke and Diana Simmonds wrote that Day “confronts the male and forces him to modify his attitudes and behaviour. Moreover, saying no to manipulative sexual situations is not the same as clinging to one’s virginity.”

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteradri

There were other fine blonde singers and other wonderful blonde actresses but Doris Day was just like no one else.

She radiated such good will, positivity and friendliness in her acting, her presence was joyful, her smile dazzling and when she sang she was mesmerizing. Gifted with perfect pitch she enhanced any song she was handed.

My first exposure to her was The Thrill of It All, a favorite of my parents so we watched it whenever it was shown. She was charming, funny and scrappy, I was too young to see the script was a bit repressive. Since then I've seen her entire filmography and even when her films started to be less than stellar affairs (when Melcher was throwing her into scripts for the money rather than the quality) she never phoned it in always making what she could out of substandard material and making the good scripts soar. And how she could wear high fashion clothes!!!

Excluding those last few films, and not counting Eggroll which is cute if minor, all her films are worth a watch but my top 10 would be:

Love Me or Leave Me-Her best dramatic performance and the one she should have received an Oscar nomination for.

Romance on the High Seas
My Dream is Yours
The Thrill of It All
Pillow Talk
Send Me No Flowers
The Man Who Knew Too Much
It Happened to Jane
Calamity Jane
Midnight Lace

LOVE that picture with Gordon MacRae (love Gordon MacRae!), they made such a striking couple. They had a terrific chemistry on screen, their voices blended beautifully, and the films they made together are all lovely pieces of Americana.

She had her turbulent times but she gave so much to both the public and animals. A great lady who will be sorely missed.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

My favorite Doris Day movie is the little-seen It's a Great Feeling. It's full of celebrity cameos - Joan Crawford steals the show! And when she gets the guy at the end ... well, I won't spoil the best joke of the movie.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Aw, you had to include Secret Love, didn't ya?

Now I'm a puddle.

Doris Day was one of my father's favorite actresses and singers, so I've been watching her for a long time now. My dad was the first person I texted when I found out, but oh to be 97.

As far as I'm concerned, she's the golden standard by which all romantic comedy heroines should be judged next to.

A life so well-attended.

I'm gonna go back to being a puddle now...

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterManny

I am in mourning as I love Doris Day. A true original. Her voice and ability to interpret songs were brilliant. I actually remember watching her TV show, which was my first introduction to her. As for film, it was Please Don't Eat the Daisies with David Niven. What a career she had.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBGk

i have been weird and sad all day long since i opened my laptop at 6:00 am and read that our doris had passed away.

doris day gave one of her best performances in "the pajama game."

loose, charming, athletic... and so very sexy.

just finished watching that film... she was so good in it.

she held her own (and then some) against john raitt in every number upon which they collaborated... especially "i love you more."

i would include this role in the list of roles for which should have been nominated for an oscar.

rest.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterprofessor miller

Doris was our friend and neighbor in Carmel Valley for the last 40 years. She was very different from her "reel" life. That is all I have to say on this. Just everyone know that she was a wonderful, wonderful person.

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

thelma ritter also costarred twice [pillow talk, move over darling]

May 13, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Loved her. The LGBT undercurrents in some of her films are remarkable, and she had such wonderful charm. My personal favorites: Midnight Lace, Pillow Talk and Calamity Jane.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

First movie: Tea For Two, 1950
Favorite movie: That Touch of Mink, 1962
Last movie: Storm Warning, 1951

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFeline Justice

Whenever a celebrity passes on, especially one whose records you have been playing since young or whose screen presence you have enjoyed throughout your life, you can't help but feel a sense of loss as if some light inside you has been extinguished permanently. That's how I felt when I caught the news this morning....a beloved icon in a league of her own.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJans

I wonder why, especially after 2009, the Academy didn't just give her the Honorary/Hersholt? As the other posters have alluded to, she was the biggest female star of all time! It didn't stop them rewarding men who had no interest in it...

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter A.

