Contrary to Popular Opinion, Doris Day Bugs Me

Doris DayDoris Day was a hugely popular film songstress of the 1950s and 60s. She was a relatively talented actress, in addition to being fairly good looking and having a nice voice. The bright technicolor musical comedies in which she starred, with all the pretty costumes and perky dance numbers they usual entail, served to promote Day’s attractive image as the virginal heroin. I would say “perky” is definitely the best word to describe the characters Day portrayed on screen.

In her personal life, Day was less virginal, but probably just as perky as her on-screen self. She once said:

“I like joy. I want to be joyous. I want to have fun on the set. I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want.”

Doris Day’s film roles reflected this attitude – a little shallow, maybe, but well-intentioned. Nobody can fault an actress for wanting to enjoy herself in her craft. Day was very vocal about her dislike of more serious artsy films, claiming that audiences never enjoyed them and always came out of the theatre depressed.

Day grew up Catholic, but was later introduced to Christian Science. She became an avid animal rights activist after witnessing the mistreatment of animals in the movie industry. She is a staunch Republican.

Doris Day herself is not the reason her films turn my stomach. She simply represents everything that is wrong with the mid-20th century idealized Hollywood female protagonist. The expectations film audiences were encouraged to assume for the Day characters mirror the same problems described in Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique.”calamity-jane-1954-00m-dkd


Any Doris Day character who showed a little moxy (i.e. CALAMITY JANE (1953)) was ridiculed for doing so:

[From the trailer] “Yes, there never was a glibber fibber, or a cuter shooter, than Calamity Jane.”


Jane: “You calling me a liar again?”
Wild Bill: “Why don’t you ever fix your hair!?”

Pillow TalkOne of Day’s most popular films, PILLOW TALK (1959), took so many steps backward in regards to women’s rights as to make Simone de Beauvoire facepalm. This is just from the trailer:

[Clip of Day’s legs] “This career girl had everything but love…”


“…then he met the body that wen with the voice he hated. What would you do? That’s what he did. Pretend he was two other guys. And then the wooing got frantic!”


[Day sings] “I’m yours tonight, my darling, possess me…”

Do I need to go on? Vomitrocious! PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES (1960) is even worse. Day plays Kate the housewife of famous New York stage critic Larry (David Niven). When the family moves into the suburbs, Kate twists herself in more knots than a pretzel to make the transition. She works overtime on house repairs, takes care of her four sons, participates in amateur dramatics, and still looks a complete dish for her husband when she accompanies him to a glamorous function. Larry, meanwhile, does nothing but moan and complain and kvetch about the whole situation, making Kate’s life even that much more difficult.

[From the trailer] “Here’s Daddy Niven at home, terrified by the togetherness of it all. But David Niven, the famous drama critic – ah! that’s something else again!”

It’s the same old exasperating story – he has an incredible career which he values more than his family life. His wife, meanwhile is expected to hold everything together, while also boosting his ego. And just forget about her pursuing a career of her own! How could she possibly do that and also manage everything else – it’s not like the husband could lend a hand or anything.


I will be perfectly honest and admit that I haven’t seen many more Doris Day films than these and a few of her TV show episodes. I did think that CALAMITY JANE (1953) would surely have more substance to it, but alas, I was more disappointed in that film than I was even in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), which suffers from the same sins. Although, now that I think about it, maybe it’s Howard Keel films I should be avoiding…

I never like to write off an actress without a fair trial. Nor do I dismiss her talents without chance of reprieve. (I am even revisiting my opinion of Streep since seeing INTO THE WOODS (2014), but don’t tell anybody I said that!) Therefore, I would be really grateful if anybody reading this post could recommend a Doris Day film with some more substance to it. After all, who can positively dislike anybody who likes to be joyous, have fun, wear pretty clothes, and make other people happy?

This post is written in conjunction with the Contrary to Popular Opinion Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies, Silently.


21 thoughts on “Contrary to Popular Opinion, Doris Day Bugs Me

  • Danny Reid

    I’m with you on this one. I watch Dorris Day movies just to see if they can get any worse, and they always can. There is no bottom– especially since her producer husband really started pointing her to the lowest common denominator/bottom of the barrel stuff for a quick payday, and it’s really shockingly noticeable. The only movies of hers I like are Calamity Jane (which is just childhood nostalgia and the soundtrack) and Starlift (which she has a minor part and is set where I used to live, so I’m biased there too). Day’s movies are pretty much everything I hate about classic cinema.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      The one movie I feel like I need to see is THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) if only because of Jimmy Stewart and Hitchcock – how bad could it be?

      • Danny Reid

        I guess ‘not that great’ is the best way to put it. It has a few good moments, but I personally think it’s usually included on lists of Hitchcock’s masterpieces more because of its stars than its content.

        \/ And, yeah, Down with Love is fantastic.

