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.

Two Books I Bought This Week…and Two I Did Not!

I bought two new books this past week…and there were two books I did not buy. The recent book by the “Tiger Mom,” Amy Chua caught my attention by way of a radio interview discussing her latest book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. Co-authored by Jed Rubenfeld, the book tackles the dicey task of explaining the roots of success – in school, in business, and in life.

IMG_2243What does motivate individuals to strive for excellence and “success” (that word requiring some thoughtful definition)? The varying degree of dedication to school, work, and ultimate success exhibited by us humans has always fascinated me. I tackled that fundamental issue in my newly published guide book for parents on science/math education, Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning (click to see). Why do some children come to school ready, willing, and able to learn while others are often inattentive, distracted, disruptive, or bored? Hint: The answer has much more to do with parental attitudes and influence at home than with the students’ schools or teachers.

The Triple Package and my own book have much in common, it appears. Its authors have identified three key characteristics which fuel motivation and generally lead to “success.” They are as follows:

-Superiority: A deep-seated belief in an individual’s or group’s own exceptionality. That implies an ability to recognize and value “excellence.”

-Insecurity: A sense of vulnerability, rooted in the need to prove oneself and one’s presumed exceptionality.

-Impulse control: The strict self-discipline necessary to “do what it takes” in order to succeed.

In my book, I write about the roles of excellence, student self-esteem, the hunger to learn, and the fear of failure as important aspects of a mature student attitude toward school, learning, and life. Apparently the authors of The Triple Package and I have a similar vantage point and are viewing the same landscape!

 The Other Book I Bought This Week

IMG_2248Yes, we went to the International Antiquarian Bookfair this past weekend which was held at the City Center Marriott in Oakland, California – just across the bay from San Fransicco. We have been before and consider the fair an excellent opportunity to acquire historical perspective on life and living through the many books and other printed materials which are offered for sale…but are way beyond our budget. This is one of the premier book shows in the world, with items from over 200 international exhibitors, priced from ten dollars up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Linda and I each bought a book – both in the close-to-ten-dollar category! My book was a nicely-bound 1897 volume on the history of Florence, Italy. Linda’s choice was a very inexpensive children’s book with cute and unusual illustrations.

Including the time dedicated to our two modest purchases, we spent two days immersed in a sea of some of the most important books ever published. Here are two books that I did NOT buy!

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The above is the first printed book depicting the heavenly constellations  – Venice, 1482. I was blown away by the creamy/white, heavy rag paper and the deep black ink impressions – an early printing masterpiece….priced accordingly, at $45,000. I decided to pass on this one (LOL)!

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IMG_2214Here is the other book I did not buy and one of the most important natural science books ever published –Vesalius’s study of the human anatomy, 1543. This was by far the most accurate anatomical book of its time, based on human dissections performed by Andreas Vesalius, the author, himself. This large book, whose copious and intricate illustrations were printed using carved woodblocks, is a classic in the rare book field.

This book was priced at $350,000 because it is rare, it is beautiful and it is very important. Walking around the fair perusing books of this stature, one comes to appreciate our human history and heritage. I recall the excitement at this fair years ago when a first edition of Copernicus’s milestone 1543 book espousing a sun-centered “universe” was displayed at $358,000 – a very high price… at that time, but not anymore. The fair is not all about science and non-fiction, to be sure. Another notable and expensive book for sale, here, was a Shakespeare third folio of his original plays from the seventeenth century. The first folio (edition) was printed in 1625 and is prohibitively expensive. I’ve seen a few in past appearances of this bookfair.

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Besides Perusing Great Books, We had Fun Watching People!

It was nice to get away for an “overnight” at the Marriott. When we arrived at the hotel early Friday afternoon, we figured on eating a lunch that Linda had packed from home before going downstairs to the fair which opened at 3:00. We had a great room on the eighth floor with a distant view of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the tall cranes of the Port of Oakland, but the most interesting view during our lunch was of a small parking lot on the street directly below which serviced a Smart and Final Market.

We had some great laughs watching the parade of humanity in their assorted vehicles milling around that little parking lot looking for a newly-vacated parking space and trying to get there before someone else came around the corner. Most of the time, the action was continuous with “this way” arrows being ignored and entrances used as exits, etc. At one point two cars came around a corner and stopped face to face. The one driver who was positioning himself to back into a space just behind him hurriedly threw his car into reverse and proceeded to turn his left-front fender into the rear end of a car parked to his side. After a VERY rude bump, the driver backed into his space, got out and did not even check his car for damage. As he walked past the rear of the victimized vehicle and toward the market, he gave a cursory glance to the rear-end and proceeded on into the market, apparently unconcerned. He must have done some damage to that car!

 Like a Scene from Hitchcock’s Movie, Rear Window!

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We felt like Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelley watching nefarious goings-on through their apartment rear window. Lots of entertainment and laughs, here – free of charge! It is amazing what perspectives on the world and human nature one can gain even from a vantage point only eight stories high. Imagine what it must look like down here from heaven….I hope we all find out!