Cult Movie: A fond farewell to family favourite Doris Day

Acting icon Doris Day died earlier this week
Ralph McLean

Doris Day

WHEN Doris Day passed away this week, another little portal into the golden age of Hollywood closed forever.

The actress and singer born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff embodied the age of old school charm and sophistication where movie stars glistened like proper icons that we placed on pedestals and worshipped from afar.

Bright, bold and beautiful she was a positive role model for women in an industry forever dominated by males, a feminist trail blazer who essayed characters that were determined, self sufficient and capable of doing anything they set their minds to.

She achieved a lot in her 97 years on this planet – her career as a phenomenally popular singer, which ran parallel to her acting activities, and her lifelong dedication to the cause of animal welfare are also worthy of huge acclaim – but it's those timeless musicals and lush, giddy comedies that will forever keep her firmly lodged in our collective hearts.

Just like in millions of other family homes around the globe, those films played endlessly on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in our house.

We could sing along with all those show-stopping tunes in Calamity Jane before we could walk and there was something comforting about those light and airy screwball comedies like Pillow Talk that always took you away – as all good movies should – from the crushing banality of everyday reality.

Doris bagged her first big movie role in the 1948 musical Romance On The High Seas after original star Betty Hutton bailed out due to pregnancy – and she never looked back. She connected with audiences like few others and there was a breezy, easy-going charm about Doris's onscreen persona that made her box office dynamite.

The list of fun and frothy musical comedies piled up quickly including My Dream Is Yours, I'll See You In My Dreams and, of course, Calamity Jane.

That 1953 masterpiece embodied everything about the actress that made her a true superstar. Fast, feisty and empowered with a proto-feminist 'can do' spirit that very much rubbed against the grain in the cripplingly conservative America of the early 1950s, it is the film that defines Doris to this day.

There were other high spots on the screen to enjoy, from her performance as real life singer Ruth Etting in Love Me Or Leave Me (Day's own favourite moment of her career) to cosy and kitsch classics like Pillow Talk and Move Over Darling, but by 1968 it was over.

As the counter-culture kicked in, so Doris moved out and over to the welcoming grasp of mainstream TV. Before long, that too had grown old for her and she turned instead to looking out for her beloved animals via her successful Doris Day Animal Foundation.

To this day though that body of work she left behind continues to inspire and entertain millions of movie lovers and music fanatics. Her best films and most memorable songs throw us straight back to a more innocent, less tarnished time.

It's hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to a true legend than that, really.

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