Attention Oscar: Why Doris Day Should Get Her Due

Doug McGrath, filmmaker and journalist, gets moody around this time of year. Why? Oscar time inevitably reminds him of a gross oversight: Doris Day has never received an Academy Award. Host Gwen Thompkins talks with McGrath about giving Day proper recognition.

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GWEN THOMPKINS, host:

In romance, some wrongs can never be made right. People say and do things that they should neither say nor do. But often the deepest regrets arise from what remains unsaid - the missed opportunity.

Douglas McGrath is a screenwriter and director. In a recent article in The New York Times, he called attention to a romantic wrong that can be made right: Doris Day, that wholesome conqueress of leading mean such as Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and even the calm and collected David Niven has never received an Academy Award. And Mr. McGrath says it's about time Doris got her due.

(Soundbite of movie, "Please Don't Eat the Daisies")

Ms. DORIS DAY (Actress): (as Kate Robinson Mackay) Now, listen fellas, be my good and true friends, don't make a fuss about supper, or your bath or going to bed. Okay?

Unidentified Actor #1: Okay.

Unidentified Actor #2: Okay.

Unidentified Actor #3: Okay.

Ms. DAY: (as Kate Robinson Mackay): And please, don't throw anything out of the windows or down the john.

Unidentified Actor #3: But if I feel spit-uppy?

Ms. DAY: (as Kate Robinson Mackay) What, are you expecting to?

Unidentified Actor #3: No, but if I do and we're not supposed to throw anything down the toilet.

Ms. DAY: (as Kate Robinson Mackay) Oh, come on.

THOMPKINS: That's Doris Day in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies"

Douglas McGrath joins us from our New York bureau.

Mr. DOUGLAS MCGRATH (Filmmaker, Journalist): Thanks, Gwen.

THOMPKINS: So, let me ask you this: Is this Doris' year?

Mr. MCGRATH: Well, it is with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGRATH: But every year is Doris year with me. No, you know, her image as an actress for the people who don't like her, I think they think, "Oh, she's kind of a dull, sort of pure, G-rated cornball.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGRATH: But I think those are people who maybe haven't seen the films in a long time.

(Soundbite of film, "Pillow Talk")

Mr. ROCK HUDSON (Actor): (as Brad Allen) Look, I don't know what's bothering you, but don't take your bedroom problems out on me.

Ms. DAY: (as Jan Morrow) I have no bedroom problems. There's nothing in my bedroom that bothers me.

Mr. MCGRATH: Because really what she is, she does not condescend just because the material might be silly.

THOMPKINS: Exactly.

Mr. MCGRATH: She gives that same honest examination of the characters and she makes that person real, which is why the light comedies work, it's why the dramas work. You know, you can trust her. She's not going to trick you and act one way in one kind of movie and a different way in another kind of movie.

THOMPKINS: Exactly. She never pretended that she was so much more swank or sophisticated than the girl she was playing, yeah.

Mr. MCGRATH: Like someone who's doing what you're doing, even though Doris Day was never doing what anyone I know was doing.

THOMPKINS: But it's true. It's like you could have a sandwich with Doris Day.

Mr. MCGRATH: Mm-hmm.

THOMPKINS: You know, or you could - I don't know, you could curl Doris Days' hair and she could curl yours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGRATH: You would trust her.

THOMPKINS: What do you think turned the tide against Doris Day to some degree?

Mr. MCGRATH: I think a couple things happened. You know, obviously by the late '60s the taste in the moviegoing public had changed a lot and it was one of the more experimental times. That's when "Easy Rider" was happening and films of a much more adult nature...

THOMPKINS: Right.

Mr. MCGRATH: ...were being seen by a general audience in a way that they never had before. And no matter what era it is in Hollywood, women, when they get over 40, the parts just get smaller. I do know this: Apparently she was offered the part of "Ms. Robinson" in the "Godfather"...

THOMPKINS: Right. In the "Graduate."

Mr. MCGRATH: I mean in the "Graduate," and I think it's a sensational casting idea. Because, you know, you think — of all the suburban mothers...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGRATH: ...you'd want to have an affair with, she'd be the one. I'd go to a hotel and meet her any time.

(Soundbite of song, "10 Cents A Dance")

Ms. DAY: (Singing) Ten cents a dance, that's what they pay me. Gosh, how they weigh me down.

THOMPKINS: In your article you also raise a very interesting performance she gave in the movie "Love Me or Leave Me."

Mr. MCGRATH: Mm-hmm.

THOMPKINS: And that was playing opposite Jimmy Cagney. And she really held her own in that picture. Tell us about that one.

Mr. MCGRATH: Well, it's a true story of this singer named Ruth Etting, who was a very popular singer in the early part of the 20th century. And I forget the name of her manager but he's played by Jimmy Cagney in a superb performance, and he's many years her senior. She's young, fresh, very pretty. He's old, crippled in some ways and not attractive.

