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In 1960 MGM released Please Don't Eat the Daisies, a domestic comedy starring Doris Day and David Niven as parents dealing with the ensuing chaos that occurs from their move to the rustic countryside from New York City. Based on the book by popular author Jean Kerr, the story was loosely based on Kerr's own experiences via her marriage to Walter Kerr, the drama critic for the New York Herald-Tribune. The movie version, directed by Charles Walters, proved to be a popular family film and inspired a television series of the same name in 1965.
Doris Day was already a household name in America when Please Don't Eat the Daisies was released; her reputation as a gifted comedic actress had been confirmed in previous films like Teacher's Pet (1958), and Pillow Talk (1959) and her persona stayed true to form for Daisies. Yet, while there is an undeniable chemistry between Day and co-star David Niven on-screen, the two actors rarely interacted once the cameras had stopped rolling. In Niven's case, there was a reason for his aloof behavior; during filming, he had separated from his wife, Hjordis, an event that caused the actor considerable anguish. Richard Haydn, who played a supporting role in Please Don't Eat the Daisies, recalled (in The Other Side of the Moon: The Life of David Niven by Sheridan Morley) "a rather distraught David on the set. It so happened that we were both called for the first day of shooting but he was terribly nervous and that whole day's work had to be done again later."
Producer Joe Pasternak, who had worked with Niven twice before, was now observing a markedly insecure man, and devised a way to deal with his growing self-doubt. In Morley's aforementioned biography, Pasternak recalled that "David used to keep asking me why I'd hired him when there were so many better actors around so I said, 'Look, I'll tell you what I'll do. Every day I have to look at the rushes, and if you're any good I'll give you a quarter.' So every morning he used to hang around like a schoolboy waiting for his 25 cents and some days I wouldn't give it to him and then he'd act a bit better the next day. But I don't think he was very happy...and David seemed much more turned in on himself than he had been before." This image of Niven is so vastly different from the dashing figure he cut in such films as Raffles (1940) - as an elegant jewel thief - and Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), where he played sophisticated world traveler Phileas Fogg. David reconciled with his wife before filming wrapped on Daisies, but the strain the incident had placed on Niven was glaringly evident to both cast and crew.
Charles Walters, the director of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, was better known as a choreographer of musicals in Hollywood. Among his credits were Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946), both helmed by Vincente Minnelli. Upon graduating to director, however, Walters found additional success with The Tender Trap (1955) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). For Daisies, he had the luxury of working with an esteemed supporting cast, beginning with Janis Paige as a sultry temptress. Paige had an interesting connection with Day, her career high point being the lead in the Broadway production of The Pajama Game in 1954 - a role Day would play on film three years later.
Other supporting players who stand out in Daisies are Spring Byington as Day's dotty mother and Richard Haydn as Niven's producer friend. Previously Oscar-nominated for her work in You Can't Take It With You (1938), Byington would make her final film appearance in Daisies. Haydn is best remembered for his role as the enterprising family friend of the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music (1965) and the voice of the caterpillar in Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland (1951). Also featured in Daisies is Patsy Kelly, who made a career out of playing the wisecracking sidekick alongside such talents as Thelma Todd, Jean Harlow, and Tallulah Bankhead.
Fans of the TV series, My Three Sons (1960), will recognize Stanley Livingston, who played Chip Douglas on the sitcom. "Mack the Knife" fans, keep your eyes peeled: in an uncredited role, crooner Bobby Darin pops up briefly.
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Charles Walters
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart, based on the novel by Jean Kerr
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Hans Peters
Cinematography: Robert J. Bronner
Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Music: David Rose
Cast: Doris Day (Kate Mackay), David Niven (Larry Mackay), Janis Paige (Deborah Vaughn), Spring Byington (Suzie Robinson), Richard Haydn (Alfred North), Patsy Kelly (Maggie), Jack Weston (Joe Positano), Margaret Lindsay (Mona James).
C-112m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Eleanor Quin