In Memoriam: Doris Day, Golden Globe Winner, 1922-2019

by Yoram Kahana May 18, 2019
Singer and actress Doris Day, Word Favorite and Ceci B. deMille recipient

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Doris Day, who died age 97 was Everybody's Darling, to quote the title of the 1999 TV documentary The Doris Day Story. Day, the box office record holder of all time, was arguably the most popular American actress and singer during her half a century- long career, yet the Academy nominated her only once - Best Actress in 1960, for Pillow Talk- while the Hollywood Foreign Press Association showered her with love: 11 Golden Globe nominations and three wins between 1955 and 1969, and the highest HFPA award, the Cecil B. deMille for lifetime achievement, in 1989.

The various Golden Globe nominations reflect Day's stature and career: five nominations and three wins for World Film Favorite-Female (a discontinued category) between 1955 and 1966. When Day started to co-star in musicals and comedies, the HFPA nominated her four times in that category. When the talented Day expanded to drama roles, she was nominated for the dark Midnight Lace (1960), portraying an American woman in London being gaslighted by her British husband (Rex Harrison) as she claims she's being stalked. And when Day left movies for TV, the HFPA nominated her for Best Actress for her eponymous TV show (1968-73).

Day left Hollywood for good after the end of her second TV show, Doris Day Best Friends (1985-86) and retired to her ranch in Carmel, California.  She came back to accept her Cecil B. deMille award for lifetime achievement three years later, in 1989. It was her last stage appearance. When other prestigious lifetime awards were offered to her, among others by the AFI and by the Kennedy Center, Day declined. She stayed in her Carmel ranch, tended to her rescued animals, kept recording songs and gave phone interviews, but stayed away from Hollywood.

It was a fitting end for a long life in the public eye. Film critic A. O. Scott perhaps summed it best, writing that Day was "a hip sex goddess disguised as the girl next door: there was always tension between Day's proclaimed image and what lay underneath".

Doris Day, Golden Globe winner and Cecil B. deMille recipient

Doris & the Golden Globes: (from top left) in 1960 meeting Rock Hudson at the Golden Globes gala; in 1963, pairing with Hudson with matching World Favorite awards; in 1989 with her deMille award and  Best Director Clint Eastwood; (from bottom left) in 1958, with Jack Lemmon and the World Favorite award; in 1963, on stage.

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Some disagreed. Film critic Dwight Macdonald wrote that she was “wholesome as a bowl of cornflakes and at least as sexy”, and Day didn't deny it, telling her biographer: “My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness. An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt, and that’s all there is to it".

Actually. there was more, much more to it. Her long career had four chapters:

First stage-singer. Day was born Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff in Cincinnati on April 3, 1922, into a musical family: Her father was a choral master and piano teacher. At age 15 she won the $500 first prize in an amateur dance contest and used the money to go to Los Angeles for professional dancing lessons. When her right leg was shattered in a traffic accident, and she was healing, Doris took singing lessons instead- and a singing star was born.

Her ascent to the top was swift and full of improbable turns: At 17 she dropped out of school and sang at a local club (where, it was said,  the owner changed her name to Day because Kappelhoff didn't fit the marquee). She soon went to Chicago and joined famous bandleader Les Brown and His Blue Devils. Still, she was not driven.  “From the time I was a little girl, only true ambition in life was to get married and tend house and have a family.”

Day married at 19 and divorced a year later. Her first husband, trombonist Al Jorden, was violent, jealous and an abuser. He hit her when she refused to have an abortion. At 20 Day was a single mother, alone but undaunted.  She said later:  “All my life I have known that I could work at whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.”. That she did.

At a Hollywood party, Day sang her signature song, George Gershwin’s  “Embraceable You.” Among the guests was the Hollywood songwriting team of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. They recommended her to director Michael Curtiz for a role in Romance on the High Seas (1948). When Judy Garland and Betty Hutton turned it down,  Day got the part without any previous acting experience. Curtiz later explained that he wanted someone who looked like “the all-American girl.”

“Acting in films had never so much as crossed my mind,” Day later said. " but from the first take onward, I never had any trepidation about what I was called on to do. Movie acting came to me with greater ease and naturalness than anything else I had ever done.”

Second stage-movies. Between her film debut and her last movie, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) , Day starred in nearly 40 movies, opposite the biggest names in Hollywood: After several minor musicals for Warner Bros., came the hit musical, Calamity Jane  which gave her an Academy Award-winning song, "Secret Love" (1953) and her last movie for Warners, Young at Heart,(1954) opposite Frank Sinatra.

