Monday, May 13, 2019

A Sentimental Journey with Doris Day: A Personal Remembrance

This morning I awakened to news that no classic film buff or lover of classic American pop music wants to awaken to. Quite simply, I learned that Doris Day had died at age 97. Until today I had literally never known a world without Doris Day. She was the top money making star the year I was born. When I was little the broadcast networks still aired her romantic comedies from the Fifties and Sixties in prime time. Also, when I was little, she had a hit sitcom, The Doris Day Show, that aired each week on CBS. Her songs were still played frequently on the radio. It is because of her long career and the impact Miss Day had on my life that I do not feel ready to write a eulogy for her yet. Instead I thought I would write about the impact she has had on my life.

Quite simply, I cannot remember a time that I was not aware of Doris Day. Like The Beatles and Adam West, she has simply always been a part of my life. I suspect she was the first classic movie star of whom I was aware. It should come as no surprise, then, that I do not remember where I first saw Doris Day. I suspect it might have been her TV show, but it could just as easily have been one of her movies. I saw many of her films while I was still very young. She was one of my first crushes.

Indeed, while Doris Day's recording career was still going strong in the Sixties, it was as an actress that I was first aware of her. I saw many of the Sixties sex comedies in which she appeared when I was a very young child. And while a lot of the jokes in those films went well over my head, I still enjoyed them very much. The films portrayed a world that was wholly unknown to a boy growing up on a farm in mid-Missouri. It was a world of impeccable fashions, posh apartments, and fancy cars. It was a world where, even after many misunderstandings, everything worked out in the end. It was a world with which I was fascinated. If the Sixties remains my favourite decade for fashion and industrial design, Doris Day is largely responsible.

Of course, I was also fairly young when I first saw Doris Day's earlier movies. It was there where I really became aware of Miss Day as a singer. While she sang the theme songs to most of her romantic comedies, it was through her movie musicals that I really became aware of her vocal talents. Movies such as April in Paris (1952) and Calamity Jane (1953) let me know that she wasn't just a great actress, but a great vocalist as well. Doris Day had a mellifluous voice and she could deliver a song better than anyone else. As time went by I became aware of her career as a Big Band singer, as well as her many hits of the Fifties and Sixties. While I listened to The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Cheap Trick when I was growing up, I also listened to Dean Martin and Doris Day.

It is often the case that what people love as a child, they do not necessarily love as an adult. Many people look back at TV shows or singers that they loved as children and wonder what they ever saw in them. This was certainly not the case with me with regards to Doris Day. If anything, my appreciation of her only grew. I remember several cable channels would show her movies, everything from the Fifties musicals to the Sixties sex comedies, regularly in the Eighties and Nineties. What is more, they were always something my entire family enjoyed, from my mother to my older sister (who has never been a classic movie fan). I would hear many more of her songs as an adult, becoming familiar not only with her hits from the Fifties and Sixties, but her early work with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. At no point in my life have I never been a Doris Day fan. Indeed, one of the first conversations I ever had with my dearest Vanessa Marquez was about Doris Day and the Sixties sex comedies. Like me, Vanessa also adored Miss Day. So too do all of my other classic film friends.

Indeed, Doris Day is one of the few stars in any medium whose appeal everyone can understand. Miss Day could do everything. She could dance. She could sing. She could act. What is more, she did all of these things very well. Of course, there was much more to Doris Day's appeal than her massive talent. There have been many stars who can dance, sing, and act, but none of them are Doris Day. Quite simply, Doris Day was the ideal girl next door. She was not only American's Sweetheart, but sweetheart to the whole world. Miss Day was certainly beautiful on the outside, but it was surpassed by her inner beauty. Her co-stars all adored her. They all spoke of her kindness and generosity. In my entire life I don't think I ever heard Doris Day say a truly unkind word about anyone. What is more, she simply radiated joy. Whether performing in a movie or being interviewed for a news story, one could not help but feel happy seeing Doris Day. Miss Day 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. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy." She certainly succeeded in making others happy.

Of course, Doris Day's compassion for others extended beyond her fellow human beings. She was as famous as an animal welfare activist as she was an actress or singer. Miss Day had become interested in animal welfare when she was only a teen. She co-founded Actors and Others for Animals in 1971. In 1978 she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation, now the Doris Day Animal Foundation. In 1987 she founded the Doris Day Animal League. She would lobby politicians for legislation related to animal welfare. As someone who loves animals myself and worries about their welfare, I have always looked up to Doris Day. Indeed, for animal welfare activists, Doris Day is our patron saint.

I never met Miss Day, nor did I ever correspond with her. Still, given how long I have been a Doris Day fan, it feels as if I have lost a friend. I am sure there are many others around the world who feel the same. It was one of Doris Day's many gifts that she able to bring joy to so many. While Miss Day is no longer with us, I know that when I am feeling down I can put on one of her movies or her albums and I will feel better. I believe it might be well be impossible to see Miss Day and not feel happy. In a world where sorrow is all too common, this gift made Doris Day truly special.

No comments: