Facts everywhere today. For those, you can Google the name.
Fact is, on her way to becoming a contender for the most talented performer in the history of Hollywood, one of the few of whom it could be said there’s nothing she can’t do, she was a singer first, with 30 top twenty hits the forties and fifties. Then she was the star of low budget musicals, memorable mostly for her presence. Then she gave serious performances that would stand her in good stead with critics….decades later. Then she made the romantic comedies with Rock Hudson, James Garner, David Niven, and others, that turned her into a box office superstar.
Then, as times changed, the woman who had once refused to get an abortion even though her husband beat her for it turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate because it was “vulgar and offensive.”
Then she did a television show.
Then, having earned back the money Marty Melcher made vanish, she retired.
By then, she had been the leading female box office star seven times (a record that still stands) and the only woman to lead the entire box office four times, a record still unmatched by any she not named Shirley Temple.
That was her career.
In other strictly factual manners, she survived four marriages. Her first husband beat her up while she was pregnant with an only child who would take her third husband’s name and become Terry Melcher, one of the greatest record producers of the generation that tried so hard to obliterate her. (He died at 62, in 2004. Like her, he failed to receive the deserving accolades. Oscar never came calling for her, not even in the Lifetime Achievement category. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame never came calling for him, even in death. Beyond facts, one does wonder about these things.) That third husband managed her money and, by the time he died in the late 60s, made it all disappear.
Fact is, modernity kept rejecting her, even as far back as the atypical-to-say-the-least “Que Sera, Sera,” competing with Patti Page’s (also atypical) “How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?” for the signature sound rock ‘n’ roll was born to kill. You can only imagine what the 60s were like for a woman who inspired people to say they knew her before she was a virgin. Once vulgarity and offensiveness had become watchwords for eternal hipness, people certainly called her a lot worse.
Time was on her side. You think defining an era is easy? A status that can be handed to you?
Try it some time.
Eventually, there were serious think pieces about her representation of proto-feminism (and that’s not even counting James Wolcott’s post-feminist homage to her shapely butt). Eventually, the calls for that Lifetime Oscar grew louder, though never loud enough to move an Academy which embraces offensive vulgarity like a New Religion. Eventually, her singing got encomiums from rock and rollers and old-timers alike and transformed her vocal reputation into something resembling the female Sinatra.
One day, people will look and listen long enough and hard enough to realize that, whether singing or acting, whether playing it straight or to the side, whether in comedy or drama, whether iconic or intimate, Doris Day was that rarest of all beings: Her own category.
Watch Love Me or Leave Me back-to-back with Pillow Talk some time. You’ll see what I mean.
Listen to the soundtrack of Young Man With a Horn at 3:00 a.m. with the lights off some time.
You’ll hear what I mean.
She always bounced back. I imagine she’ll bounce back from this too.