“Once I flew a plane Jack. The pilot gave me the controls. We were deadheading with no passengers. This is not flying alone and its not landing a plane.”
Crowned by many as the epitome of perfection, the legendary actress, singer and animal activist, Doris Day carved her way into history and is revered by legions of film-goers the world over.
After commencing her career as a big band singer in 1939, Doris Day went on to craft a sustainable tenure in motion pictures, and amassed a total of thirty-nine films before retiring from Hollywood to embark on a successful journey as an animal rights activist.
Doris Day first rose to super-stardom when she attained a role in the 1948 film Romance On the High Seas, a romantic musical comedy that would ultimately set the young actress on a successful career in motion pictures. The film was a commercial hit, and Day’s introductory to celluloid was steeped in acclamation.
Although Doris Day is mostly associated with her memorable string of rom-coms, especially those starring Rock Hudson and James Garner, she also excelled at playing more dramatic roles and proved time and time again that her talents transcended her most frequented genre. By 1950, Day was already prominently established in Hollywood. The films she was cast in perfectly fitted her personality, and her sunny and effervescent disposition allured audiences and had them begging for more.
In 1950, Doris had only been in Hollywood for two years when U.S. servicemen in Korea voted her their favorite star. This kind of recognition was a great privilege for Day, who had a habit of underestimating her talents and never considered herself to be a virtuoso at her craft. That same year, Doris found herself stuck in a difficult relationship triangle with Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall in Young Man With a Horn, a dark and brooding film that is set against a backdrop of haunting and melodic jazz music.
Young Man With A Horn was quite a departure for Doris Day. Even though Doris was once again cast as the good girl in a less showy role, the film itself was heavy, and her character was exposed to the more grittier side of life rather than the idyllic world that Day had become accustomed to in most of her pictures. The final result was not spectacular, and many aspects of the film was panned, but it did do justice to Doris Day whose performance provided audiences with a glimpse into the window of her genius. For the first time fans could easily witness Day’s dramatic potential and realized that her career was flourishing.
As an actress, Doris Day was eager to charter foreign territory. She was growing tired of being cast as the girl next door, and was yearning for something more challenging. Despite her enthusiastic approach, Doris’ transition into more complex roles was not imminent. Before she could reach those desired heights, Day was forced to play her usual wholesome and virginal characters in lightweight productions.
In 1951, Doris took a leap towards success as a dramatic actress when she was cast alongside Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan in Storm Warning, a Film Noir production that has Doris married to a Ku Klux Klansman. Unfortunately, the film was not compatible with critics and continues to remain one of Warner Brothers. greatest disappointments.
The films critical reception was a major setback for Doris too, who was desperate to shed her wholesome image and nurture a career as a dramatic actress. The fact that nobody was recognizing the scope of her talents was frustrating and quite degrading. It only made her look at her career through the lens of negativity rather than focusing on the positive aspects, but in spite of all this, Day still retained her vivacity and sparkle.
While millions worldwide couldn’t get enough of Day’s beaming ray of sunshine and infectious smile, Doris herself constantly spent her time searching for that glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. What she didn’t realize though, is that success was on the horizon and a door that led to greater opportunities was about to be opened.
It all came to a head in 1955 when Doris Day was cast in the title role of Ruth Etting in Love Me Or Leave Me, a biopic melodrama based on the turbulent life of the famous jazz singer. The film was a turning point for Doris both personally and professionally. Audiences and critics touted it as Doris’ greatest screen achievement, and for once, Day herself envisioned that success was looming. Although, Doris was wanting to disseminate her talents, she was initially hesitant to take on the role. The part of Ruth Etting required Day to exude an air of raciness and crudeness, something that Day’s characters never essayed on screen. If she was to accept the offer there was the possibility that fans may not react positively, or worse still, she feared that her career could be tarnished.
The instrumental force behind Doris Day being cast in Love Me or Leave Me was her co-star James Cagney. Jane Russell and Ava Gardner were the original choices, but Cagney, who had worked with Day in The West Point Story ( 1950 ), recognized that Doris was the only star that could perfectly embody the characteristics of Ruth Etting, and suggested to producer Joe Pasternak that she be hired.
