Friday, November 16, 2007

Laraine Day Passes On

Laraine Day, the beautiful star of Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, perhaps best known for playing Nurse Lamont in the Dr. Kildare films, died November 10 at the age of 87.

Laraine Day was born in Laraine Johnson in Roosevelt, Utah. The family moved to California when Laraine was nine years old. While in her teens she began her acting career with the Long Beach Players. Her first appearance was in an unbilled, bit part in the 1937 melodrama Stella Dallas. In 1938, still using the name Laraine Johnson, she appeared as Peg Smith in the Paramount film Scandal Sheet. She appeared as the leading lady in several of George O'Brien's B Westerns from 1938 to 1939. Signing with MGM in 1939, she adopted the stage name "Laraine Day." Her first film with MGM was Sergeant Madden, directed by Josef von Sternberg. It would be with her next film for MGM, Calling Dr. Kildare in 1939, that she would play the role that would bring her fame. Day played Nurse Mary Lamont in seven Dr. Kildare movies. The character was killed off in Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day. For years afterwards she would be asked by people why Mary Lamont had to die.

Day's career at MGM consisted primarily of programmers, such as the Dr. Kildare series. She was only cast in major motion pictures when she was loaned out to other studios. Such was the case with Foreign Correspondent, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and distributed by United Artists. In that film Day played the love interest of Joel McCrea's much put upon reporter. In Mr. Lucky, Day would play the society girl with whom Cary Grant's gambler falls in love. The film was produced by RKO. Having played Nurse Lamont in many of the Kildare films, she played a nurse again when loaned to Paramount for Cecil DeMille's The Story of Dr. Wassell. In RKO's film noirThe Locket not only did Day play the lead role, but she got to play against type. Nancy Monks Blair Patton was a scheming femme fatale, worlds away from honest, wholesome Mary Lamont. In Tycoon she played opposite John Wayne, as the wife of a man building a railroad tunnel through a mountain.

In the Fifties Day's career shifted primarily to television. She made her first appearance on the small screen on an episode of Nash Airflyte Theatre in 1951. She was the host of the TV series Daydreaming with Laraine, also called The Laraine Day Show in 1951. She was the co-host (with then husband Leo Durocher, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers) of the series Double Play in 1953. In the Fifties she appeared on such shows as The Jack Benny Programme, General Electric Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, and Playhouse 90. She continued to appear in films, such as John Wayne's The High and Mighty and the 1956 films Toy Tiger and Three for Jamie Dawn.

From the Sixties to the Eighties, Day's career was almost entirely in television. She guest starred on Checkmate, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Burke's Law, Wagon Train, The Name of the Game, Lou Grant, Airwolf, and Murder, She Wrote (on which she played the wife of protagonist Jessica Fletcher's brother in law).

Laraine Day was a talented actress who never was given the sort of roles she actually deserved. Sadly, MGM seemed content to cast in her in the role of romantic interests in B movies. That she could do so much more is proven by the film she made outside of MGM. Day could quite convincingly play sweet, wholesome Nurse Mary Lamont, but she could just as easily play the scheming, deceitful Nancy Monks Blair Patton (if you're wondering about her name, well, Nancy had several husbands...). She gave sterling performances in such films as Foreign Correspondent and Mr. Lucky. I rather suspect that in times to come she will be remembered more for her few roles in major motion pictures than as Nurse Lamont, whom she played in so many Dr. Kildare movies.

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