Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Turner Movie Classics is having a Doris Day week all this week.Probably because Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff was born 89 years ago yesterday. Y'think?

Anyway, I have a funny thing with Doris. In a lot of ways I enjoy both her public person and her work.

She was, and is, a very gorgeous and talented woman and I'm a sucker for smart, funny, handsome women.And while I think she's often pigeonholed in the "Fifties Crinoline" ghetto of leading ladies of the late studio period, assumed to be a sort of one-trick genre pony because of her bedroom farce work with Rock Hudson, she's a genuinely watchable actress, a hell of a singer, and a fairly gifted comedian. She did a lot of good stuff during her movie period, and her place as one of the divas of the American Songbook she earned her props.

But, at the same time, I really dislike her bedroom comedies. It's not just the now-infamous mismatch between the on-screen cliche ravenous-playboy-and-tightassed-virgin and the behind-the-screen cliche gay man and clueless (supposedly - Day has said publicly that she had no idea her co-star liked boys, too) het starlet.

It's the whole revirgination that the studio, their publicists, and the public foisted on Doris.

It's my understanding that she had the perfectly healthy sexual appetite. Doris was young and attractive in a place full of other young, attractive people; she was financially successful, making enough money to support herself, and frankly had no real reason not to enjoy any number of liasons, friendly, romantic, sexual, or all three if she so chose.

Doris herself later (in 1975) claimed that she liked to get busy, didn't try to hide that (beyond the normal public duplicity required in the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties), and had no part in the "virgin-girl-next-door" maskirova:
"The succession of cheerful, period musicals I made, plus Oscar Levant's highly publicized comment about my virginity ("I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin.") contributed to what has been called my 'image', which is a word that baffles me. There never was any intent on my part either in my acting or in my private life to create any such thing as an image."
Sadly, what she did seem to have is a terrible run of luck - or terrible choices - in her long-term relationships. Her husbands (and she had four) were almost uniformly either wretched bastards or fools. At least two of them were Christian Scientists - which IMO qualifies as both - whose goofy woo-wooism nearly got her killed when she went for years with an undiagnosed breast cancer.So I can't get away from thinking about the woman's off-screen life when I watch her romantic comedies. The sexual double standard a Doris Day romcom hammers on is the mirror image of Doris Kappelhof's sexual life.

He's supposed to be - and usually is - a tomcat on the prowl. She's supposed to be - and usually is - this simpering missish little bit of fluff - but one who succumbs to his devilish charm.

He wants sex from her and throws out "love" (or a simulacrum of love) to try and get it. He tricks her, fools her, abuses her - in a sense - and she loves him for it.Meanwhile, she doesn't - and isn't supposed to - even think about sex until she realizes she luuuurves him...and then she finds a way to trap him into marriage to get both.

Her own welfare, her own business, are not even important enough for her to worry about, let alone him!

(For what it's worth, the worst one of these things I've come across wasn't a Hudson picture but something called The Glass Bottomed Boat she did in 1966 with Rod Taylor; it's also called "The Spy In Lace Panties", from which you get the idea. The worst insult is the point where Doris literally overhears Rod telling his crony that she's an idiotic life support system for a vagina that he's tricking into bed - and she ends up in bed with him anyway. It's a wretched mess, and it seems to have been a box-office hit. Ugh.)

So while I enjoy watching many of Day's films, she sometimes makes me uneasy. I just can't help watching Rock and Rod (not gay, those names, eh?) make a fool of her on the screen without thinking of her husbands beating on her and stealing from her and making a fool of her in life.

Art imitating life? Or life - in the persons of those husbands - learning what art told it it was supposed to do?Sometimes I wonder if Doris herself, walking alone through the rooms of her house in Carmel with only her pets for company, wonders that, too.

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