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Doris Day - Star of the Month
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Doris Day

Doris Day once remarked that saying lines for the camera was not unlike interpreting song lyrics, and she lent the same freshness and sureness of tone to film acting that she brought to her work as a vocalist. She generated an unusually strong empathy with audiences who delighted in her singing, dancing and acting skills. Chances are, if you liked Doris Day at all you adored her.

Day adapted to changing times by moving from family-oriented musical comedies to dramatic thrillers and sex comedies that were considered racy for their time in the early 1960s. As her supporters have pointed out, those who labeled Day "the eternal virgin" missed the point that her characters in the adult comedies were independent, warm-blooded professional women who were not averse to sex but simply refused to be taken advantage of by a man.

Born Doris Mary Ann Von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati on April 3, 1924, Day began singing lessons as a teen after an automobile accident ended her dreams of becoming a dancer. She sang on radio, in clubs and, eventually, with the Bob Crosby and Les Brown bands. By the mid-1940s she was a very successful recording star, enjoying a major hit recording of "Sentimental Journey" in 1944.

Day made her film debut in the starring role of Romance on the High Seas (1948), a Warner Bros. musical about mixed identities on an ocean liner that had been intended first for Judy Garland and then Betty Hutton. Day clicked immediately with audiences, leading Warners to line up a series of musical vehicles for their new star. She teamed with Jack Carson in It's a Great Feeling (1949, also starring Dennis Morgan) and My Dream Is Yours (1949); and with Gordon MacRae in Tea for Two (1950), On Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953).

Early on, Day proved her dramatic mettle in Young Man with a Horn (1950) and Storm Warning (1951). But her high point at Warner Bros. was in the musical Calamity Jane (1953), in which she gives a delightfully rowdy performance as "Calam" and sings the Oscar®-winning "My Secret Love." Her contract with the studio expired with Young at Heart (1954), which marked her only screen teaming with Frank Sinatra (and allowed too little of their singing together). Two years later Day made a delightful return to Warners for The Pajama Game (1957), in which she leads most of the original Broadway cast in a high-energy film version of the stage hit.

Day's performance as songbird Ruth Etting in MGM's elaborate musical biography Love Me or Leave Me (1955) is arguably her best, with a wonderful catalog of songs and a challenging acting partner in James Cagney as Etting's often-unscrupulous benefactor. Another compelling collaboration came in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), with Day benefiting from the masterful touch of director Alfred Hitchcock in playing James Stewart's distraught wife. The film gave Day another Oscar®-winning song and her signature tune, "Que Sera, Sera." That same year brought more convincing hysterics in Julie (1956), in which Day realizes that her husband Louis Jourdan is a dangerous psychopath who might kill her.

Day's box-office power was slipping a bit in the late 1950s when she suddenly skyrocketed back to the top with Pillow Talk (1959), a mildly naughty sex comedy co-starring Rock Hudson, with whom she shared an undeniable chemistry. For seven out of the next 10 years she registered as the world's top female box-office star. Today, she continues to hold the record as top female film star of all time.

Day followed Pillow Talk, for which she won her only Oscar® nomination, with similarly titillating comedies including Lover Come Back (1961), again with Hudson; That Touch of Mink (1962), with Cary Grant; and Move Over, Darling (1963), with James Garner. In between she did another threatened-wife thriller in which she is excellent, Universal's Midnight Lace (1960), opposite Rex Harrison; and a lavish musical, MGM's production of Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962). The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) can lay claim to being the funniest of Day's later comedies. Her final theatrical film was With Six You Get Eggroll (1968), a pleasant comedy about a mixed family co-starring Brian Keith.

From 1968 to 1973 came the CBS-TV sitcom The Doris Day Show, a project to which Day's late husband, Martin Melcher, reportedly had committed her without her knowledge. In 1985-86 she appeared on the Christian Broadcast Network in Doris Day and Friends, an informal talk-show with an emphasis on the animal-rights activities in which Day has been involved for years. Day was married four times; each marriage ended in divorce except the one to Melcher, who died in 1968. Day had one son, producer-writer Terry Melcher, who died in 2004 at age 62.

by Roger Fristoe

* Films in Bold Type air on TCM

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