“It’s tough trying to act grown-up when you don’t know how.” Doris Day
Doris Day started singing after a car accident when she was 15 brought her nascent dancing career to an abrupt end. She went on to make over 650 recordings, 31 albums, her last when she was the ripe old age of 89, 39 films and was ranked the biggest box-office star, and the only female on the list for 1960, and 1962- 64. She ranked in the top 10 for 10 years and has won both the Cecil B Demille and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In other words, the car accident did her a favour!
Day got her first professional job as a vocalist for a radio program in 1938 which brought her to the attention of Barney Rapp. Her first hit was “Sentimental Journey” in 1945 which led to her first film role in, Romance on the High Seas. In turn this led to bigger and better roles including, Love Me or Leave Me with a gutsy portrayal of jazz singer Ruth Etting and Hitchcock’s The Man Who knew Too Much which won an Oscar for Best Original Song, “Que Sera, Sera” sung by Day. Over the next few years her popularity and fame either as a singer or as an actress, or both, rocketed. Day’s day had arrived. In 1959 she made Pillow Talk, her first in a series of light, fluffy, sweeter- than-sugar, films that she made with Rock Hudson. Films that unfortunately became what most people either closely identified her with, or remember her for, rather than the huge and varied body of work she did complete. Hollywood’s most celebrated virgin, with her perm-a-grin, sunny disposition and prudish morality struggled with the changing times and the 60s saw her fame and popularity decline. She moved to tv but ultimately she moved away from the spotlight, to her retreat, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, to her animals and her own company.
I’ll admit that when I began reading about Day, the first thing that caught me off guard was that she is still alive! I guess all that good, clean living accounted for something in the end. In 2014 she celebrated her 90th birthday with a surprise personal appearance at a fundraising event for her animal foundation. Remarkably she looks the same – just older. The other thing that surprised me was learning that there were many times in her life when her behaviour was in total contrast to my perception of her. I always saw her as someone pragmatic, well-grounded and sensible, or least that’s how she appeared in interviews and films. In truth, Day struggled with, or simply avoided, the business of adulthood and frequently left any adult decision-making to the men in her life. Her husbands, of which there were four, all filled a purpose, and not the obvious one. They were substitute fathers, career advisers, business managers, they were, especially her third, Marty Melcher, to whom she was married the longest, her adult persona. They took care of and carried out those tasks she found too unpleasant, whether that was handling money, firing staff or just having to make decisions that were complex or difficult. In her biography she recalled the many instances throughout her career and personal life when she relied on others to be the adult. Her son Terry, her only child, saw her more as a friend than a parent and was raised by his Day’s mother, his grandmother, and not Day. It was Terry, not Day, who took over her legal battle with Jerome Rosenthal, their former lawyer, who swindled Day out of millions of hard earned dollars, when Melcher died.
Her candor is refreshing and inspiring. It is a big leap that we are presumed to take when we progress into adulthood, and many times we are simply not equipped with all the necessary tools. You might be lucky and have had a good instructor, but even the best teacher can’t anticipate all that life will throw your way. You might learn from experience or your mistakes; your successes might be your guide. Or they might not. There are times when we wish we weren’t an adult, when you wish there was such a thing as a Get Out of Being an Adult for a Day card. Sometimes you might even wish this for more than just a day.
Like Day, some of us will look to others, to ‘take over’ and make our decisions, or carry out certain tasks for us. However be warned. Day, like Edward VIII , paid a hefty price for abdicating; despite her phenomenally successful career, real happiness appears to have eluded her. Despite being famous or infamous, depending on your preference, for her megawatt smile, after reading her biography I’m reminded of that scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where a fellow convict tries to cheer Brian up by singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as they hang from crosses after being sentenced to death by crucifixion. Her cheery demeanor was the ultimate spin and fooled us, well only me perhaps, into thinking her content. In truth it was more of a the show-must-go-on grin rather than I am deliriously-happy smile.
I think that after years of struggling and coping with the business of being an adult, I might take some advice from that song of her’s that won an Oscar. I mean if it won an Oscar then it must mean something profound. No? So I shall adopt the mantra of “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever will be, will be) for the foreseeable future and see whether that makes adulthood any less tough. I’ll let you know how it goes.