Doug Gamble- Contributor
Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and
in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]
birthday, Doris Day
As pop culture hits new lows, the 'eternal virgin' looks better all the time
A short distance
from where I'm writing this, an American icon is set to celebrate
a landmark birthday. America's girl next
door, Doris Day, turns 80 on Saturday.
A part-owner of The Cypress Inn in Carmel and one of the country's
leading animal rescue champions, Ms. Day is probably little-known
to most born after 1970. But to those of us a little older she
represents an America that was simpler, kinder and classier.
Born Doris von Kappelhof
in Cincinnati - she later took her stage name from the song "Day After Day" -
her dream of becoming a dancer was dashed by a childhood car
left her with serious leg injuries. Turning to singing she became
one of the best big-band vocalists of the 1940s, most notably
with Les Brown, her distinct, crisp voice capable of conveying
whatever emotion a song's lyrics required.
Many believe, as I
do, that Ms. Day was underrated as a singer even while turning
out a string of pop hits in the 1950s, including
her trademark, "Que Sera, Sera." She is said to be
more proud of her singing than her acting, and, while she seldom
watches her old movies on TV, she will stop and take notice when
one of her songs is played on the radio.
Often overlooked in
Ms. Day's film career, where she became associated with fluffy
romantic comedies, was just how accomplished
a dramatic actress she was in movies such as "Midnight Lace," "The
Man Who Knew Too Much," and, in arguably her best screen
performance, "Love Me or Leave Me." In the latter she
played the lead in the true story of 1930s singing star Ruth
Etting, a part she won after already-cast James Cagney convinced
MGM she had the necessary depth and talent as both an actress
and singer. Beating out superstar Ava Gardner for the role, Ms.
Day was required to play very much against type, smoking, drinking
and enduring verbal and physical abuse that included a violent
sexual assault scene.
Years later she would
turn down the part of Mrs. Robinson in "The
Graduate," saying, "I could not see myself rolling
around in the sheets with a young man half my age who I'd seduced.
It offended my sense of values." Anne Bancroft, who played
the role, received an Academy Award nomination for best actress.
In her lighter movies,
made before the women's liberation movement took shape, Ms.
Day often chose roles that were ahead of the
times, playing strong-willed, successful women in movies such
as "Teacher's Pet," "Lover Come Back" and "Pillow
Talk," for which she received her only Oscar nomination
for best actress. And while many who saw her squeaky-clean performances
ridiculed her as the eternal virgin, I admired her for portraying
savvy, independent women too discriminating to be bedded by any
guy long on libido but short on commitment.
Ms. Day revealed recently
that she has struck up a friendship with Paul McCartney, ironic
in that the Beatles were part of
the counterculture whose revolution essentially ended her career
and that of others like her who represented the "square" values
of the 1950s and early '60s. Planning a visit to Carmel with
new wife Heather Mills, McCartney phoned Ms. Day, told her he
was a life-long fan and asked to meet her, a request that resulted
in an invitation to her home and a continuing bond between them.
an often-tumultuous life that included physical abuse from her
first two husbands
and financial setbacks that might
sink lesser spirits, Ms. Day fits the true definition of survivor.
Looking to retire in 1968, she discovered her deceased third
husband and manager, Marty Melcher, had left her saddled with
bankruptcy and a commitment to a TV series she knew nothing about.
She honored the commitment, doing "The Doris Day Show" from
1968 until 1973, and repaid her debts.
Ms. Day is an American treasure who deserves to be honored with
a long-overdue special Academy Award for her body of work. And
at a time when U.S. culture is defined by the lewd and crude,
she looks better all the time. CRO
2004 Doug Gamble