the real doris day -- 6/7/19

Today's selection -- from Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s by R. Barton Palmer. Doris Day was a Hollywood megastar of the 1950s and 1960s, who got her start as a lead singer for a big band, and whose legions of devoted fans thought of her as the quintessentially American girl next door. Her private life belied that image:

"Born in 1924 in Cincinnati, Ohio, as Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff, Doris Day seemed to embody the epitome of homespun virtue from the American heartland. She was the sister, daughter, best friend, girlfriend, wife, or mother many viewers wished they had. She may have been pret­tier, blonder, more talented than any girl next door was ever likely to be, but still she seemed accessible, a type easy to recognize and to identify with. ...

Day at the Aquarium Jazz Club, New York (1946)

" 'I'm not the All-American Virgin Queen,' Day claimed in her memoir, anxious to separate herself from her movie-star alter ego. 'This image I've got -- oh, how I dislike that word "image" -- it's not me, not at all who I am. It has nothing to do with the life I've had'. Cheery Doris Day may have brought happiness to many fans but very little to the performer herself. The only role the real Doris claimed to have wanted was as a fulfilled wife and mother, goals that her unsought success as a big-band singer and then as a movie star seemed to thwart. Day had four failed marriages. Her first hus­band, Al Jorden, a pathologically jealous jazz trombonist, beat her. Her third husband and her longtime manager, Martin Melcher, left her indebted for millions. For most of his life she had a distant relationship with her son Terry Melcher, her only child, who died in 2004 at age sixty-two (for fur­ther details see Kaufman; Santopietro).

"As soon as she paid off her debts, the actress abandoned the role she felt she had been forced to perform for twenty-five years. Eighty-six at the time of this writing, Doris Day has not made a movie appearance in over three decades, and no amount of persuasion from producers or the public could possibly bring her back. The actress has made it clear that her retirement from the screen is final -- beyond negotiation. However, she has remained in the public eye through her unflagging support for animal rights.

"Following her peripatetic career as a big-band singer noted for her husky tone, her relaxed phrasing, and her refreshing appearance­ even in smoke-filled nightclubs she exuded robust good health -- Doris Day was signed by Warner Bros. to a standard seven-year contract. Though she had never had an acting lesson, her handling of lyrics revealed an actor's instincts. The prospect of acting in movies, however, had only one attrac­tion for the singer: filming would relieve her of having to perform for live audiences. The camera, intervening between her and the public, offered a kind of shelter, the comfort of distance. (Indeed, once she began her film career Day never again made in-person appearances as a singer.)"



R. Barton Palmer


Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s


Rutgers University Press


Copyright 2010 by Rutgers, The State University


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