In Praise of Doris Day

For most of my life I’ve disliked Doris Day. Doris was one of my mother’s favorite actresses and when I was a kid I had to sit through all the romantic comedies she made with Rock Hudson and James Garner numerous times but they never really appealed to me when I was growing up. Doris was always too blond, perky and cheerful for my liking and I found her carefree attitude just plain off-putting. I was a rather sullen, angry and rebellious kid so I suppose that was one reason Doris and her colorful films didn’t do a thing for me when I was younger. In some ways I think I was a bit jealous of the way Doris managed to effortlessly smile through movie after movie, no matter how lackluster the material was.

About six or seven years ago something strange happened. It all started when I caught Doris Day playing an American heiress named Kit Preston in the entertaining thriller Midnight Lace (David Miller; 1960) opposite Rex Harrison when it was on television one afternoon. Midnight Lace might not be a brilliant film but with its faux-London setting, fabulous Irene Lentz costume designs, creative photography by cinematographer Russell Metty and a suspenseful score by composer Frank Skinner, it’s an effective movie and easily one of Doris Day’s best efforts in my opinion. She doesn’t sing one song in Midnight Lace but Doris really gets to show off her acting chops as she descends into paranoia & madness while being pursued by a potential murderer.

Midnight Lace is not in the same league as the great films it borrows from such as Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) and George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), but if you happen to like stylish sixties thrillers as much as I do you might enjoy the movie too. Besides Doris Day and Rex Harrison, the cast of Midnight Lace also includes the wonderful Myrna Loy, a menacing Roddy McDowall, the handsome John Gavin and the always dependable John Williams as Inspector Byrnes who tries to find the mystery man (or woman?) terrorizing Doris Day throughout the course of the film. Midnight Lace managed to make me reevaluate my opinion about Doris Day and I started to really appreciate her style, carefree smile and independent spirit. In retrospect she was a more modern woman than many of her contemporaries.


Doris Day modeling the Irene Lentz fashions designed for Midnight Lace (1960)

In recent years I began watching many of her films in a new light and now I have no problem enjoying silly romantic Doris Day comedies like Move Over, Darling (1963) and Do Not Disturb (1965) or the fun spy capers she made like The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) and Caprice (1967), which I hope to write about some day. The older I get the more I’m able to completely loose myself in the charm of these light-hearted movies and I now find Doris Day’s wide smile infectious. I’ve also started listening to lots of Doris Day records recently thanks to the Swinging and Singing blog which has been sharing some rare and apparently out-of-print Doris Day recordings such as the terrific jazz soundtrack she recorded with Harry James & His Orchestra for A Young Man and His Horn (Michael Curtiz; 1950).

So why am I telling you all this? I just learned that Doris Day will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award this weekend during the 50th Annual Grammy Awards‘ celebration. The Lifetime Achievement Awards will be handed out on Saturday in a non-televised ceremony and will probably only garner a brief mention during the actual award show that’s airing on Sunday night. This will be her first Grammy but Doris isn’t expected to attend since the 83 year old singer and actress may be suffering from some health problems and she’s become a bit of recluse over the years, while devoting herself to numerous animal rights’ causes. I wish her well and I’m glad The Recording Academy is finally acknowledging Doris Day’s contribution to popular music.

To learn more about Doris Day I highly recommend these wonderful fansites:
Discovering Doris! The Doris Day Fansite
The Films of Doris Day

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17 thoughts on “In Praise of Doris Day

  1. Vanwall says:

    Oscar Levant had her down cold. 😉 I think she was brilliant in “Young Man with a Horn”, where her singing was fluid and beautiful, she was a gorgeous knock-out, and her acting was surprisingly relaxed – actually more adult in that early effort than her later films, where she always creeped me out a little, with “Midnight Lace” a surprising exception. She always looked so…healthy, I guess, also a bit icy, but boy, she could sing – one of the best ever from the 50’s and early 60’s, period. Her voice was so much more cozening than her persona, which I never could penetrate as a viewer, so I’d rather listen to her than watch her, altho she was a very good straight-man-comedienne. Don’t get me started on the Rock-series of films – an early tip as a kid on both of their true-life adventures made it hard to watch those at all. I had hair issues with her, as well, but that’s just me.

  2. Keith says:

    Hey Kimberly. I like Doris Day. I’m not a huge fan of hers though. I have enjoyed some of her films. My brother was always a big fan of her films with Rock Hudson. I think she was always a little too goody two shoes for me or something. She never quite appealed to me as much as some people. She got a good voice. I liked some of her songs. I did like That Touch of Mink that she did with Cary Grant. That’s more because I’m a big fan of Grant. Did you ever seen Down With Love? That reminded me of something Doris and Rock would have done.

