Doris Day wasn’t Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo or Elizabeth Taylor, but that doesn’t take away the fact that she was Doris Day — singer, actress, animal-welfare activist. And she did those roles pretty well.
“I thought you were her good friend and neighbor!” Bert Power (Clint Walker) exclaims when he meets his college sweetheart Judy Kimball (Doris Day)’s husband George Kimball (Rock Hudson).
“I’m not her good friend! I’m her husband!” retorts George Kimball.
-Send Me No Flowers (1964)
The witty irony that a husband isn’t necessarily a friend wasn’t lost on most viewers. But what made the scene more memorable was the way Doris Day laughs and walks away with her arm around Clint Walker — of course, only momentarily — leaving back a befuddled Hudson, not very effectively consoled by the inimitable Tony Randall.
To me, her best film remains Pillow Talk, a choice many of you will find easy to disagree with. That’s because to most of her fans, the image of Day’s character Jo McKenna in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), singing the Academy Award winning song Que Sera Sera is far more enduring.
Another film that remains etched in public memory for the kind of role Doris Day played earlier is Calamity Jane (1953). The role gave her character the opportunity to display a wide variety of personality traits with a clear character arc — and she neither disappointed the audience nor the critics.
Her next film that impressed everyone was Love Me or Leave Me (1955), a partly fictionalized account of the singer-actress Ruth Etting.
The next ten years brought her commercial success and though hers isn’t the first name that comes up when you think of Hollywood’s greatest heroines, Day achieved commercial success and recognition.
She often bonded well with many of her co-stars; her friendship with Rock Hudson survived his death when she spoke of him fondly in as recently as 2019, some 34 years after Hudson died.
Doris Day’s pairing up with Rock Hudson and Tony Randall was so popular that although they did only 3 films together, the three are often spoken together anytime someone mentions their films.
Day, like some of her contemporaries, too hit rough patches in her life. She found in 1968 that her deceased husband Martin Melcher and business partner Jerome Rosenthal had been less than judicious with her earnings, leaving her in deep debt. She had been signed up for a few projects without being consulted. Whatever the reasons, she had to deal with quite a bit of trouble.
Some call it inflexibility and others call it shortsightedness, but Doris Day used her moral compass to judge if she should be accepting a script, even around the time her popularity had begun to wane. She, for instance, rejected the now classic The Graduate because she thought the role of Mrs Robinson wasn’t morally correct.
When The Doris Day Show ended in 1968, it was clear she was no longer going to be hugely popular again, primarily due to the change in the kind of content viewers wanted. But she kept bouncing back and remained resilient and lively — she released an album My Heart when she was 89.
A winner of Presidential Medal of Freedom, Doris Day was an average movie-goer’s dreamgirl: charm, wit, panache (and those sparkling eyes).
She passed away on 13 May 2019 — looks like somebody finally flew her to the moon.