Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Day Break

The star of this week's Dance Party made a clean break with show business in the mid-70s, and in subsequent decades, has done a terrific job of living outside the limelight.  Her reclusiveness has been so thorough, in fact, that her lengthy career in film, television, and on recordings is easily overlooked.  But Doris Day was a major star of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  She was the number one  box office draw four years, and was in the top ten for ten years.  Somebody crunched the numbers and, on the strength of those hits, has named her the number one female box office star of all time.  I won't quibble with that math.  Doris was not one of my favorites, I must admit, as I found her image a little clean-cut for my taste (a comic once quipped, "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin"), and her style of wholesomeness went out of style in the late 60s.  She famously turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, for "moral reasons;" the film would have undoubtedly reignited her career. 

Instead, she turned to television to pay off debts left by her husband/manager, who died without telling her he had committed her to a sitcom for CBS.  The Doris Day Show ran a respectable five years, holding the timeslot preceding The Carol Burnett Show on Monday nights; the show is remembered as being a lightweight comedy in the vein of My Three Sons and Family Affair

The program underwent some of the most dramatic changes in cast and premise of any sitcom in history, with Doris beginning the series as a widow with two sons, living on a farm.  In subsequent seasons, our heroine moved to the city, worked as a secretary, then as a magazine writer, and in the final year, her kids disappeared without explanation. 
Rose Marie played second banana to Doris
for two seasons.
The cast rotated wildly, with McLean Stevenson, Rose Marie, Peter Lawford, Bernie Kopell, Kaye Ballard, Denver Pyle, Jackie Joseph, and Billy DeWolfe all cycling through the series as regulars, at one time or another.

Day is a staunch animal rights advocate.
She wouldn't be caught dead in a mink
these days.
After the show folded, Day more or less retired from show business, though she resurfaced with a little show devoted to animals on the Christian Broadcast Network.  In recent decades, she has become a bit of a recluse.  She declined as many awards as she won, turning down both the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor.  She accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in absentia, and was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement, among other awards.  These days, she lives under her birth name in a seaside California town, and occasionally surfaces for a radio interview (she steadfastly refuses to allow current pictures of herself to be circulated).
Doris Day's Best Friends marked the final public
appearance of Rock Hudson, whose gaunt visage
confirmed rumors of AIDS.
Her thorough absence has done a good job of removing her from the public consciousness, so it's been easily forgotten what a big star she once was.  

Day's performance as Calamity Jane is
iconic in lesbian circles,
and her hit "Secret Love" has subtextual
meaning. Rumors of her
bisexuality pop up periodically.
Her singing guided two songs to Oscars ("Secret Love," from Calamity Jane, and "Que Sera Sera," which became her signature song), and she was at home in musicals, heavy dramas, and light romantic comedies. 
Pillow Talk yielded Doris's only Oscar nod.
The field included Liz Taylor and both Hepburns.
They all lost to Simone Signoret.
This week's Dance Party features one of her rare dance numbers.  Doris hoped to have a career as a dancer, but a car accident in the late 30s damaged her legs; you would never know it from this sequence from Lullaby of Broadway. Doris Day turned 88 years old this week.