Culture Street

Sophia's Column

No other performer has been so underrated

On December 9, 2012


By Sophia Whitfield

Like most I have my favourite Christmas soundtracks, the ones I play when entertaining at Christmas to fill the house with festive cheer.

When I think of Christmas music I donít think of the Kingís College Cambridge Choir, Frank Sinatra or even Michael Buble. For me it is always Doris Day with classics such as Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps, Que Sera Sera and Here Comes Santa Claus.

As a student I spent my Christmas holidays working in Liberty, one of the most iconic British department stores in Regent Street, London. Downstairs, in the grotto, I lay in wait for all the Christmas shoppers who needed assistance with their present wrapping. Exhausted shoppers wandered through in their coats wielding their wet umbrellas.

As I wrapped, with two other young students, Doris Day played. She sang to us all day and well into the evening as we wrapped jewellery, scarves and even occasionally umbrellas. We always felt sorry for the wives on the receiving end of an umbrella. However in London an umbrella is a necessity and if you have to have one, then an umbrella with Liberty print is just about the best you can buy.

So Christmas for me is still always linked to the music sung by the great Doris Day. It seems I am not the only one who links Doris Day with the festive season. The British Film Institute is celebrating this iconic actress by showing twelve of her films throughout December.

Forty-four years after she left films, Doris Day is still the top female box-office draw of all time.† For seven consecutive years, beginning in 1959, Day was one of the top four box-office attractions (coming in alongside Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Stewart). She proved as adept in drama as in the light comedies that made her name, and for four of those years, she shone at the number one spot.

She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Pillow Talk (1950) and made a name for herself as the tomboy in Calamity Jane (1953). Her leading men included Cary Grant, Rock Hudson and Frank Sinatra.

Variety film critic David Benedict commented that no other starís work has been so underrated. He puts this down to the fact that the critics at the time were predominantly men. Men dominated the film chatter. The genres she chose to perform in were romantic, musical and comedy. Genres men were not interested in. Hitchcock however did recognise her talent casting her in his remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

She made a lot of bad films as well as good ones. Day starred in 39 films, 17 of them between 1948 -1955. Three films every year meant there was not a great deal of quality control, she was guided by her husband, who was, in film critic David Benedictís eyes, a man of poor taste.

She was a reluctant star, she didnít want to perform in her first film and even cried during her screen test. Her ambition was to be a dancer, but a terrible car accident in her youth destroyed her hopes of this ever becoming a reality.

Women of the fifties and sixties have enjoyed resurgence with the popularity of Mad Men. Day was ahead of her time when she played a female account executive at a Madison Avenue firm in Lover Come Back. Women then, as portrayed in Mad Men, were allowed no power at all. As well as on screen, off screen Day also wanted to maintain her independence.

Doris Day was an amazing star, an icon of unattainable perfection with an all round wholesome quality about her. She was known to have turned down the role of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate because she disapproved of nudity.

Today it is her voice that is still so recognizable, The beauty of her film performances was in the intimacy of her renditions, she sang always as if singing to one person and the result was magic on the screen.

If you are in London, go along to the BFI Doris Day Festival. If not I recommend Pillow Talk or Teacherís Pet as brilliant Doris Day films that can be shared with the whole family or perhaps listen to her music, it is sure to help you through the festive season.

 

 

 

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