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It's not often that a twice divorced mother who met her third husband while he was married to someone else gets anointed America's Virgin Sweetheart, but that's what happened to Doris Day, much to her own confusion. "There was never any intent on my part either in my acting or in my private life to create any such thing as an image," she shrugs in her autobiography Doris Day: Her Own Story, "but I suppose that whatever there is of me that shines through on the screen looks wholesome and virgin-y." Whatever the cause, her tomboyish, feisty, yet graceful performance in On Moonlight Bay (1951) and its sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) firmly established the actress's on-screen persona about which pianist-raconteur Oscar Levant famously quipped "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin."
The former Doris Kappelhoff started out as a singer with big band legend Les Brown and his Band of Renown at the age of fifteen (her knockout, 5' 7" figure made audiences believe she was much older) before signing on as a contract player at Warner Brothers. During her stint there, she made seventeen movies in seven years, moving "from one sound stage to another, from one contract director to another" at a breakneck, time-is-money pace. Even though she wasn't enchanted with the quality of the scripts (after a blistering encounter with Jack Warner, she never dared to complain about an assignment again), she counted On Moonlight Bay, along with the other nostalgic musicals (Tea for Two (1950), Calamity Jane (1953), and Lullaby of Broadway(1951), among others) as some of the most fun movies she made.
Based on Booth Tarkington's beloved "Penrod" stories about a mischievous boy's humorous exploits in small town American, screenwriting partners Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson - a team Jack Warner addressed as "Hello, boys" even when only one of them was present -- shifted the focus from the title character to his older sister Marjorie at Warner's request, in order to showcase Day. They also were assigned the film's title when Warner asked for a copy of the company's song catalog, stabbed a toothpick at a random title, and announced they had to fit a story around the song "On Moonlight Bay". (Shavelson later remarked dryly, "That was the end of the story conference.") Rose and Shavelson quickly cobbled together a story about a romance between a forthright, baseball-crazy gal Marjorie (Day) and the college boy next door William (Gordon MacRae), who meet when, thinking she's an unruly boy in her baseball uniform, William threatens her with a spanking.
On Moonlight Bay was to be Day's fifth movie with fellow contract player Gordon MacRae (and third directed by Roy Del Ruth), but Day adored MacRae as a co-star and thought he had the loveliest voice in Hollywood. That voice and hers were put to good use in a screenplay packed with hits of the pre-WWI era like "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!" and ""Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine", as well as the title tune that the screenwriters cleverly folded into the story by renaming the amusement park Marjorie and William visit on their first date.
Even though Day was mystified by why the public responded so positively to her "virgin" appeal, there was no mistaking how audiences loved On Moonlight Bay. Variety praised it for " jogging nostalgic memory" and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rated it "A-1" (least objectionable & suitable for all) for how the movie "relaxes with the mundane distractions of small-town life, the sweet innocence of period songs and the uncertain course of young love." The Technicolor musical did so well at the box office that Warner Brothers quickly pushed a sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon into production, taking the extra step of retaining all the lead actors in their original roles.
Producer: William Jacobs
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Jack Rose, Melville Shavelson (screenplay); Booth Tarkington (story)
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Art Direction: Douglas Bacon
Music: Max Steiner (uncredited)
Film Editing: Thomas Reilly
Cast: Doris Day (Marjorie 'Marjie' Winfield), Gordon MacRae (William 'Bill' Sherman), Jack Smith (Hubert Wakely), Leon Ames (Banker George 'Father' Winfield (Mr. Winfield)), Rosemary De Camp (Alice 'Mother' Winfield (Mrs. Winfield)), Mary Wickes (Stella), Ellen Corby (Miss Mary Stevens), Billy Gray (Wesley Winfield), Henry East (Doughboy by train), Jeffrey Stevens (Jim Sherman).
by Violet LeVoit
Hotchner, A.E. and Doris Day. Doris Day: Her Own Story. 1975, William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Freedland, Michael. The Warner Brothers. 1983, St. Martins Press.
Variety. Sun., Dec. 31, 1950