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ClassicsOnline Home » DAY, Doris: It's Magic (1947-1950)
DORIS DAY Its Magic
The Early Years: Original 19471950 Recordings
"I knew her before she was a virgin."
Attributed to Oscar Levant
Among the most successful and physically alluring attractions in box-office history, around 1948 dancer-turned-band vocalist Doris Day was first remodelled by Warner Brothers dictatorial director Michael Curtiz (1888-1962) into the buxom girl-next-door of the sex-comedy cult film. Typecast for more than a decade as a wholesome, perennially virginal, freckle-faced but curvaceous tomboy, by the mid-1960s Doris was viewed as a harmless, homely sex-symbol without thrust and sub-jected to a final downgrading as "the home fire that refused to admit the cold war". However, native charm and a subtly individual sort of sexual coyness were surely the whole essence of Doris the comedienne who could transform the hard-nut Calamity Jane into a gal in calico and shine through all apparent contradictions.
Doris Day was born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 3 April, 1922 (now generally believed more likely than 1924, the year usually given), the youngest of three siblings. Her parents were German (her grandparents having emigrated to the USA during the late nineteenth century) and her upbringing was Roman Catholic, God-fearing and distinctly middle-class, although as her candid autobiography Doris Day: Her Own Story (1975) reveals, despite her consistent cheeriness of disposition her youth was ridden with insecurity and uncertainty of direction and her turbulent adult life contrasted sharply with her happy screen persona. When she was eight her parents separated but by the age of twelve she was already a keen and talented dancer and formed a duo with a lad named Terry Doherty. With him she won $500 in a talent contest and unsuccessfully sought fortune in Hollywood. At thirteen she entered a nerve-clinic where she remained for a year, at fourteen she resumed her dance training in Hollywood and at fifteen her dancing ambitions were thwarted by leg injuries sustained in a car accident.
Wisely, Doris Kappelhoff took up singing instead and by 1939, through her tutor, had secured air-time on Cincinnatis local radio station, WLW, as a featured singer with the Barney Rapp Orchestra. It was Rapp who suggested she call herself Doris Day (after one of her much-aired ballads "Day After Day") and under her newly-chosen stage-name Doris got her first real break with Bob Crosby in 1940. She worked variously as a vocalist with Crosby, Fred Waring and, from 1941 onwards, Les Brown, at which point in time she made a first, unhappy marriage with musician Al Jorden. While her second union, in 1946, was to prove even more short-lived, her third, with her manager Marty Melcher, began in 1951 and ended in 1968 with his death and the rude awakening that his mis-management of her $20 million lifes earnings had left her effectively bankrupt (albeit the Courts later awarded her $22 million in compensation against Melchers former lawyer).
During the early 1940s Doris toured to entertain American troops and in 1944 her first landmark hit with Brown, the million-selling nine-week US No.1 "Sentimental Journey" made Doris and the Philadelphia-born bandleader overnight stars. During the next few years their collaboration would produce a steady stream of hits and by mid-1948 Doris was a star vocalist in her own right, having sung with Frank Sinatra on Saturday Night Hit Parade and already recorded the solo hits Put Em In A Box, Tie Em With A Ribbon (US No.27) and two million-selling duets with Buddy Clark, "Confess" (No.16) and the five-week No.1 Love Somebody to her credit. As a result of connections gained during an engagement at Billy Reeds Little Club, around this time Doris underwent a Warner Brothers screen-test and found herself launched into film-stardom as a last-minute replacement for Betty Grable, cast opposite Jack Carson in Romance On The High Seas. This romantic screen-musical, with score by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, provided Doris with her first big solo hit, the Oscar-nominated, million-selling US No.2 Its Magic (also the title of the British release of the film).
Between 1948 and 1968 Doris made 39 films and while the majority of these helped her status as Number One box-office star until the early 1960s, the earliest certainly did much to consolidate her reputation as a top-line solo recording artist. Her 1949 non-film recordings included a memorable version of The River Seine (an English translation of a Marguerite Monnot original popularised in London in the 1949 revue Sauce Tartare) and Bluebird On Your Windowsill (US No.19 hit) while on screen she again partnered Carson in the musical My Dream Is Yours (songs included the films title number, Someone Like You and a US No. 15 Harry WarrenRalph Blane update of the 1915 vaudeville song Canadian Capers) and in the farce Its A Great Feeling (the films Jule StyneSammy Cahn title-song was nominated for an Oscar).
During 1950 Doris made further screen appearances in Tea For Two, The West Point Story and Young Man With A Horn (aka Young Man Of Music, this rather implausible Bix Beiderbecke biopic featured revivals of such standards as The Very Thought Of You and I May Be Wrong and presented co-star Kirk Douglas miming to virtuoso trumpeting overdubbed by the films musical director Harry James) and additionally she produced another fine clutch of hits in various styles, notably Enjoy Yourself (US No.24), I Said My Pajamas (No.21), I Didnt Slip I Wasnt Pushed I Fell (No.19) and, in C&W mode, Quicksilver (No.20).
Peter Dempsey, 2003
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DAY, Doris: It's Magic (1947-1950)