The film was Doris’ stepping stone into more dramatic territory. In 1956, Day found herself in the presence of Alfred Hitchcock when she was cast in The Man Who Knew Too Much, a remake of Hitchcock’s 1934 film of the same name. The casting of Doris as Josephine McKenna was a masterstroke of success. Hitchcock was reportedly that impressed with Day’s performance in Storm Warning, that he demanded that the part be assigned to her. However, associate producer, Herbert Coleman had a different opinion. He was unsure whether Day was capable of handling such a challenging role and suggested that a more suitable blonde get the part.
Love Me or Leave Me propelled Doris Day to super-stardom, but its also true that Alfred Hitchcock assisted in catapulting her to even greater heights. If Doris hits emotional depths in The Man Who Knew Too Much, once she finds out her sons been kidnapped, she certainly encounters another harrowing experience in her next picture when she is thrust into the throes of danger.
It’s hard to imagine any of Doris Day’s characters enduring such a catastrophic situation. Most of the people that Day brought to life on screen were the epitome of happiness. They radiated warmth and usually carried an air of comicality, but if there was one such individual that didn’t define any of these qualities, it would be Julie Benton, an amiable and innocent young woman, who is married to a dangerously jealous psychopath.
Julie Benton is the star attraction in the 1956 film Julie, a psychological thriller that came from the pen of Andrew L. Stone, who also served as director. The film is a minor entry in Day’s filmography, but it was lauded for bringing together Doris Day and Louis Jourdan along with a stellar supporting cast, which includes, Barry Sullivan and Frank Lovejoy.
The plot of Julie closely echos many other women in peril stories. Set in Picturesque Carmel, and starring Doris Day in the titular role, the film is an examination in psychology and taps into extreme jealousy and dangerous obsession. At the heart of the movie is Julie Benton ( Doris Day ), a remarried widow, who believes that her husband Lyle ( Louis Jourdan ) is hiding a dark secret. When she suspects that Lyle may have murdered her late husband, Julie is faced with a perplexing crisis that will exacerbate once Lyle confesses to committing the crime. Realizing that she is in immediate danger and that Lyle is only out to destroy her, Julie turns to her long time friend Cliff Henderson ( Barry Sullivan ) for support, and together the two hatch an escape plan. Is Julie able to flee to safer territory? or will Lyle catch up with her? Watch the movie and find out.
As I stated in the synopsis, Julie is the quintessential woman in peril movie. In our case the victim is played by Doris Day, who once again proves her adeptness at character manifestation by taking on more challenging and complex roles that differentiated from her usual portrayals of singing sweethearts or amiable fun-loving human beings. What is impressive about Day’s performance is that she never acts like a damsel in distress. Instead of being crippled with fear, Julie is strong-willed and embraces the situation with a more durable state of mind. This is not saying that Julie’s fears are absent. Like any person who’s experienced any sort of terrifying event, Julie does have her bouts of uneasiness and panic, but she does not let it take control of her.
Thankfully, Julie Benton has one major advantage. She may have a hard time convincing the police that Lyle murdered her late husband and that his latest endeavor is to terrorize her. But at least she has reputable support that comes in the form of Cliff Henderson – her long time friend and associate, who is her pillar of strength and will constantly aid her throughout this terrifying ordeal. In many ways, Cliff embodies the role of a leader. He’s the one that initially suspected that Julie’s first husband’s death was not suicide, and he was the instrumental force behind Julie’s escape. Even before Julie realized that Lyle was dangerous, Cliff knew that Lyle had a few skeletons in his closet, and that Julie is not safe while she’s in his presence.
Barry Sullivan is one of those classic film stars who are hard to define. He was not categorized as a leading man, nor could he be classed as a character actor. Despite his cumbrous position, Sullivan was prolifically in demand as a supporting player. In a career that spanned fifty-one years, Sullivan had acquired almost two-hundred credits to his resume, and became known for his portrayals of dependable individuals who lent solid support to those he crossed paths with on screen.