  3. Jonathan Lapper says:

    I glad to see her get this achievement award. I enjoyed her sixties comedies, especially The Glass Bottom Boat. I really enjoy (I’m not kidding either) the ukele song she does with Arthur Godfrey. Also, Paul Lynde is some kind of a national treasure in that movie. I like the goofy sixties stuff more than the goofy fifties stuff but it’s mainly hairsplitting.

    Now Midnight Lace I’ve never seen and with that cast it now sounds like a must see for me. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Zeinobia says:

    Midnight lace is from my favourite films in general , I love Doris Day’s films and I thought that she did not make films like this , Doris Day was the cheerful blonde so the Midnight Lace was something exceptional for me
    great blog by the way I love too the cinema in 1960s and 1970s 🙂

  5. cinebeats says:

    Random thought… as I get older will I suddenly start enjoying Julia Roberts’ films? HELP!

    Anyway, just wanted to thank everyone for the comments and sharing your thoughts about Doris. I’m happy to see that there are a few other fans of Midnight Lace out there. I really like her in Man with a Horn and Glass Bottom Boat too, but I haven’t seen Down with Love yet and I should since I love Cary Grant (he’s an actor I’ve grown a lot more fond of in recent years as well).

    I did just watch Doris in a truly awful film called Young at Heart (1954) with Frank Sinatra and Gig Young that played on TCM recently. It was like watching a train wreck and I couldn’t look away. Frank and Gig played two of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever come across in a “romantic” film. Very strange movie. I was hoping it would have some good Doris/Frank musical numbers in it so I kept watching and waiting for them, but the music in the film was just so-so.

  6. Peter Nellhaus says:

    Sorry you didn’t like Young at Heart. I saw it theatrically many years ago, introduced by Roger Ebert, at the Denver Film Festival. Not mentioned, and kind of fun, is It Happened to Jane with Jack Lemmon, and the musical, The Pajama Game, co-directed by Stanley Donen, with choreography by Bob Fosse.

  7. Pete Emslie says:

    I like Doris Day, but I would never place her among my favourites. The film I like her in best is “Move Over Darling”, mostly because James Garner is my all time favourite actor, so their other film, “The Thrill of It All” ranks high with me too. For some reason I just couldn’t warm up to the Rock Hudson/Doris Day pics, but I really did enjoy the recent “Down With Love”, which spoofed those films so well. Though actually, I found “Down With Love” more like “That Funny Feeling”, with Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, especially with the subplot of the switched apartments.

    As a singer, I agree that Doris Day has a lovely lilting voice. Her songs have a lot of charm and warmth.

  8. adrien says:

    I think Doris had a great voice (besides her singing voice, her speaking voice had a cool intonation to it) and quite enjoyed ‘The Thrill of it All’. ‘The Pajama Game’ I was not thrilled with, and the butch haircut she had in that film (and in ‘Young at Heart’) didn’t help matters!

  9. cinebeats says:

    Peter – I’m afraid soap-opera style melodrama doesn’t often appeal to me, but my main problem with the film was the male actors in the film (Sinatra, Gig Young, Alan Hale, etc.). I found their characters so annoying in the film and just plain unappealing so I couldn’t understand why the girls (Doris and her sisters) in the movie would waste their time on them. I was also disappointed with the music since I had high expectations. What did you enjoy about the film? I’ve seen The Pajama Game and really enjoyed it, but I’ll have to give It Happened to Jane a look too since I love Jack Lemmon.

    Pete – Move Over Darling is one of my favorite Day films too. I think I like her best when she’s teamed up with Garner more than any other actor because they really seemed to have some chemistry. I’ve never seen Down With Love but I like the way it looks. I’ve only stayed away from it because I have a hard time with Rene Zellweger, which is silly, but what can I say. She bugs me for some strange reason, but I love Ewan McGregor.

    Adrian – I really like The Thrill of it All as well! As I mentioned above, she seemed to work really well with James Garner.

    Thanks again for all the feedback and movie recommendations!

  10. ToasterBoy says:

    I first became a fan of Doris Day from late night viewings of Romance on the High Seas, from which I also became a fan of Oscar Levant, and her amazing performance alongside James Cagney in Love Me or Leave Me.

