Considering Doris Day
Considering Doris Day is a meticulous examination of the career of the biggest female box-office attraction in Hollywood history. Fantastically popular for the better part of three decades, Doris Day was a triple threat as a successful movie and television actress and recording artist; no one since has come close to duplicating this achievement. As Tom Santopietro asserts, “She was an astonishingly talented woman who could do it all, and do it brilliantly.”
However, Day has become an anachronism, even something of a joke in the decades following her phenomenal success, and Santopietro believes that a reevaluation of her career is definitely overdue. “Having carved out one of the truly great careers in show business history Doris Day received very little respect for her remarkable achievements. In fact, beginning in the late 1960’s, she began to be derided for the very talent that had made her beloved in the first place. In that most American of fashions, the public turned its back on one of its own authentic heroines.” The author undertakes the task of reestablishing Day as the American icon he clearly believes that she is by thoroughly analyzing every film and nearly every recording and television appearance on her résumé. While not a biography in the traditional sensethe author is much more concerned with Day’s career than with her personal lifeConsidering Doris Day does contain just enough biographical material to provide a context for her career.
Doris Day was born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff to German Catholic parents in Cincinnati, Ohio. The child of divorce, Doris studied dance and by the age of twelve was well on her way to a successful dancing career when a serious car accident ended those ambitions. She then began taking voice lessons and soon was singing with various local bands and touring with the Les Brown band by the time she was sixteen. In 1945, she had a big hit with Les Brown, “Sentimental Journey,” which became the emblematic song for the troops returning from World War II.
After reluctantly traveling to Hollywood for a screen test, she signed a contract with Warner Bros. and appeared in her first film, Romance on the High Seas (1948). From that time through the early 1950’s, she made several fairly forgettable movies, but this string of mediocre films ended with Calamity Jane in 1953 and was followed by such critical and popular successes as Love Me or Leave Me (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and The Pajama Game (1957). In the 1960’s, she starred in a string of very successful romantic comedies, including Lover Come Back (1961) and The Thrill of It All (1963).
Unfortunately, Day’s professional success was not matched in her personal life, which was often tumultuous. At the age of seventeen, she married trombonist Al Jordan, who she later revealed was physically abusive toward her. The marriage lasted only two years, but produced a son, Terry. This was followed in 1946 by another short, unsuccessful marriage, to saxophonist George Weidler. In 1951, she married Marty Melcher, to whom she remained married, although often unhappily, until his death from a heart attack in 1968. Melcher became Day’s agent, and she unquestioningly turned over complete control of her career to him. Santopietro blames him for many of the truly awful movies she made, particularly later in her career.
After his death, Day discovered that her husband had horribly mismanaged her money, and she was deeply in debt. She also learned that, unbeknownst to her, he had committed her to star in a television series, something she had never wanted to do. She honored the commitment, regaining her financial security in the process. The show ran for five years and essentially marked the end of her show business career. Since her retirement, Day has become well known for her activism in animal welfare issues, founding the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1977 and the Doris Day Animal League in 1987. In 2006, the Animal League combined with...
(The entire section is 1,621 words.)