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The colorful 1954 Doris Day vehicle Lucky Me has the distinction of being the first film musical ever shot in CinemaScope. In it, Day stars as Candy Williams, a talented but highly superstitious singer in a vaudeville revue led by comedian Hap Schneider (Phil Silvers). When Candy and her fellow performers end up stranded and penniless in Miami Beach, they are forced to work at a posh resort hotel after eating a meal there without paying. It just so happens that a famous songwriter, Dick Carson (Robert Cummings), is staying at the hotel and planning to mount a lavish stage musical funded by the Texas oil baron father of his cloying girlfriend, Lorraine (Martha Hyer). When Candy and Dick meet, sparks fly immediately. However, a case of mistaken identity leads Candy to believe that Dick is not a songwriter, but an auto mechanic. Dick wants to come clean and make her the lead in his new musical, but the show's future is put in jeopardy once Lorraine catches on to Dick's feelings for Candy.
In 1954 Doris Day was at the height of her fame and under contract to Warner Brothers Studios. She had just appeared in one of the biggest box office hits of her career Calamity Jane (1953), in which she had sung the Oscar®-winning song "Secret Love." Warner Brothers wanted Lucky Me to be Day's follow up picture to Calamity Jane. There was a script ready, and the studio had lined up a talented supporting cast for her in Phil Silvers, Robert Cummings, Nancy Walker and Eddie Foy, Jr. The director would be Jack Donohue. Donohue had little film directing experience at the time, but had staged the musical numbers in Calamity Jane and had also directed the stage version of Phil Silvers' hit Broadway play Top Banana.
It was right around this time that Doris Day began to suffer from debilitating panic attacks, though there wasn't a diagnosis at the time for her symptoms of severe heart palpitations, depression and shortness of breath. All that Day knew then was that her attacks were frightening, and there was something very wrong. She would later come to describe what had happened to her as "close to a nervous breakdown" in her 1976 autobiography Her Own Story. On the advice of her doctors who assured her that there was nothing physically wrong with her, she tried to slow down, resting more and limiting the activities on her busy schedule.
When Warner Brothers pushed her to start work on Lucky Me, she was not well and kept putting the project off. She was also disappointed in the script and found it to be below the standard of her usual productions. "Robert Cummings, Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker, and Eddie Foy, Jr. were all talented, funny people," she said, "but I knew by now that no amount of talent can overcome an inferior script, especially if it is a comedy."
Day seriously considered taking a suspension from the studio rather than make Lucky Me. It was a common practice for actors who didn't want to appear in a film that they believed was inferior. A close friend of Day's, however, talked her out of abandoning the picture, advising her that it was bad form not to honor a contractual commitment. Day agreed and made the decision to give Lucky Me her very best effort no matter what.
Although it is impossible to tell just from watching, Lucky Me was not an easy film for Day to make. "Whereas I had always been able to get into a part with effortless vitality," she said, "now it was all I could do to get myself up to a performing level." She tried to rest as much as possible and not exhaust herself in an effort to keep the panic attacks at bay. "I attempted to do this by resting in my dressing room as much as I could, avoiding all interviews, and closing the set to visitors," she said. "Some days, if the shooting schedule was too long, I asked the director to shorten it. Judy Garland was on the lot at the same time making A Star Is Born ; she was being difficult and erratic about her hours and the press lumped us together as the Warner Brothers prima donnas. I tried not to let that bother me. My primary obligation was to keep myself well enough to finish the picture. Nothing else really mattered."
True to her word, Doris Day brought her characteristic professionalism to Lucky Me and did her very best to elevate the material. She enjoyed a good rapport with her co-stars, and her favorite number to sing in the film was "I Speak to the Stars." By the time shooting was completed, she was feeling much better and was on the road to recovery.
When Lucky Me opened in the spring of 1954, it was not received as one of Doris Day's best films. However, Day's fans will enjoy seeing this lesser known musical that features some charming numbers including "The Superstition Song," which opens the film, and "Men," a comic song performed with Phil Silvers.
Watch for a very young (and dark-haired) Angie Dickinson in an uncredited bit part during the party scene at the end of Lucky Me. It was Dickinson's first job in a Hollywood movie--the fortunate result of winning a television contest.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Jack Donohue
Screenplay: James O'Hanlon (screenplay and story); Irving Elinson, Robert O'Brien (screenplay); Frank Davis (contributor to screenplay, uncredited)
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline
Art Direction: John Beckman
Music: Ray Heindorf, Howard Jackson (both uncredited)
Film Editing: Owen Marks
Cast: Doris Day (Candy Williams), Robert Cummings (Dick Carson), Phil Silvers (Hap Schneider), Eddie Foy, Jr. (Duke McGee), Nancy Walker (Flo Neely), Martha Hyer (Lorraine Thayer), Bill Goodwin (Otis Thayer), Marcel Dalio (Anton), Hayden Rorke (Tommy Arthur), James Burke (Mahoney).
C-101m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume