Doris Day’s 12 Best Pieces of Work

We lost Doris Day at 97 in 2019.

Having succeeded as a singer, actress in movies/on TV, TV host and animal-rights activist, she was one of Hollywood's most revered women.

Here, my picks for the dozen best things she ever did, creatively. Let me know what I have left out!

(12) "A Guy Is a Guy" (1952): Capitalizing on her "good girl" image, Day went to #1 with this suggestive — and then crazily conservative — hit about boys being boys, and how getting kissed on a date will end with the dude and your parents deciding you should be married. See, marriage is "what he did to me." Does it fit with today's mores? No, but it's hard to keep a good girl down.

Human bundle of cuteness (GIF via GIPHY)

(11) The Doris Day Show (1968-1973): Filmed through cheesecloth and as wholesome as a kitten up a tree, this riotously warm-hearted series simply does not play today. But it plays if you remember it from the first time around, with Doris at its gooey center — the proverbial shotgun to her head, having been committed to the series by her thieving husband Martin Melcher (1915-1968). Her fab co-stars like Jackie Joseph (b. 1933), Rose Marie (1923-2017) and Kaye Ballard (1925-2019) helped make the show an anachronistic delight.

See Jane mosey ... (GIF via GIPHY)

(10) Calamity Jane (1953): Day makes for a glam, effervescent Calamity Jane (1852-1903) in this guilty-pleasure Technicolor western that preposterously asks us to believe that Jane and Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876), played by Howard Keel (1919-2004) were lovers.

(9) "Sentimental Journey" (1945): Day's very first hit came 74 years ago in the form of this Les Brown (1912-2001)-powered hit, sung with a kittenish confidence that made the country fall in love immediately. One of the best pop voices of the last century, and one of the most iconic of all time.

(8) The Thrill of It All (1963): Directed by Norman Jewison (b. 1926), this charming, suburban comedy showed off Day's delicious chemistry with James Garner (1928-2014), one of her favorite co-stars.

Taking a Paige from Broadway (Image via Warner Bros.)

(7) The Pajama Game (1957): Day took the lead from Broadway's Janis Paige (b. 1922), but she knocked it outta the park — even if Carol Haney (1924-1964) and her "Steam Heat" stole the show.

(6) Lover Come Back (1961): The second Doris Day/Rock Hudson (1925-1985) flick, a mistaken-identity romp, was a great argument for a third — fun, fun, fun, and Tony Randall (1920-2004) was Oscar-worthy.

(5) "Secret Love" (1953): From Calamity Jane (1953), this unforgettable classic could only have been a #1 smash — and won its writers an Oscar — thanks to Day's pure vocal. Still as timeless and yearning 66 years later.

Day's big fright (GIF via GIPHY)

(4) The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956): Day had so few truly great roles on the big screen, and while the role of Jo, a popular singer married to a doctor who becomes embroiled in an assassination plot, was not a heavy lift, director Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) preserves for all time Day's perfect instincts in any genre, arguably the height of her allure and, of course, that song — that song!

(3) Love Me or Leave Me (1955): Day could have been a fine dramatic actress had she not focused on light comedy, and this film proves it. In it, she plays torch singer Ruth Etting (1897-1978), and belts beautifully while capturing Etting's rough life. It's a gutsy, passionate performance for the ages.

(2) "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" (1956): The kind of song they don't make anymore, but a song you can't get out of your head if you happen to hear a piece of it. How delightfully twisted that Hitchcock used it as a plot point in his outstanding The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) remake. It was a #2 hit for Day, and is her signature tune.

Movie magic! (Image via Universal)

(1) Pillow Talk (1959): Day capped off the '50s with her quintessential movie and performance, playing an interior decorator who must share a party line with her womanizing client (Rock Hudson). Far sexier than she was almost ever given credit for, Suzie Cream Cheese skillfully brings it all right up to the line before retreating; it's no wonder that she often expressed confusion over the perception that she was some kind of perennial "virgin." (Ignore the idiotic butt-ins by Carol Wayne, 1942-1985):

For Pillow Talk, one of the most fondly remembered films of all time, Day received her one and only Oscar nomination. Rumor had it the Academy had for years wanted to give her an honorary Oscar, but insisted she collect it in person. Day had not traveled in years by then, and had only made one quick public appearance at her birthday party, not counting peeks from her balcony.

Finally, check out my massive list of biggest stars who are 80+ — hint: Doris Day was #1, natch. RIP.

2 Responses

  1. Good job Matt! I would add her debut picture “Romance on the High Seas” and the perfect singing of “It’s Magic”. Thanks

  2. Oh You definitely have not heard her two best albums, `Day by Day` and `Latin for Lovers` those two albums are among her very best work… Also the films `It happened to Jane` and `Storm Warning` two little known gems but certainly among her best work as well.

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