Rest in Peace to Hollywood’s Most Radiant Smile.
I’m hardly the Doris Day aficionado, and I can remember not liking her all that much growing up. The reason? There isn’t one. I was just trying to get under my younger sister’s skin since she practically watched Pillow Talk daily. So, while dogging Doris Day daily, I got more than my fill of Pillow Talk, and with each subsequent viewing, it actually held up, despite it being at least forty years old at the time.
I began to appreciate her as an actress, which was solidified more when my wife made sure I watched her in Calamity Jane a few years back. While I would initially dismiss Doris Day for making “fluff” romantic comedies, the fact is that she was really good at them. She seemed to be the genuine, and approachable characters she played in film, even in her real life. The fact that she hasn’t acted in film since 1968, or in television since 1973, has only allowed her to grow in stature over time.
It is… a testament of how good she was at her craft that she consistently delivered feel-good stories with a depth that mirrored the genuine goodness she brought to each role.
She more or less stayed the pure, wholesome girl-next-door over the years without any real scandals that befell many actresses of her time. When her third husband, Martin Melcher, died she pretty much stopped acting, other than doing her own television show that Martin had contractually committed her to prior to his death. While many, like me, might have initially dismissed her talent, the fact was that she was a strong dancer, singer, and had great comedic timing. Her humor was more of playing the proverbial “straight-man” in whatever gags might befall her in the script, but her ability to seem convincingly genuine no matter the situation her characters found themselves in allowed for her to be the anchor that made the whole thing work.
This is especially true in Calamity Jane where her character is an extremely over-the-top rugged frontierswoman with no sense of the traditional femininity she was supposed to eschew at the time. While hamming it up, she still maintains a genuineness to suggest that for Jane, it wasn’t an act. This allows for her to generate true empathy out of the audience when Jane realizes that she does long to be loved for who she is instead of trying to conform to the gender-roles and image of the times.
Her performances provided such layers and the fact that she made it look so easy may have led some, like myself, to look past her as one of the “heavy-hitters” from the era. It is more of a testament of how good she was at her craft that she consistently delivered feel-good stories with a depth that mirrored the genuine goodness she brought to each role. Now that she has passed at age 97, I admit that I should have discovered this hidden gem a lot sooner. If you are like me, the good news is that she left a lot on film to be rediscovered. Rest in Peace Doris Day.
– Erik Yates
In my short tenure as a Turner Classic Movies junkie (a positive development in my life, to be sure), I’ve discovered a few stars are reliable indicators of a movie worth catching.
Doris Day is one of those stars. Even if the script of the film she’s starring in is subpar, I’ve yet to see a subpar performance from her. I recently watched Move Over, Darling, the 1963 remake of 1940’s (much better) My Favorite Wife. The story may have been built on murky character motivations and the most bizarre romantic comedy escalations, but somehow she stayed full of pathos and charm all the way through.
If you really want to watch Day shine, try The Pajama Game, Pillow Talk, or my favorite role of hers, Calamity Jane. While their takes on romance feel dated (especially with our more modern definition of workplace harassment than The Pajama Game’s), she’s still a winner. With her wide grin and that collection of chic pea coats, she was the picture of ‘60s sweetness. With her lovely voice and comedic timing, she was a talent that could hold her own against James Garner, Rock Hudson, and Howard Keel.
All four of those movies (and then some) will be showing on TCM this Thursday, June 9th, in a 24-hour marathon. I recommend you catch at least one to sing and smile your way through in her honor. Get the full schedule.
– Taylor Blake