Reel Dad: Remembering Doris Day

She made it look so easy.

Of the movie stars we cherished in the 1950s and 1960s, Doris Day was often the one we suspected could be playing herself. She was that natural on screen.

But there was much more to this actress than a personality or a smile. Looking back, Day excelled at playing a wide range of roles in comedies, musicals and dramas, from dedicated career women to devoted mothers to determined performers. Yet she was much too clever to reveal any technique. She simply was.

Although Day left the movies in the late 1960s, and died on May 13, we will always cherish her performances. Here are some of my favorites.

Tea for Two (1950)

After singing with the Les Brown Orchestra, and igniting the hit parade with her recording of “Sentimental Journey,” Day finds her way to the movie screen in 1948 with “Romance on the High Seas.” Her initial career spotlights her likable personality and natural ability to phrase a song in a series of light musicals. This take off on the Broadway musical “No, No Nanette” is a delight.

Doris Day in Love Me or Leave Me.

Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

Following one musical success after another, Day reinvents herself the first time with a serious role in “Young at Heart” opposite Frank Sinatra. A year later, the actress creates movie magic with this story of vocalist Ruth Etting and her turbulent relationship with a gangster played by James Cagney. Day should have been Oscar nominated for a performance of range and depth.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Day continues to stretch her acting muscles with a pitch-perfect dramatic performance in this thriller from director Alfred Hitchcock. Playing a wife and mother, who once sang on the stage, Day stops the show with her rendition of “Que Sera Sera,” an Oscar-winning song that later became the theme song of her television series.

Pajama Game (1957)

As the star of this lavish movie adaptation of the Broadway musical, Day sparkles in the musical numbers, scores in the comedy scenes and touches in the serious moments. Her presence is winning and natural as she celebrates the joy of musical comedy with a performance of energy and drive. And she makes it look so easy.

Pillow Talk (1959)

At a moment when some think her career has peaked, Day reinvents herself a second time as a comedy star in this piece of lovely romantic fluff costarring Rock Hudson. The actress wins her only Oscar nomination for a performance filled with joy and spontaneity. And she initiates the most successful chapter of her film career.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)

Sandwiched between two blockbuster romantic comedies — “Pillow Talk” and “Lover Come Back” — Day shines in this lovely comedy about a family who leaves the chaos of Manhattan for a quiet life “in the country”. The actress conveys such calm and serenity that we expect a cake to be baked at any moment. And she sings, too.

Doris Day in The Thrill of It All.

The Thrill of It All (1963)

At the height of her popularity, the nation’s number one box office star creates what may be her most endearing portrayal as a happily married woman who finds sudden fame on television as a spokesperson for a soap company. The laughs are steady and sincere in a comedy that never lets the humor get in the way of the heart.

Thank you, Doris Day, for making movies we still savor. And making it all look so easy.

More About Doris Day

Beyond the better-known movies in the Doris Day collection are some gems that few may remember all these years later. Check these out, as well, as you recall this marvelous actress.

Young at Heart (1955)

One of Day’s first portrayals of a complex character comes in this dramatic musical based on the film “Four Daughters.” Day radiates warmth as a young woman who wants to believe in her husband, played by Frank Sinatra, despite his faults. While the two have strong musical moments, the drama of this film makes it memorable.

Teacher’s Pet (1958)

Day’s flair for comedy shines in this delightful romantic interlude opposite movie legend Clark Gable. The actress plays a journalism teacher who invites crusty reporter Gable to speak to her class. Of course, opposites attract, as usual in 1950s movies, but Day rises above the conventional material to deliver a lovely performance.

Midnight Lace (1960)

Just when you thought it was safe to walk through a foggy park in London comes this Doris Day thriller! As if borrowing from the leftovers of Alfred Hitchcock, director David Miller casts the star as a newlywed feeling chased by strangers without anyone, especially her sinister husband, showing any concern. But Day looks fabulous.

Lover Come Back (1961)

Following the success of “Pillow Talk,” movie audiences wanted more comedies starring Day and Rock Hudson. This one heavily borrows from the plot and tone of the earlier film and, despite feeling a bit like a repeat, it’s still a lot of fun. And, no matter how familiar it could all be, Day makes it feel fresh.

That Touch of Mink (1962)

One of Day’s many hits of the early 1960s is this romantic comedy costarring Cary Grant. She plays a worker in an automat in Manhattan who avoid the romantic suggestions of the wealthy Grant. Complications begin, as in most films of this genre, until the parties at hand decided to go hand-in-hand to the party. The automat sequences still delight.

Move Over, Darling (1963)

James Garner again joins Day on screen for this fun remake of the film “My Favorite Wife,” originally intended to be a Marilyn Monroe comeback vehicle called “Something’s Gotta Give.” Day shines in the Monroe role of a woman who returns home five years after her husband thought she was lost at sea.

With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)

With changes in the tastes of movie audiences — and Day’s decision to turn down the role of a philandering woman in The Graduate a year earlier — the actress looks at home in this family comedy about a man and woman who bring their many children together when they marry. Day again shows her natural ability to work with child actors.

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