    Romance On The High Seas, directed by Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, is complete eye candy. Gorgeous technicolor sets and musical numbers go own incredibly easy. Also, it was her first movie role.

    Love me or Leave Me tells the fictionalized story of renowned singer performer Ruth Etting. Powerful musical perfmorances and beautiful technicolor cinemascope.

    Enjoy.

  11. Campaspe says:

    I wonder if you’d like the original, Four Daughters, more than Young at Heart, which I could barely sit through. Four Daughters was the movie that made John Garfield a star, though, and with your love of psychologically intense actors I think you’d like at least him. He played the Sinatra part and there’s just no comparison, in my mind.

    I also like Midnight Lace very much but my favorite Doris Day movie is Love Me or Leave Me, the Ruth Etting biopic in which she plays an opportunistic–well, not bitch, but no lovable virgin either.

    And I am delighted to see so much love for Doris as a singer here. Now I can take out my Doris Day records and play them without fear of anyone thinking I am trying to be camp.

  12. cinebeats says:

    Thanks for the film recs ToasterBoy and Campaspe!

    ToasterBoy – I haven’t seen either of the Day films you’ve mentioned, but the mention of “Gorgeous technicolor” has got me curious.

    Campaspe – I’ve never seen the original Four Daughters, but I’m sure I’d probably enjoy it more. I really like John Garfield so that’s got me even more interested in it. Normally I like Frank (I tend to like him more as singer though), but he and Doris just didn’t seem to work well together and he was such a jerk in the movie that I couldn’t figure out what she saw in him. I hope I can see Love Me or Leave Me soon since it sounds fabulous!

  13. Lotusblossom2 says:

    I have always been a fan of Doris Day. I wasn’t put off by the whiteness of her presentation, being African-American. The architectectural and cineatic style of her films is so much like the time in which I grew up.

    My parents and their friends were of the Playboy era and it’s just a part of who I am. My tactile memories are of women who were just beautiful and men who were simply suave. They all worked hard for a living and made a home for our families, but could hold a cocktail hour with the best of them. Dean-o alternated with Nat and the Duke.

    It really has to do with a sense of where you came from, where you wanted to be and to appreciate the people who set it all up for us to be who we wanted to be. I’m fascinated with the artistic sensibililty of that transition from the 50’s into the 60’s. There was so much promise and peace. Doris embodied that time and she should be honored for her ability to cross decades and the differing Zeitgeist that swept through her career.

    Thanks for allwing this forum.

  14. Betty Colombo says:

    Dear Ms. Day,

    I sent a purse to you that I made on June 27, 2008 and had it delivered to the Cypress Inn in Carmel. I hope you received it. I have enjoyed your work for over 50 years and just wanted to express my appreciation.

    God bless and I wish you many more years of joy and good health.

    Betty Colombo

  15. rosalyn says:

    HI I JUST WANT TO SAY IVE BEEN A FAN OF DORIS DAY FOREVER.I 1ST SAW DORIS IN ON MOONLIGHT BAY WHEN I WAS AROUND 12 YRS OLD IN 1953. U COULD SAY DORIS GOT ME HOOKED ON MUSICALS. I REALLY DONT THINK DORIS HAS MADE A BAD FILM EVER. WHAT EVER SHE PLAYS IS GIVEN 100% THATS WHAT I LOVE ABOUT HER. I REMEMBER WRITING TO DORIS AFTER I SAW ON MOONLIGHT BAY AND WAS SO DISAPPOINTED I DID NOT RECIEVE A REPLY BUT TWO YRS AGO I PLUCKED UP THE COURAGE @& WROTE TO HER SHE SENT ME A BEAUTIFUL SIGNED PHOTOGRAPH THAT I WILL ALWAYS TREASURE.I REGULARLY PLAY HER SONGS AND HER FILMS I NEVER TIRE OF THEM. IM ONLY SORRY I HAVE NEVER GOT TO MEET DORIS COS SHE WOULD BE THE TOP OF MY LIST. ROSALYN

  16. Nada says:

    I love Doris more than 50 years, since I saw her for the first time and heard her beautiful voice in Calamity Jane. I love almost all movies she acts in – she is good in all no matter the movie is good or bad. I prefer Love me or leave me, Young man with a horn, I’ll see you in my dream, Jumbo, Pajama game, Tea for two and Lullaby of Broadway. These are musicals, that way they are on the first place.
    Most of all I adore her singing and she is always with me. I’ve collected almost all songs she recorded (over 550).
    I’ll never stop loving her.

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