POSTED April 2 2012

Happy Birthday, Doris Day

April 3 marks the birthday, the 88th, of the sunny blonde with shadows in her tremulous voice,  who in 1940s recordings frequently was mistaken for Ella Fitzgerald. Perenially underrated, Day is ripe for critical re-evaluation. TCM celebrates her with a mini-retrospective of her movies. Terry Gross interviewed her on Fresh Air. (As Gross noted, Day still sounds like herself.) Few under the age of 40 know who Day is as her last movie was released in 1968. (Famously, she turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.)

Day was many things, among them a creature out of a Roy Lichtenstein painting, a working woman among housewives, the reassuring voice who soothed a nation in the anxious 1950s with “Que Sera Sera,”  the original 40-year-old virgin in a series of wholesome 1960s Rock Hudson romances that today look like Mad Men, sunny-side up.

After spending the World War II years as a big band singer (her ballad “Sentimental Journey” was the soundtrack for soldiers returning home), Day (born Doris Kappelhoff) made her movie debut in 1948 with Romance on the High Seas. The following year in My Dream is Yours she came on like nuclear energy, warbling “Tic, Tic, Tic,” a Harry Warren/Ralph Blaine novelty song likening love to a ticking the atomic bomb:

You’re such an attractive pick
You give me a radioactive kick
It’s distracted the way you stick
But love, love makes me tic

In the movie she’s auditioning for an advertiser played by S.Z. “Cuddles” Szakall. “Energy, yeah?” her  agent nudges the adman. “Und so much of it!” retorts Cuddles. Day would later harness that energy in dramatic roles, delivering dialogue like she did a song lyric. She is one of the few actresses in the years spanning 1948 to 1968 who almost consistently played professional women. And by some measures, she is the biggest box-office actress of all time.

To understand Day’s breadth and depth you have  to see at least ten films. Start with My Dream is Yours. Continue with Young Man With a Horn (1950), in which she’s the buttermilk blonde who saves Kirk Douglas from toxic blonde Lauren Bacall. Then Calamity Jane (1953), as the gender-confused sharpshooter who sings “Secret Love.”  Follow up with Young at Heart (1954), co-starring Frank Sinatra in the moist musical drama of sisters  each in love with a guy who loves her sib. Then Hitchcock’s thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955) as the musical-theatre queen whose doctor husband (Jimmy Stewart) wants her to give up her career just as their son is kidnapped. The 1957 double-feature Love Me or Leave Me (as hard-boiled torch singer Ruth Etting tangling with gangster lover Jimmy Cagney) and The Pajama Game (as vulnerable labor beloved by management in the person of John Raitt). In the underknown comedy Teacher’s Pet (1958) she was a journalism teacher opposite professional newshound Clark Gable.  Pick one of the Rock Hudson comedies (I like Pillow Talk and  Lover Come Back) and end either with the Cary Grant romance That Touch of Mink or the James Garner comedy The Thrill of it All, the latter one of the few movies in which she played a housewife.

Your favorite Day film? Song?


  1. Gary Kramer says:

    LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME. I looooove it. Leave Me alone if you don’t.

  2. Joe says:

    You said everything there is to say, Carrie – as usual. Re her films, I would like to add Richard Quine’s “It Happened to Jane,” David Miller’s “Midnight Lace” and Norman Jewison’s “Send Me No Flowers.”

  3. Carrie Rickey says:

    @Gary: Love everything about Love Me or Leave Me except for the 1950s orchestrations of the 1920s songs. Oddly enough, I don’t mind the 1950s of 1920s fringed flapper dresses.

  4. Horse Badorties says:

    Lover Come Back is a textbook 60s urban comedy that NO ONE could begin to make today. much less appreciate.Never forget that Tony Randell Iine..”Look at all these people. laughing, drinking..if only they realized how miserable they are?” And Hudson was unforgettable..

  5. Debbie R says:

    I might yawn at it today, but I remember loving Pajama Game.
    Thanks for the great piece about DD.

  6. david syner says:

    Join the facebook page:

    Doris Day to be (finally) Honored by the Oscars?

  7. Really excellent. Curtis

  8. movieirv says:

    As a kid, I always liked Jumbo, The Glass Bottom Boat and Where Were You When the Lkights Wente Out? which I saw at the Tacony Drive-In.

  9. wwolfe says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned Teacher’s Pet, one of my favorites, and one that’s definitely underknown, to use your description. I’d add Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, It Happened to Jane, and perhaps her scenes with Brian Keith from With Six, You Get Egg Roll to your list. (I love I’ll See You in My Dreams, but more for the scenes of Gus Kahn working as a songwriter than for Doris’s somewhat underwritten role.) By the way, according to Tom Santopietro’s invaluable “Considering Doris Day,” in addition to being arguably the biggest female movie star in history, she’s also the biggest female recording star in history. Not bad for an Ohio girl.

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