Family & Companions
Beloved by sports fans as The First Lady of Baseball, Laraine Day earned her first admirers in movie theatres. In addition to her extremely photogenic face, she projected degrees of charm and empathy that made her perfect to play Nurse Mary Lamont in MGM’s popular series of "Dr. Kildare" pictures. That regular exposure introduced the Utah native to many filmgoers, but it was also emblematic of the insubstantial fare the studio relegated her to. Day had her best parts when working for other companies, including Alfred Hitchcock’s superb thriller "Foreign Correspondent" (1940) and the film noir outing "The Locket" (1946), which offered her a major image change as a thief who drives men to their deaths. Although that performance might have opened more doors for her, Day’s marriage to New York Giants manager Leo Durocher brought about an unexpected career shift. Adopting her husband’s love of baseball, Day became involved with two television programs dedicated to the game and she was among the first female TV personalities to regularly cover sports. Although she co-starred in "The High and the Mighty" (1954) and on various TV programs in the years that followed, Day was content to spend the majority of her time away from show business, attending to her family and the Mormon church. Aptly described by The New York Times as a "B+ Movie Star," Day rarely appeared in top-flight motion pictures, but her sincerity and wholesome appeal as a performer added much to the ones she did grace.
Laraine Day was born Laraine (or La Raine, according to some sources) Johnson on Oct. 13, 1920 in Roosevelt, UT. The seventh child in a well-to-do Mormon family, she had a twin brother named Lamar. The Day family eventually relocated to Long Beach, CA and she was a student at Washington Junior High School and Polytechnic High School. During this period, Day earned her first acting experience as a member of the Players Guild of Long Beach. Under her birth name, Day began her film career via an uncredited bit in the Barbara Stanwyck tearjerker "Stella Dallas" (1937) and supporting roles in B-pictures like "Scandal Street" (1938) and "Border G-Man" (1938). Her beauty and poise came to the attention of Tiffany studio MGM, which offered to put the teenager under contract. Josef von Sternberg’s crime drama "Sergeant Madden" (1939) was the first credit for Day under her more familiar moniker, which she adopted in tribute to Player’s Guild manager Elias Day.
Day was added to the cast of "Calling Dr. Kildare" (1939), the second entry in MGM’s new series of films based on characters created by popular writer Max Brand. As the ever compassionate Nurse Mary Lamont, she would be featured in several more "Kildare" dramas for the company, which also gave her a part in "Tarzan Finds a Son!" (1939), another of their ongoing franchises. MGM also began loaning her out to other companies during this time, which is where Day invariably received her most interesting work. Foremost amongst these was Alfred Hitchcock’s superb thriller "Foreign Correspondent" (1940), in which she was the female lead opposite Joel McCrea as an American newspaper man tangling with Nazi spies while on assignment in England.
After that prestige project, Day returned to MGM, but the studio continued to use her predominantly in Grade B productions. "Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day" (1941) marked the end of Day’s involvement in the series, but she was kept busy in potboilers like "A Yank on the Burma Road" (1942) as well as more interesting efforts like "Fingers at the Window" (1942) and "Journey for Margaret" (1942). That year, she married talented Big Band tenor Ray Hendricks and the couple adopted two children during their five years as man and wife. Day was farmed out to RKO for a pairing with Cary Grant in the enjoyable romantic comedy "Mr. Lucky" (1943) and Paramount enlisted her services to co-star with Gary Cooper in Cecil B. DeMille’s "The Story of Dr. Wassell" (1944). The fact that her talents were being sought out by other producers, while MGM made little use of them, grew frustrating for the actress. After completing the forgettable Lana Turner wartime picture "Keep Your Powder Dry" (1945), MGM agreed to let Day out of her contract.
John Brahm’s film noir "The Locket" (1946) offered Day the sort of meaty, offbeat role she was clearly not going to receive at Metro and it ranked among her most memorable turns. Critics took issue with the picture’s awkward flashback within a flashback within a flashback structure, but Day’s effective performance as a deeply disturbed, compulsive thief demonstrated that she was quite able to tackle darker characters. Her marriage to Hendricks came to an end in 1947, and within 24 hours of signing the divorce papers, Day wed Leo Durocher, manager of baseball’s New York Giants. The couple added two more children to Day’s growing family and her new husband’s occupation ended up becoming a major part of her life as well.
Things were less happy on the acting front. She joined Kirk Douglas in "My Dear Secretary" (1948), a pleasant yet unmemorable romantic comedy that ended up being one of her easiest movies to see in later years when its producers failed to renew the picture’s copyright. "The Woman on Pier 13" (1949) was a rather silly Communist paranoia drama-film noir and the cheap, talky melodrama "Without Honor" (1949) especially did Day no favors. She decided to explore her options on television, finding ample guest star opportunities on dramatic anthology programs. Day also served as host of the 15-minute program "Daydreaming with Laraine" (ABC, 1951) and embraced her husband’s profession with both a radio and TV program. The latter, entitled "Double Play" (1953), centered around the club, with Durocher serving as co-host. Now known as "The First Lady of Baseball," Day hoped that her participation in the program would encourage more women to become interested in the sport and she chronicled that portion of her life in the book A Day With the Giants (1952).
Returning to silver screen duties, she reunited with John Wayne in William A. Wellman’s airborne thriller "The High and the Mighty" (1954), but ultimately opted to focus almost entirely on the small screen. The actress made only three more theatrical features, the last of which, "The 3rd Voice" (1960), opened the year she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Day and Durocher called it quits at the beginning of that decade and she married her third and final husband, producer Michael Grilikhes. Following the established pattern, the couple added another pair of children to their family. Day made occasional television appearances on various primetime shows during the 1960s and ‘70s, but was largely content to be away from the spotlight raising her children. She also devoted time to Mormon Church affairs, authored a second book, The America We Love (1971), and participated in the Make America Better project. She gave her final performance in a 1986 two-part episode of "Murder, She Wrote" (CBS, 1984-1996), the popular mystery series starring her friend and fellow Golden Age veteran Angela Lansbury. Following the death of Grilikhes on March 7, 2007, Day moved back to Utah and lived with her daughter, Gigi Bell. It was there that she died of natural causes just over eight months later on Nov. 10, 2007.
By John Charles
Cast (Feature Film)
Moved with family from Utah to Southern California
Played first leading lady roles in several "B" action films, including "Doomed at Sundown" and "The Law Commands"
First film as actor, "Stella Dallas"; played a bit part; credited as Laraine Johnson
Acted in seven of MGM's popular "Dr. Kildare" as the title hero's fiance, Nurse Mary Lamont
Joined MGM; except for several loan-outs, worked exclusively for the studio for the next three years; adopted stage name
Earned some notice on loan to United Artists for "My Son, My Son"
Acted in "Foreign Correspondant", directed by Alfred Hitchcock
First film in color, "The Story of Dr. Wassell", directed by Cecil B DeMille for Paramount
Gave perhaps her best screen performance as a psychotic in "The Locket"
Last feature films for five years, "I Married a Communist/The Woman on Pier 13" and "Without Honor"
Starred in the short-lived ABC variety and interview show, "The Laraine Day Show/Daydreaming with Laraine"
Returned to features to play a leading role in the airplane melodrama, "The High and the Mighty"
Played the leading female role of the mother in an NBC one-hour dramatic special, an adaptation of the adventure novel, "The Swiss Family Robinson"
Last feature film to date, "The Third Voice"
First TV-movie, "Murder on Flight 502"
Guest starred on a two-part episode, the third-season premiere, of the long-running CBS mystery series, "Murder, She Wrote"