She used to be a movie star, an immensely popular one, although that hasn't been the case for decades now. Living for ages in Carmel raising and caring for her four-legged friends and involved in her charities, she is far from tripping the light fantastic in Hollywood. Her fans will forever remember that sunny disposition, the stunning looks, the comedy, the singing, even the dramas. It makes us sad to know that real life wasn't always so happy for her.
Like Roy Rogers, Tyrone Power, Steven Spielberg and Ted Turner, she was born in Cincinnati. From an early age she wanted to be a dancer and even formed a partnership with a young boy with whom she performed around town. A serious car accident at age 13 derailed her dancing career. It seems a bit of a curious statement considering how many times she danced in her early films. During her long recovery in bed, she discovered the radio and an interest in singing. It wasn't long before she realized she was quite good (no disagreement here).
She started singing around town as she had once danced and caught the attention of bandleader Barney Rapp who hired her as his female vocalist and renamed her. Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff wasn't going to cut it. Though quite young, she married a Rapp trombonist and they had Day's only child. After her husband beat her, she left him and soon married another musician, a union that was also short-lived. She would go on to work for bandleaders Jimmy James, Bob Crosby and most popularly with Les Brown. During her time with Brown, which she has declared was the happiest period of her life, she had her first hit recording, Sentimental Journey, and would become the highest paid female vocalist in the world.
|The look when I first saw her|
With that voice and her sensational blonde looks, it's no wonder Hollywood jumped in. She signed a Warner Brothers contract to replace a pregnant Betty Hutton in Romance on the High Seas (1948). That film produced another monster song for Day, It's Magic. Her first three films costarred resident WB funny man, Jack Carson with whom she did have a romance.
She then had one of her most unpleasant working experiences, opposite Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall, in 1950s Young Man with a Horn, based partially on trumpeter great, Bix Beiderbecke.
She and Douglas didn't see eye-to-eye at all and it's possible Bacall was on Douglas' side since they were friends in pre-showbiz days.
While she did sing in Young Man with a Horn, it was primarily a dramatic role and I have always thought it was a shame Day didn't do more drama. She did overact a bit in a couple of dramas (1960's Midnight Lace comes immediately to mind) but I have long thought if she had done more dramas, she would have gotten quite good. She was good in another drama, 1951's Storm Warning, opposite her childhood idol, Ginger Rogers, and her new pal and occasional date, Ronald Reagan, with whom she would also make The Winning Team the following year.
She tended to work more than once with quite a few of her leading men. I have always heard that Day was never particularly comfortable being an actress and in some ways I don't think she ever learned as much about the business as other actresses, which is due to the influence of her third husband. Hold on.
|With good buddy Gordon MacRae|
Her films of the 1950s were outrageously popular, catapulting her to the top of Hollywood's most popular polls. It started with five pairings with Gordon MacRae (one of the finest musical duos to ever hit the big screen)... Tea for Two, The West Point Story, On Moonlight Bay, Starlift and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. As a young boy, I eagerly awaited the next one. They are why she became my first favorite actress and he is still my favorite boy movie singer ever. I did move on from Day as I grew up and her films grew increasingly insipid.
She had a great success playing the wife of songwriter Gus Kahn (Danny Thomas) in I'll See You in My Dreams (1951) and an even greater success playing the title role in 1953's Calamity Jane (her favorite role), which featured another mega song hit, Secret Love. In 1955 she made Love Me or Leave Me, which I regard as the best thing she ever did. She was 1920s singer Ruth Etting opposite James Cagney as her lout of a husband-manager. While she warbled song after song, she also turned in a marvelously restrained dramatic performance. It's crazy that she wasn't nominated for an Oscar.
|I hear "Secret Love," don't you?|
In 1951 she married Marty Melcher who hadn't done anything exceptional other than to marry Patti Andrews of the Andrews Sisters. Beginning with the dramatic film, Julie (1956), Melcher began producing most of her films. That fact would become her downfall as an actress. As Julie she was a flight attendant terrorized by her estranged husband, played to chilling perfection by Louis Jourdan (one of only three of Day's costars who are still alive... James Garner and Rod Taylor being the other two).
She was miscast and overly dramatic as James Stewart's wife in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) but it did produce another hit song, Que Sera Sera. A 1958 comedy with Clark Gable, Teacher's Pet, wasn't bad at all.
It was around this time I befriended her son Terry, a couple of years older than I, who was on the periphery of the Holmby Hills showbiz crowd (some of them played music together) I palled around with, and much to my delight, he had a car. It was a kick when he invited me to their home for breakfast. I saw his mother once briefly, finding her temperament a bit salty. Perhaps I was fortunate that my being enamored of her had passed.
Then came Pillow Talk (1959) and nothing was ever quite the same for her again. On the up side, she nabbed her only Oscar nomination and had a rather magical coupling with Rock Hudson as two party-line customers who bicker on the phone but develop a romance in person, not knowing they share the party line. It cleaned up at the box office and resulted in two more films together, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers, both of which tried to repeat the Pillow Talk formula but fell short.
And the remainder of her movie career, which ended in 1968, also tried to repeat the formula and fell short. What was the formula? Sex... light, frothy sex. Day was a beautiful woman with a smokin' bod who became a fashion high priestess. Add to that gorgeous hairstyles and a frosted camera lens and one would wonder how she could miss. But times had changed in the 60s and Melcher apparently didn't get the memo. Nor did Day. He threw her into one inane Pillow Talk ripoff after another. Not one of them was much good and Day unwisely did as she was told. The truth was she was sexy but not in the dumb films she now made. Her career could have been jump-started had she accepted Mike Nichols' invitation to play Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. I drool thinking about it. Unfortunately she never grew as an actress once she married Melcher.
Her 60s films aren't worth chronicling but suffice it to say they ended her shining career. When Melcher passed away in 1968 to her horror she discovered that she was dead broke. He and a business associate had squandered her fortune and she was blissfully unaware of it. This would have seemed to have been the time to shake off her silly roles and tackle some juicy ones. But she elected to do a dorky TV series and got back on her financial feet and turned her back on Hollywood forever more.
The last time she resurfaced for me was in 1989 for 13 minutes to accept the Golden Globes' Cecil B. DeMille award. I will never forget her walking across that stage, a vision of youthful beauty at age 65. She was nervous and with presenter, Clint Eastwood, her Carmel neighbor, they spoke about making a film together. If only...
She endured a bad fourth marriage and the death of her son but she has the pets and her charities to keep her happy, I hope. When I was a wee lil one just starting my romance with movies in the 1950s, she stood as a beacon of movie star royalty. I shall always hold her in a special place for that.
Happy, happy birthday, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff.