Doris 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.”
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!?”
One 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?