Doris Day might seem to have been as far from a Reprobate as you could get – the ‘girl next door’ whose wholesomeness was the butt of many a joke (the famous Oscar Levant line “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin”, for example). But Day made a series of films that we love – movies that were seen as ‘sex comedies’ at the time of release, though ‘romantic comedy’ might be more accurate. Her films of the 1960s – starting in 1959 with Pillow Talk and continuing with Please Don’t East the Daisies, That Touch of Mink, Move Over Darling, The Thrill of It All, Send Me No Flowers, Do Not Disturb, The Glass Bottom Boat and Caprice are a solid collection of work, and Day and regular co-stars Rock Hudson and James Garner are consistently fun to watch (her pairings with Rod Taylor and Richard Harris are less successful, simply because neither actor was well suited to the ‘light romantic lead’ role). For some years, she was the number one female box office star in America, but by the end of the decade, Day’s comedies seemed a bit staid, and after 1968, she would work in TV on The Doris Day Show before eventually retiring.
Day wasn’t just about the lightweight – she worked with Hitchcock in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, and in 1960 appeared in psycho thriller Midnight Lace. But it’s the comedies that she is best known for, and time has been kind to these films – lightweight and fluffy they may be, but they are unquestionably entertaining, comfort food viewing.
Of course, Day was as well known as a singer as she was an actress, and recorded numerous albums – her last, 2011’s comeback piece My Heart – her first in 46 years! – reached number one in the UK charts. The album was produced by her son, Terry Melcher, who back in the 1960s had a curious connection – some say fatal – to Charles Manson: he’d lived the the house subsequently owned by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, and had angered Charlie by not making him a recording star.
Doris Day’s music is charming, classic easy listening; her films are wonderful comedies that are wonderful fun. She deserves to be remembered as more than just a perpetual virgin (whose characters, we should note, often had children – presumably the result of immaculate conception) and the personification of tweeness.