She had something that I could not describe that lightened up my DAY - when i was feeling on top of the world or whenever I felt blue... honestly it's strange! I loved her since I was 7 ... and somehow this love never left. She definitely is one of the reasons why today I'm on this site - loving actresses & movies - looking for comfort ;-)
I still have playlists that I put on for certain moods and her voice just gets right where it should. Because of her movies I actually started to study movies of 50's/60's like crazy when I was 13 and wrote autograph letters to America and couldn't wait to skip back from school to see who answered. We lost someone very special.
Actually today I think her finest work are her dramatic performances in Hitchs "Man Who Knew To Much", "Love Me or Leave Me" & the stylish "Midnightlace"- which always comes a bit short when remembering her, but she had such a raw quality, especially in her breakdown scene with Steward & Myrna Loy & Harrison that it hurts to see her in pain. Her comedic timing seemed to come natural and flawless in her good comedies ("Please Don't Eat The Daisies" is a great example with David Niven on her side - but actually her scenes with her 3 boys are magic).
@joel6 I'm with you - She should have had n oscar nod for "Love Me Or Leave Me". Thanks for all the sunshine in my life Doris - made one day we meet ;-)

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

She was like a white Mammy to me, a warm, wholesome maternal presence. RIP.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

What a sad day. She is one of the last stars of the golden age. Only Kirk Douglas and Olivia de Havilland are left. It makes me feel very old.

I think the first movie I ever saw her in when I was a boy was that one she did with Ronald Reagan about Grover Cleveland Alexander. It really made an impression on me, but I never knew the title. I just looked it up--The Winning Game.

Her Christmas album was a staple for our family when I was growing up. Her version of Toyland gives me chills. What a vocalist.

I am ashamed to say that I have not seen a lot of her movies, but now I want to watch Love Me or Leave Me, Calamity Jane and Please Don't Eat the Daisies. Oh, and I've never seen Pillow Talk either.

A great lady, and what a life.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

She's in My Top Five of Beloved Actresses. There was a period when I was obsessed with her, wanted to be like her: to be independent, have a great job, dress incredible clothes, live in a super well-decorated apartment and date Rock Hudson or Howard Keel or James Garner or Rod Taylor or... Doris will always be more remembered for her musicals and comedies, certainly, but she has great dramatic acting - beside the popular The Man Who Knew Too Much (56) - in movies like Julie (56), one of my Top 10 of her, Storm Warning (51) and Midnight Lace (60), all of them very good.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

I have seen few of Day's movies, and those I saw when I was just a kid, but wow, do I ever love her musical oeuvre - songs like "Secret Love", "Que Sera Sera", "Move Over Darling', "Send Me No Flowers" - the list goes on and on. Her voice was crystal clear, emotionally true, and endlessly charming. RIP, Doris. Your work will live on.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

And she has her own urban term "Doris Day Parking" meaning when you pull up in a busy area and there is a spot directly in front of where you want to go....just like it was for Doris in all her films!

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

As a child, one of my babysitters used to sing to me to get me to go to sleep. One of the songs I remember her singing was "Que Sera, Sera." Even in those memories it always seemed that it was Doris singing just to me.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRick Schoen

An IMDB trivia on Doris:

"When Quigley Publications ranked the top box office draws of the 20th century, Doris Day was the highest-rated actress, having been among the Top Ten Stars list 10 times between 1951 and 1966, placing #1 four times. Other high-ranking females included Shirley Temple, Betty Grable and Elizabeth Taylor."

My Doris Day Top Ten

01 The Man Who Knew Too Much.1956
02 Pillow Talk.1959
03 The Pajama Game.1957
04 Midnight Lace.1960
05 Teacher's Pet.1958
06 Send Me No Flowers.1964
07 That Touch of Mink.1962
08 Please Don't Eat The Daisies.1960
09 Young Man With A Horn.1950
10 Young At Heart.1954

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

I remember stumbling upon LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME on tv at some time fairly early in my tweens (when my actressexuality was beginning to blossom) and being gobsmacked at the difference in her persona. It opened my naive eyes to the fact that actresses (SOME actresses, anyways) really did have a range and could alter not only the way they spoke and moved but their very essence on screen. And the sexuality she suggested. And that body in that clinging gown! (Doris Day was really stacked, you know!) I absolutely believe Ms. Day was an actress who was never given the opportunities to show her range (my impression is she wasn't really interested). I love her and certainly consider her as being in the top Echelon of female movie stars. And, if you can still find it somewhere, check out the Klu Klux Klan movie she was in with Ginger Rogers!! Another eye-opener.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

And by all means find and watch CALAMITY JANE! Wonderful performance! The physicality alone makes this a stunner!!

And love all this talk about her getting an Oscar nomination for LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME! 1955 was a tough year, though. Maybe replace Audrey Hepburn in SABRINA with Doris Day??

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

billybil - Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina was in 1954 (the award was handed out in 1955). 1955's field was Anna Magnani, Katharine Hepburn, Jennifer Jones, Susan Hayward and Eleanor Parker. The first 2 are very strong, but she's superior to any of the other three IMO.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

billybil and ken s., I'd put Doris in the place of Hepburn and I know, I know, sounds like blasphemy but it wouldn't hurt her four Oscars, only one nomination less.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

Gwen, personally I think K. Hepburn should have won. I love Summertime.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

ken, I love Summertime too. David Lean is one of my favourites, Rossano Brazzi and Kate - it's a tough choice. But Kate has more nominations among the nominees, so I'd take her out of the list. That's the only reason. And Magnani is great in her movie, don't you think?

