This critique of Day’s career shows that the major American icon was also a major American talent.
Did Doris Day, Miss Goody Two-Shoes, the constant virgin, really carve out “one of the truly great show business careers in show business history?” Skeptics, especially those who are baby boomers, will do well to consider the forthright, knowledgeable and convincing case for Day’s acting and singing that Santopietro (The Importance of Being Barbara, June 2006) makes here. Day, he reminds readers, reigns as the biggest box-office star in Hollywood history. She appeared in 39 films and released over 600 recordings. Yet her acting, the author concedes, ranged from “brilliant to awful.” He blames Warner Bros. for putting her in a series of second-rate musicals to sate audiences who, during the ’40s and ’50s, adored her as the image of can-do America. And he cites Day’s husband-manager, Marty Melcher, as also having a negative impact on her career. Yet in all the uneven work, Santopietro observes Day’s talent shining through. He admires her sharp, brightly judged performances, playing witty, forthright and, yes, sexually sophisticated women in Love Me or Leave Me, The Pajama Game and The Man Who Knew Too Much. But by the late ’60s, he concludes, younger audiences misperceived her image as chaste, compliant and saccharine, too nice for the rebellious world they made out in the streets. The star survives, the author feels, her dulcet, intimate, heartfelt singing captured in a series of LPs she recorded in the late-’50s and ’60s that put her on the shelf with Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee as unforgettable interpreters of American popular song.
The author’s writing is rough—the apt word, the eloquent phrase and a consistent tone elude him—but his perceptions will send readers to Day’s CDs and DVDs for an overdue re-take.