Doris Day Is Gone; She Was One of a Kind: Never Before and Never Again

Yesterday, Linda and I attended the Sunday Matinee at the Stanford Theatre which featured the film, Pajama Game starring Doris Day. The double bill also featured her in Calamity Jane. We left the theatre last evening totally entertained, musing that we had just seen one of Hollywood’s finest talents, ever, once-again lighting-up the screen with fabulous performances. Not having seen these two films, but well versed in Doris Day, we expected no less. We felt compelled to be there.

This morning, our clock radio came to life at 5:40 am with the news that Doris Day had just left this world after ninety-seven years of a life packed full of living and great accomplishment in the arts!

I have always really liked Doris Day, along with millions of others. Perhaps my favorite performance of hers was a co-starring role with Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s great film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. In it she plays a young wife to Stewart whose young son is kidnapped in a Marrakesh bazaar while on a trip abroad. Her character in the film is as fresh and natural as sunlight: her acting is superb.

Everyone has their distinct favorites when it comes to movies, the stars, and the scenes they played. Doris Day gets my vote for the best-acted scene in any movie in Hitchcock’s aforementioned film. The scene: Stewart has just learned that their young son, Hank, has disappeared in a Marrakesh bazaar not because he became separated in the milling crowd, but because he has been kidnapped in an international plot of political intrigue. When he breaks the news to his wife, Jo (Doris Day), she breaks down in an hysterical fit of uncontrolled emotions.

Her acting in that scene is as touching and compelling as any I have ever witnessed on the screen. Since I first saw Hitchcock’s film as a teen-ager in the nineteen-fifties, I have respected Doris Day as far more than a pert and pretty Hollywood face. She could act, she could sing, and she could dance. And could she sing! One of her great hit records, Que Sera, Sera, made its film debut in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Day began her career in the nineteen-forties as a big-band singer for Les Brown and His Band of Reknown. Her greatest post-war recording hit with Brown was the famous tune, Sentimental Journey. Her voice possessed a sweetness and a vocal clarity that was equalled by only one other pop vocalist of the era, Eydie Gorme. Like Gorme, Day’s clear diction while conveying the lyics was superb as well.

Another, lesser known starring role for Doris Day paired her with Kirk Douglas in the 1950 film, Young Man With a Horn. She (convincingly) played a band singer who fell in with a young trumpet player whose attentions were divided between Day and her best friend, portrayed by a young Lauren Bacall. While I enjoyed Doris Day very much in that film, the film’s greatest claim to fame was the featured trumpet playing, all dubbed-in by the great Harry James on a sparkling-clear soundtrack.

Young Man With a Horn featured yet another of my all-time favorite movie scenes. In it, Day and Douglas visit a sophisticated jazz nightclub in which his former trumpet teacher/mentor is performing with a small combo. When the mentor recognizes his former pupil in the audience, he invites Douglas up on the stage to play for the audience. And play he (Harry James) does! James’s rendition of With a Song in My Heart is enough to send chills up and down the spine. The entire scene is mesmerzing, with the audience a-buzz at what they just heard and Day with tears in her eyes back at their table.

For the girl who seemed to have it all, Doris Day reportedly paid a heavy price for her fame and fortune. Married four times, her spousal choices were highly problematic. When third husband Marty Melcher died in 1968, she shockingly discovered that her presumed financial security was an illusion. To her complete shock, she learned that Melcher and his financial associates had mis-managed much of the fortune she had earned while at the peak of her career. She found herself forced to continue working at a time in life when she should have been solidly financially independent.

I have not read her autobiography yet, but I understand it is butally direct and honest. The prevailing message: Doris Day was not about to be defined by such popular illusions as exemplified by: “the girl next door.” Doris Day was apparently not an uncomplicated woman.

What is clearly uncomplicated and easy to digest is the vinyl and celluoloid evidence she left behind that tells us we will not see the likes of her ever again.

4 thoughts on “Doris Day Is Gone; She Was One of a Kind: Never Before and Never Again

  1. Such a nice tribute. She was indeed special. I have a 3 CD set of her songs which shows her impressive range. I believe she had a way of singing lyrics that made you really notice and feel the words; she always seemed aware not just of the tune, but of what she was saying. That created an intimacy with the listener that other even very good singers can’t quite capture. And her Christmas album, which I only discovered about a decade ago, has quickly become one of my favorites, so much so that it doesn’t feel like the holiday season until I play it.

    • You are spot-on regarding Ms. Day’s treatment of song lyrics. Singers who sing to the lyrics seem to be in the distinct minority, even back then. A comment from the great trombonist and band leader, Tommy Dorsey, comes to mind. When neophyte band singer Frank Sinatra joined the Dorsey band one year after being discovered in a New Jersey road-side eatery by Harry James, Dorsey advised the youngster to sing and sell the lyrics… like Bing Crosby! Good advice for Frank; apparently Doris Day got the message, as well! Thanks for your comment, Ginny.

  2. You are so right. Doris Day had a talent that was one of a kind. I remember the movie where she sang “Que Sera, Sera”. Everything about that song was perfection because she was singing it. I can’t imagine any other vocalist even coming close to what she perfected. No one could sing like her. And her smile would light up the screen. I have not read her autobiography yet either but I believe I’ll see if they have a copy at our library.

    • Such a talent, she was. Linda and I felt strongly (strangely, in hind-sight) compelled to finally see her yesterday in “Pajama Game” and “Calamity Jane,” and this morning….she was gone! Amazing, life’s timing of events! Thanks for sharing your impressions, Mary!

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