On the other hand, actor Louis Jourdan’s presence on screen is much more sinister. From early on audiences can establish that jealousy is the root to his evil motivations. Lyle’s incentive to terrorize Julie is also coupled by his explosive temper and commanding ways. Although, Jourdan was no stranger to playing abominable characters, it was reported that he disliked the fact that he was portraying a husband who imbued feelings of hatred towards Day’s Julie Benton. Incidentally, Doris Day and Louis Jourdan acted like inseparable friends on set. This relationship contrasted with their tense and uneasy entanglement in the film.
Coined by author James McKay as the “epitome of suave Continental”, Louis Jourdan was not among those actors who had to exploit their sex appeal to spawn success. His dark and brooding looks and French features were beneficial when it came to modelling character traits and securing roles. He could easily fit the position of a handsome suitor or a suspected criminal with a formidable past. But these days he is best remembered for his triumphant turn as Gaston, the rich playboy in the 1958 musical Gigi.
The filming of Julie was far from memorable for Doris Day. Away from the cameras, the actress was in the midst of a personal crisis. The emotional turmoil that was surrounding her was stemming from the problems that were fueled by husband Marty Melcher. Doris’ troubles exacerbated that much that she began to call the movie set her safe sanctuary. It was the only place where she truly felt secure, and often times she found herself clinging to her co-stars for support. In 1958, Day admitted that she was searching for a measure of inner peace and stated “I was a success, it seemed that I had everything – including a lot of fears that I couldn’t put my finger on.”
As the tension between Day and Melcher mounted, the atmosphere on the movie set became less congenial, and the constant fights were starting to thwart their relationship and marriage. Interestingly, the core to all their troubles was the production company titled “Arwin Productions” that the two had formed. The fact that Marty was serving as the films producer made it worse. Instead of being supportive of his wife, Melcher had the innate ability to be tyrannical and overly controlling. To further escalate matters, he firmly believed that Doris’ friendship with Louis Jourdan was reaching the bounds of sexual intimacy, a feeling that he could not shake off.
“The biggest argument we ever had, was when Marty and I got into our first independent production, a movie called Julie. Up to then, he was my husband and manager, and I’d come home nights and tell him all my troubles. But with Julie I came home to a producer, a worried producer who was way behind schedule, and I suppose I was as much to blame for that as anyone.”
There are not many sources that hint at Doris Day and Louis Jourdan being romantically involved, but it is true that both stars had forged a close friendship. Ironically, Day had gotten to know Jourdan when he lived across the street from her in Beverly Hills. The fact that the two were more than acquaintances made it beneficial for Doris on the set.
What made the film even worse for Doris is that the plot closely echoed her turbulent marriage with Al Jorden. The actress despised having to make a picture that harkened back to past events. She wanted to completely omit her darkest hours from her memory, and when Marty Melcher assigned Day without any notification, their tense relationship began to spiral out of control. Doris soon learned that the only way to appease Melcher was to give in and accept his plans.
If the first series of obstacles were a slight indicator of the dramas the filming process would entail, Doris may have refused to yield to Melcher’s demands. In fact, the whole experience can be summed up to nothing more than a complete nightmare. As soon as Day entered the movie set she was plagued with a multitude of difficulties. This was coupled by a tight and exhausting work schedule, which allowed her little time to rest.
Adding to the emotional strains that Doris Day was already inflicted with, was a health crisis that threatened to throw things out of orbit. A few weeks after filming commenced, Day was hospitalized due to severe hemorrhaging. It was soon determined that a tumor the size of a grapefruit was growing in her intestines, and an immediate operation was required. To say that the recovery process transcended the problems on the movie set would not be an understatement. During this period, Doris was marred with intense pain, the inability to walk and continuous bouts of depression. Her biggest upset came when she was delivered the crushing news that she would not be able to have another baby. Motherhood was a full time job that seemed to enlighten Doris, and the thought that she may never be able to carry another child was devastating.
What Marty Melcher failed to tell Doris is that there was a lot involved. In order to play the role of Julie Benton, Doris had to be fully equipped. For the films finale where Day’s character is forced to pilot an aircraft to a safe landing after the pilot and Lyle Benton are shot dead, Doris was required to undertake a three week stewardess training course. Even though she was often busily detained studying the career of an air-hostess, Doris found the overall experience to be rewarding, and as a result she developed a whole new appreciation for stewardesses in general.
