Happy 90th, Doris Day

Today being Doris Day’s 90th birthday, Turner Classic Movies has dedicated the week to her. By Saturday, almost thirty of her nearly forty movies will have been shown.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Day was a prominent part of my early exposure to movies. A few years later, I learned to dislike her–but that was primarily because of her television show, which I now know she hated almost as much as I.

Only over the past few years have I re-learned to enjoy her movies. They are not great films, but they sure are a lot of fun. The one that brought me back was The Pajama Game. I was attracted back to it, at first, by Carol Haney and Bob Fosse–and “Steam Heat.” At that time, I was finally beginning to learn something about the Hollywood musical, and had been smitten by Fosse’s bit of choreography in Kiss Me Kate, a short dance number with Haney–a number that contained almost everything that would eventually become signature Fosse.

Though I had come for Fosse, I stayed for Day (and, to some degree, for John Raitt). Though I loathed (and still do) “There Once Was a Man,” I found the rest of the movie delightful, and Day a comfortable, even comforting presence. Once, just a few years later, I even used lines from “Hernando’s Hideaway” in a conference keynote talk (I just can’t keep movies out of anything I do).

Since then, I have eagerly watched movies of Day’s with James Stewart, Cary Grant and, of course, Rock Hudson. At no point have I been impressed with direction (not even when it was Alfred Hitchcock, in that remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was much better in his earlier version with Peter Lorre) or writing, but I grow more and more fond of her. She liked making movies, and that comes through on the screen.

The only of her movies that I watched last night was Lullaby of Broadway, where she dances more energetically than in any other movie (bad knees had kept her from becoming a dancer in the first place). Her co-star, Gene Nelson, is not someone I’ve been really familiar with, but I watched him with interest. In some ways, he seemed to be trying to be a younger and taller Fred Astaire, but there was also a hint of Gene Kelly’s athleticism. He didn’t seem to be a dancer who could define himself.

Maybe that, for dancers, now that Astaire and Kelly were somewhat old hat, would have to wait a couple more years–until Fosse donned his new one and changed Broadway and film dance for the fifties as much as Astaire had done in the twenties (for Broadway) and thirties (for film).

Anyway… Happy birthday, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. You delighted me back when movies were a constant astonishment… and you delight me today.

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