  • Leah

    I’m afraid I share your opinion of Doris Day movies. I’ve tried to give them more of a chance, but they’re so cutesy and traditional that it’s difficult. I actually wouldn’t recommend The Man Who Knew Too Much since the original version (1934) is so much better. But I do think there’s some fun to be had in the stylized Day-Hudson interplays–you just need to take them for what they are and focus on the ones where she has a career:) Actually, Down with Love made me give her another chance–that’s a fun film. Leah

  • Le

    I have nothing against Doris Day, but I have to say something about your post: BRAVO!
    I was also disappointed by Doris’s character in Please, Don’t Eat the Daisies… I expected her to be a little more independent and no submissive! Same with That Touch of Mink: Day gets a weird allergy in her skin when she thinks about sex… WTF?
    And, I need to be honest: Rock Hudson is the reason I watch most 1950’s / 1960’s sex comedies, he’s priceless.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

  • Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman)

    Doris Day is one of my favourite singers and entertainers. I enjoy the nostalgic vibe of “On Moonlight Bay” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” based on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories, but sense they may not be your cup of tea.

    I do recommend the Ruth Etting biopic Day made at MGM co-starring James Cagney, “Love Me or Leave Me” – great music and, for its time, a biographical story that steered away from sugar-coating its subject. “Storm Warning” is an interesting “social conscience” picture from 1951. Doris is cast as the younger sister of Ginger Rogers who stumbles across a murder in a southern town with brother-in-law Steve Cochran in the gang. In the moody “Young Man With a Horn” Doris is the nice girl cast against the complicated Lauren Bacall with Kirk Douglas as a trumpet player.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      I’ll have to look into those. I’ve seen YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950) because of Bacall, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. I’ll have to add the others to the list, especially the Ginger Rogers flick. I will say, I do like Day’s singing and I have one of her records. I just don’t always like the frilly subject matter.

  • GirlsDoFilm

    Thanks for articulating so many of the issues I have with Doris Day and the gratin ‘woman next door character’. Have you read Molly Haskell’s Holding My Own in No Man’s Land? Her attempt to justify Day’s roles as ‘progressive’ for the day-to-day woman is laughable, Day’s depiction only reinforced the boundaries that women were permitted to exist, and both were drawn out by men. The eager-to-please aspect of Day’s on-screen persona was – in my opinion – more damaging than the era’s alternatives, and I am yet to watch a Day film that has convinced me otherwise.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      I find it hard to believe anyone would try to justify those films as progressive for women – I’ll have to read that. It might deserve a review. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Silver Screenings

    I quite liked Doris Day’s performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. I think she has some really good scenes as a distraught woman whose son has been kidnapped.

    I have a soft spot for Doris Day, although her movies are SO dated. (Don’t get me started on “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” or “That Touch of Mink” – your marvelous word “vomitrocious” is appropriate.) I grew to admire her when I was going through an extremely difficult time and needed an innocent escapism. She made me laugh and helped me realize I had not lost my sense of humour.

    However, I enjoyed your post very much. It gave me lots to think about – like all your posts do. 🙂

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      Thanks so much – glad you liked the post. I do enjoy Day’s singing and she is pretty funny. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is pretty high up on my must-watch list. I hope TCM airs it soon!

  • Fritzi Kramer

    I am so with you on this one! So many of Day’s films had that smug “aren’t women cute when they try to do things” attitude from post-war cinema that drives me BATS! I have yet to finish one of her films. I’ve tried, I really have. There is just so much adorable nose-wrinkling I can take before I start to get ill from the twee. Thanks for confirming my very negative opinion!

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      I know, right? I cannot stand that “I need to be super peppy to cheer up my grumpy old man” attitude. Ugh!

  • Lesley

    Really good post, I enjoyed reading it!

    Here are a few somewhat heftier titles: Storm Warning; Love Me or Leave Me; Young Man with a Horn; The Man Who Knew Too Much.

    I always felt the same way you do. Growing up in the ’60s it seemed everything Doris represented was uncool and retro in the most regressive ways. I’ve gotten to like some of the films a lot (despite the prefeminist crap), and also to appreciate that in several of the comedies she is a professional, an interior decorator or ad exec, which, at the time, was pretty much not at all happening in movies and when it did the career girls were either evil or terminally neurotic. The whole professional virgin thing is definitely bizarre. It’s even stranger now that we have Pre-Code movies to prove that sex wasn’t invented in the late ’60s…

    But to me, for a gal who had no training as an actress she was better than decent. She had started out to be a dancer but had to give it up after an injury, but in a couple of the movies she dances awfully well. And she’s a really good singer (though often the arrangements are not at all to my taste).

    I do get what you’re saying, for sure. So many stars’ lives in front of the cameras were Bizarroworld versions of their real lives. Or sometimes the split is within the personal life, like Loretta Young being so pious and having an illegitimate child she pretended wasn’t hers and adopted.

    Anyway, thanks again, terrific post!

  • Lesley

    oops, hadn’t seen the comments when I posted mine, so my list of possible titles is exactly the same as a previous commenter… beg pardon.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      It’s okay – good to know they’re definitely worth looking into! Thanks for your comments!

  • Tracey Williamson

    Love me or Leave Me as Ruth Etting and Teacher’s Pet as an educated journalism teacher vs. Clark Gable’s hard boiled reporter.

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