Day then campaigned for more dramatic parts. Her portrayal of singer Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), with James Cagney, was a critical and commercial success. Her following films didn't fare that well but paired her with James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock's remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Louis Jourdan in Julie (1956).

Next, her movies with Rock Hudson hit the zeitgeist, as the Hollywood movie censorship system was, in the years after the Kinsey Report, rapidly losing touch with the popular American culture, especially the realities of American behavior. Her landmark romantic comedies with the suave Rock Hudson — Pillow Talk (1959), Day's only Oscar nomination and Golden Globe nominations for Day, supporting actor Tony Randall, and for the movie in Best Comedy or Musical category)  and Lover Come Back (1961).

Scenes from Doris Day movies

Doris Day & her movie beaus: with Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk, James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, and James Garner in The Thrill of It All.

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Day, almost 40 years old, played unmarried New York career women - hence still virgins according to the Code- who somehow managed to stay so until Hudson came by. Wink.

As film critic A.O. Scott explained in great detail in his excellent Day appreciation in the New York Times, Day was not a “glamorous blonde enigma'” like Kim Novak, or a Marilyn Monroe- like bombshell, or a sexy European like Brigitte Bardot, but she also was not " simply the opposite — the prim, prudish, all-American avatar of Eisenhower-era repression, with her hair in a neat chignon and her figure sheathed in a soberly tailored suit. "

Rather, Day was the sly single professional woman, subverting the accepted norms of American society as sexual liberation reared its head.

 In 1960, and again in 1962-64, Day ranked #1 at the box office. She co-starred in romantic comedies with superstars like Cary Grant (That Touch of Mink, 1963), and James Garner (The Thrill of it All and Move Over, Darling, Day's last Globe nomination for acting in a movie,  both also 1963).

But her Do Not Disturb (1965, with Rod Taylor) was a flop, and Day's movie career started to decline. She was derided as  "The World's Oldest Virgin". Her last hit was a re-team with Rod Taylor (The Glass Bottom Boat, 1966).

After a few more movies Day called it quits. She turned down the part of Mrs. Robinson, the middle-aged temptress who seduces Dustin Hoffman in Mike Nichols’ groundbreaking 1967 The Graduate, because, she said, "the notion of an older woman seducing a young man offended my sense of values." The movie went on to collect seven Globe nominations and five wins, including Best Actress, Comedy or Musical for Anne Bancroft, who took the role Day had passed on.

Doris Day and her Cecil B. deMille award, 1989

In 1989, with her Cecil B. deMille award.

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Third stage- television. Day got married for a third time in 1951 to Martin Melcher. She discovered after his death in 1968 that he and his lawyer had embezzled or spent the $20 million she had earned from her movies and had left her $500,000 in debt. Day agreed to star in a situation comedy to earn the money to pay off her debts.

That proved to be a wise move, financially. Her eponymous sitcom, The Doris Day Show ran for five seasons and won Day her last competitive Golden Globe.

After 128 episodes Day retired to her Carmel estate, on the California coast, for the fourth and last chapter of her life: her work with rescue animals, mostly dogs. Her involvement started when she was a teenager in Los Angeles: she was given her first, a small dog which she named Tiny. It was killed by a car when Day, still on crutches, took him for a walk without a leash. Nearly 40 years later she spoke of how she had betrayed him. “It was the start of what was, for me, a lifelong love affair with dogs,” she said.

Through her foundation Day spent much of her time rescuing and finding homes for stray dogs,  and campaigning to end the use of animals in cosmetic and household-products research. Day died in her Carmel ranch, surrounded by her rescued animals.

Day, always preferred happy endings. She told one interviewer: “It upsets me when the hero or heroine dies. I would like them to live happily ever after.” She told her biographer: “During the painful and bleak periods I’ve suffered through these past years, my animal family has been a source of joy and strength to me. I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent, devoted companionship of your pets that you can get from no other source...I have never found in a human being,” she added, “loyalty comparable to that of any pet.”

In 2004, then-President George W. Bush awarded Day the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying:

..." It was a good day for America when Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff decided to become an entertainer. It was a good day for our fellow creatures when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare. Doris Day is one of the greats, and America will always love its sweetheart"

Goodbye, Doris Day, always America's Sweetheart.