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American Beauty: Doris Day

Doris Day, the freckle-faced movie actress whose irrepressible personality and golden voice made her America’s top box-office star in the early 1960s, died on Monday at her home in Carmel Valley, California. She was 97.

Beneath wholesome image, Doris Day was an actor of depth

The beloved singer and actress, who died Monday at 97, was a contemporary of Marilyn Monroe but seemed to exist in a lost and parallel world of sexless sex comedies and the carefree ways of “Que Sera, Sera” (“Whatever Will Be, Will Be”). She helped embody the manufactured innocence of the 1950s, a product even she didn’t believe in.

“I’m tired of being thought of as Miss Goody Twoshoes …. I’m not the All-American Virgin Queen, and I’d like to deal with the true, honest story of who I really am,” she said in 1976, when her tell-all memoir “Doris Day: Her Own Story” chronicled her money troubles and failed marriages.

There was more to her, and to her career, than not sleeping with the leading man. She gave acclaimed performances in “Love Me or Leave Me,” the story of songstress Ruth Etting, and in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Longing ballads such as “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” led critic Gary Giddins to call her “the coolest and sexiest female singer of slow-ballads in movie history.”

But millions loved her for her wholesome, blond beauty, and for her string of slick, stylish comedies, beginning with her Oscar-nominated role in “Pillow Talk” in 1959. She and Rock Hudson were two New Yorkers who shared a telephone party line. She followed with “The Thrill of It All,” playing a housewife who gains fame as a TV pitchwoman to the chagrin of husband James Garner.

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  • Richard May 14, 2019, 9:43 AM

    I’ll take one Doris Day over one thousand Alyssa Milanoes, or any of the others of her ilk. DD was emblematic of the wholesome girl-next-door and never came off as cheap or sluttish. Although I was not particularly a fan of her work, she provided a powerhouse performance in The Man Who Knew Too Much. At her age it was inevitable that the end was approaching. Still, the world is a bit less sweet and pleasant with her passing.

  • Rob May 14, 2019, 10:01 AM

    Two things I remember:
    1) Going to the movies, many times the drive-in, with my parents as a young lad and seeing Miss Day’s luminous presence on the screen. How could I not admire her? Was it love for her? Not in any but the most abstract way, but that’s how youngsters are.
    2) Harry Morgan (as Col. Potter) describing how he was in some nightclub, in NY I believe, and seeing a tall willowy blonde crossing the dance floor and instantly falling under her spell. A bit later, he says that he realizes he just fell in love with Doris Day.

  • ghostsniper May 14, 2019, 11:46 AM

    “I think grief is a very private matter, and that the public nature of a funeral is barbaric.”

    I have always thought that way, and have resisted participating in as many as possible, and will not have one myself.

  • Bad_Brad May 14, 2019, 6:59 PM

    Her best roll ever, Lilith Prescott.

  • Joe Krill May 15, 2019, 7:42 AM

    Que Sera, Sera. Sunday evening we were at our daughter’s for Mother’s Day dinner and I was telling my grandchildren about the music from my childhood. I asked my son-in-law to bring up Que Sera, Sera on his computer for them to listen to. They loved it. Who would have known that the next morning I would be reading about Doris’s passing. Tempus fugit.