THOMPKINS: And corrupt.

Mr. MCGRATH: And corrupt. But he was mad for her. He loved her.

(Soundbite of film, "Love Me or Leave Me")

Ms. DAY: (as Ruth Etting) We have a lot to talk about. Let's not do it this way. Let's not shout at each other.

Mr. JAMES CAGNEY (Actor): (as Martin Snyder) Don't use your (unintelligible) voice on me. Make like you're back in the (unintelligible).

Ms. DAY: (as Ruth Etting) But I'm not Marty. That's the whole point. I'm right where I want to be.

Mr. CAGNEY: (as Martin Snyder) And I ain't good enough.

Ms. DAY: (as Ruth Etting) I didn't say that.

Mr. CAGNEY: (as Martin Snyder) Well, then say it. Have some guts. Say it.

Ms. DAY: (as Ruth Etting) All right. You don't belong here. I can't help it's your fault; it's the way you act.

Mr. CAGNEY: (as Martin Snyder) The way I've always acted. I never heard you holler.

Ms. DAY: (as Ruth Etting) It's rotten, dirty and I hate it.

Mr. MCGRATH: In all of Jimmy Cagney's movies before that, first of all, you can barely remember a woman from his movies, because he's so electric that you can't look at anyone else when he's on the screen. But in "Love Me or Leave Me," when he and she are on the screen at the same time, you watch him and the minute he's finished talking, you look over at her to see how she's reacting.

THOMPKINS: In her career, I mean Doris Day, she played opposite so many very interesting actors, you know, Clark Gable, Rex Harrison and Rock Hudson, you know, Jimmy Stewart, of course. But one of the most interesting films that I think she did is the movie she made called "Young at Heart" opposite Frank Sinatra.

(Soundbite of film, "Young at Heart")

Ms. DAY: (as Laurie Tuttle) Sounds wonderful. You a friend of Alex's?

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Entertainer): (as Barney Sloan) We know each other. I orchestrate his stuff.

Ms. DAY: (as Laurie Tuttle) Oh. My name is Laurie. I live here.

Mr. SINATRA: (as Barney Sloan) You got a cigarette?

Ms. DAY: (as Laurie Tuttle) Mm-hmm.

THOMPKINS: In the film, Doris and Frank, if I may call them by their first names, they have an equal amount of songs that they each sing. And in that film, all of Doris Day's songs are very beautifully rendered '50s hits. You know, that kind of the almost a smarmy, very romantic, very of-the-moment pop songs.

(Soundbite of song, "Ready, Willing and Able")

Ms. DAY: (Singing) I'm ready, I'm willing and able. So if you want a love that's true, just lay your cards on the table 'cause honey, now it's up to you.

THOMPKINS: Whereas, Sinatra is singing, you know, from "The Great American Songbook."

Mr. MCGRATH: Mm-hmm.

THOMPKINS: I mean, he's singing, you know, "One for My Baby," Harold Arlen and Jonny Mercer. He's singing Cole Porter.

Mr. MCGRATH: Mm-hmm.

THOMPKINS: You know, he's singing George and Ira Gershwin.

(Soundbite of song, "Someone to Watch Over Me")

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) If there's a somebody I'm longing to see, I hope that she turns out to be someone who'll watch over me.

THOMPKINS: In that one film you can sort of see Frank Sinatra cementing his ultimate legend or myth as sort of this iconic figure that can transcend decades. And you kind of see Doris fading in the distance as someone who is going to be left in the '50s or in the early '60s.

Mr. MCGRATH: Well, I think what's so amazing about her as an actress is that because she's so truthful, and she's wonderful in "Young at Heart," she does something that very few actresses or actors were ever able to do when they appeared with Frank Sinatra in a movie; she kind of humanizes him.

THOMPKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so what is your favorite Doris Day movie? Is it "Please Don't Eat the Daisies?"

Mr. MCGRATH: No. You know, in a way I don't have a single favorite. I always, if I'm flipping channels and I come to one, I drop the channel clicker. And I, you know, really part of the joy of her is how beautiful she is.

THOMPKINS: She was a lovely woman. I think you even said in your article, "A lovely woman with a nice figure."

Mr. MCGRATH: Well, she's, you know, John Updike famously, he wrote a poem about his crush on her. And he wasn't shy about mentioning the - some of the features which were...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGRATH: She has a beautiful front porch, a beautiful back porch. You know, she's a very attractive woman and her coloring is really fetching. It's like -she's like a Valentine.

THOMPKINS: Well, thank you so much for talking to us.

Mr. MCGRATH: You're very welcome.

THOMPKINS: Douglas McGrath is a writer and filmmaker. He joined us from the NPR bureau in New York.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Magic")

Ms. DAY: (Singing) When we walk hand in hand, the world becomes a wonderland. It's magic.

THOMPKINS: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Gwen Thompkins.

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