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

I own 2 Doris Day films on DVD, which I watched recently: a drama, "Julie" (1956) and her last film, "With Six You Get Eggroll" (1968). The former was a suspenseful piece with exciting airplane finish, while the latter hit was so funny and delightful, aided by supporting cast Pat Carroll, Alice Ghostley, Jackie Joseph, more. And her leading man, Brian Keith, is often not mentioned in Doris' obits, but he's a tremendous actor, so real, better than most of the "classic" ones. And don't forget her fun TV show, great openings, including Doris swooping down a spiral staircase, to the iconic tune, "Que Sera Sera", all set in San Francisco.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJessie

When we think about the 1950s movies the images that comes to our minds usually are of the pretty much older men pairing up with pretty much younger women. Kim Novak and James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby, Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, Doris Day and Clark Gable, Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper. The experient male star and the female newcomer. Doris' most famous and perfect co-star was Rock Hudson. They are so magical together in three movies(they're supposed to make one more, That Touch of Mink, but director Delbert Mann wanted Cary Grant) and she is three years older than him. Isn't it wonderful? Doris was one of these actresses who always played younger like Audrey Hepburn, Leslie Caron and June Allyson. Depending on the demand of the character she can act and look older or younger. In The Man Who Knew To Much, released in 1955 she plays mother and wife and looks older than in Pillow Talk, released four years later when she plays a young single woman.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDoodie

The Man Who Knew Too Much is 1956. Sorry.

May 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDoodie

I was surprised to see CALAMITY JANE wasn't on that list.

My first experience with her was, I believe, MOVE OVER DARLING as a residual from the film being an unfinished Marilyn Monroe picture. And then movies like MIDNIGHT LACE, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL and so on... I still have so many to catch up on including PILLOW TALK.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Thanks Ken S. I admit I do get confused with how the Oscars are listed online.

In any case - I would replace Jennifer Jones with Doris Day in Love Me Or Leave Me.

I'd probably still give the win to Magnani but it would have been great to see Day with 2 nominations - sort of like Streisand and her nomination for The Way We Were.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

Have to say that I never really appreciated Doris Day as an actress until Pillow Talk onward. Her output in those frothy ‘comedies’ made her into Doris! From the late 40s, to me, she was too much of a Ginger Rogers wannabe with way too much enthusiasm. By the Light of the Silvery Moon is good, only because it’s MMinSt.Louis wannabe. Her sing-song moments weighted down Hitchcock’s film. (I prefer my Hitchcock blondes to be ice cold :) Those 50s musicals-if you weren’t with MGM, the production values were pitiful. But she really came into her own with greatness throughout the 60s. Her career-woman, assertiveness really made her sparkle and for that, she turned great. RIP forever and thanks for the cinema you left us with. God Bless.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

RIP Doris Day!

Gosh I'm so late to this tribute!

Yes, she was magnificent in Love Me or Leave Me, n I'd totally replace her w Jen Jones in Love is a Many Splendored Thing in 1955.

I alws feel tt Pillow Talk is a make up nom by the Academy for snubbing her 4 yrs earlier.

Trivia: for all the Golden Globes luv, they never awarded her a competitive win despite 6 noms. I'd wish she win at least one for On Moonlight Bay, or Calamity Jane or Love Me or Leave Me.. Years whr GG did not list the nominees.

May 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

To get to 40, some Doris' quotes from IMDB:

"If there is a Heaven, I'm sure Rock Hudson is there because he was such a kind person."

"I've never met an animal I didn't like, and I can't say the same thing about people."

[2006] "I've been through everything. I always said I was like those round-bottomed circus dolls - you know, those dolls you could push down and they'd come back up? I've always been like that. I've always said, "No matter what happens, if I get pushed down, I'm going to come right back up".

[2006] "I had the best co-stars you could ever have, and I miss them so much. We had such a great time working together. Some years ago, I made a special with John Denver and was asked to sing "Memories", Barbra Streisand's song, which she did so beautifully. Then I was told that huge pictures of all of my leading men would be shown as I sang, and I said, "Oh my God, how do you expect me to get though that?" But I did it."

"I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that's all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.

May 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

Very sad indeed, but she left us with her amazing screen presence, stamped across many films, some of which I included in a video I put together to celebrate her movie career: https://youtu.be/Afy4kx1VX-k

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Hunter

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