“I held my breath and shut my eyes as long as I could. By the time I had my eyes open again we were airborne. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t scared, that I was actually enjoying the feeling of flying. I must have hypnotized myself because now I feel safer in a plane than in a car.”
As much as Doris enjoyed taking flying lessons, she couldn’t help but dwell over the negative aspects of filming. Even the first day of lessons were marked with disaster. While driving her new Cadillac to training, Doris was struck amidship by a juvenile in a hot-rod racer, who was speeding through a red light. Surprisingly, Marty and Terry managed to escape uninjured. However, Doris had acquired serious bruising and was sent to hospital, where she underwent a series of X-Rays. Fortunately, no severe damage was caused. The car was completely demolished – though neither event disrupted much of Day’s work plans.
Despite the grueling demands that filming entailed, the one aspect that did evoke a considerable amount of interest in Doris was the location shooting in Carmel. Nestled in the heart of Monterey, California, this pet friendly town is encompassed by lush scenery and spell-binding views. The actress was enchanted by the picturesque landscape and the serene tranquility that she was reportedly left with an ingrained sense of nostalgia. In fact, Day was that impressed with what she saw that the quaint seaside community of Carmel would ultimately become her primary residence.
For over forty years, the seaside community of Carmel served as Doris Day’s residence. Since permanently relocating, Day established herself as an animal welfare activist and formed The Doris Day Pet Foundation, which is now known as the Doris Day Animal Foundation. In 1985, Day and her partner Denny LeVett purchased the luxurious Cypress Inn and transformed it into a pet friendly hotel.
Doris Day often noted that her years in Carmel were her happiest. Although she had retired from movie making, Day spent most of her time caring for her many pets and overseeing her animal foundation. When she wasn’t working closely with the animals, the former actress could be glimpsed strolling along the beach with her four-legged friends or shopping at her favorite supermarket in Carmel.
Doris Day’s move to Carmel forever shaped the region and helped turn it into the tourist destination that it is today. Every April Doris fans across the nation make their annual pilgrimage to Carmel to celebrate the beloved stars birthday. One of the greatest highlights of the event is when a deluge of guests gather at the Quail Golf Course in Carmel Valley to sing “Happy Birthday” to their idol as she waved to the assembled crowd from her balcony that overlooks the golf resort.
On April 3rd, 2019, Doris Day celebrated what was to be her final birthday. To mark her 97th year on earth, Day reportedly stated that she looked forward to spending the day with her pets and ice-cream. Her close friend Jackie Joseph commented that Day was in happy spirits and seemed to enjoy the festivities. However, others close to the actress noted that she appeared more tired than usual – an early sign of an unpronounced illness.
Doris Day had been in fine health for her age. She was living a contented and fulfilled life among her pets and took great pride in the work she did for the animals. Suddenly this all came to a halt in early May 2019, when Day was hospitalized after contracting a serious bout of pneumonia. Despite the nature of her illness, Day insisted on a fast return home. On the morning of May 13th, Doris Day passed away peacefully at her Carmel Valley paradise with her close friends and beloved dogs by her side. She was 97 years old.
The passing of Doris Day is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry. To many people she was not just an actress – she was a friend everyone wishes they had. Millions worldwide depend on her to lift their spirits whenever they are feeling depressed. Her silky honey voice and sunny screen persona have helped cultivate a legacy that will remain imperishable. There will never be another Doris Day.
Of the many films that Doris Day appeared in, the budget for this one ($785,000) was reportedly the lowest. This because Arwin Productions (the Doris Day–Martin Melcher company) kept cost to a minimum.
Despite negative reviews, this film was profitable for M-G-M, costing under $800,000 and grossing more than $2.5 million.
Doris Day: Born, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3rd, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Died: May 13th, 2019 in Carmel, California. Aged: 97.
Louis Jourdan: Born, Louis Robert Gendre on June 19th, 1921 in Marseille, France. Died: February 14th, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. Aged: 93.
Barry Sullivan: Born, Patrick Barry Sullivan on August 29th, 1912 in New York City. Died: June 6th, 1994 in Sherman Oaks, California. Aged: 81.