Friday, January 20, 2017

On How Doris Day Transformed Her Image Via The Doris Day Show


A New Day Has Come...

It's a sad tragedy that Doris Day had such lousy taste in men.  One of her four husbands was violently abusive towards her.  The worst one, however, didn't physically assault her, but in his own way did her great harm.

Martin Melcher, Husband Number 3, was the longest of her marriages.  However, when he died, to misquote The Temptations, the only thing he left her was alone.  He had not only squandered her fortune, but in order to recoup it he signed her to a television series...without telling her.  Already shocked over being a widow, she now was virtually dead-broke and forced into working on a project she had no control or say over. 

Thus began The Doris Day Show

Despite this rather shady beginning, The Doris Day Show began a slow but steady change for Day that I think reflects how she actually went past her own screen image as the Eternal Virgin and shifted into someone closer to her own self: a smart, independent woman with as sharp a mind to match her shockingly underrated body.

The Best of The Doris Day Show features seven episodes from all five seasons.  They are as follows:

Season One: The Friend
Season Two: Married For a Day and Doris Strikes Out
Season Three: Doris Finds An Apartment and Tony Bennett is Eating Here
Season Four: Doris and the Doctor
Season Five: It's a Dog's Life

The Doris Day Show revolves around Doris Martin, a widow with two children, Billy and Toby.  She's moved into the Mill Valley to live with her father, Buck, on his farm.  Season Two builds on this, as Doris now commutes between the farm and San Francisco, where she is a secretary at Today's World Magazine.  Season Three has her moving to San Francisco full-time, still a secretary but with friends and an independent life.  Seasons Four and Five now has her essentially as a single woman, with her two children gone sans explanation.  She's also shifted from mere secretary to full-time reporter at Today's World.  She also now has romance, a very risqué romance for our Eternal Virgin.  

The plots are as follows:

The Friend: Doris Martin agrees to use her family in a milk company campaign in exchange for free milk for the school.  The company wants their wholesome family picture to feature girls, even though Doris has no daughters.  She tells her children to bring two of their friends, and they do.  Things get interesting when one of those little girls turns out to be black.

Married For a Day: Doris' boss, Michael Nicholson (McLean Stevenson), attempts to escape the clutches of a man-trap that has caused him nothing but trouble.  Hilarity ensues when circumstances get him and his secretary to try and pass themselves off as Husband and Wife.

Doris Strikes Out: Doris finds herself landing a date with hot French movie star Claude LeMaire (Jacques Bergerac), but has to try and squeeze that in between caring for Buck (who has thrown his back) and the boys' baseball game (where she's roped into being an umpire).

Doris Finds An Apartment: Doris does as advertised, finding an apartment, over an Italian restaurant.  Hilarity ensues when on her moving day an impromptu party breaks out, leaving her landlords, already struggling with the idea of children and dogs, none too pleased.

Tony Bennett is Eating Here: Doris lands an interview with guest star Tony Bennett.  Signore Benedetto just wants a nice Italian dinner at a nice, quiet, Italian restaurant in the town he made famous with his theme, I Left My Heart in San Francisco.  Needless to say, the Italian owners of the restaurant at Doris' apartment are thrilled to have him there.  Perhaps too thrilled...

Doris and The Doctor: Doris endures the hypochondria of her editor Cy until luscious Dr. Peter Lawrence (guest star Peter Lawford) comes swinging her way.  She's instantly smitten, but cheapskate Cy, so angry at his low bill, pushes Doris to write an 'expose' on doctor bills as payback.

It's A Dog's Life: Doris finds a stray dog and saves him from the pound, but the new landlord of her apartment, Mr. Jarvis (Billy De Wolfe), is dead-set against having any pets.  It takes all her wit to get the cranky, cantankerous Mr. Jarvis to find the beauty in Man's Best Friend.

Out of all seven, I think The Friend and Tony Bennett is Eating Here are the best, the latter mostly because we get a chance to hear Tony Bennett and Doris Day duet on I Left My Heart in San Francisco, one of the truly Great Songs of the 20th Century.  Their duet is simply glorious.  The Friend tackles a very serious subject with gentle humor (though perhaps as a sign of the times, race being the objection to including Patty in the picture was never overtly mentioned, the only time coming when Doris confronts the milk company head saying all people drink milk, regardless of age, sex, or color).

Given that Season One was meant as a more idyllic, pastoral image of the world and of Day by extension, for The Doris Day Show to have a conversation of race is even more remarkable.  The succeeding seasons tended to be standard sitcom fare, almost broadly so.  To have a serious subject like racism, especially against young children, be the focus of a sitcom episode even now is noteworthy.  To do it from someone with the image that Doris Day has is downright revolutionary.

As a side note, I think Day's views on race were reflected in The Friend: despite what James Baldwin thought of her, I think Day was much more progressive on race relations than she got credit for.

As I stated earlier, if you look at the opening for each season, you see how Day's image slowly shifted from the traditional image of Day to something more liberated.  Season One took her where most people think of Day: sweet, sexless and simultaneously motherly.  As a widow, she is locked away from sensual desires.  In the opening credits, we see Denver Pyle (her father) very pensive, almost lost in thought.

To my mind, I think it shows how society thought a woman needed man's protection.  If she did not have a husband, who better than her father (especially true when said woman is a mother herself)?  Scenes of walking in the meadows, with stories about farm life, locked Day away from the sin of the city.

We move to Season Two, and now, like unmarried women in the present, now moves between two worlds: the country and the city (and what a city to go to: San Francisco, the most openly gay-friendly city on Earth).  It's curious that we no longer see her as dependent on men, and that in the credits she seems happy and free in the city.  She laughs, she thrives, and even does a little dance after jumping off the cable cars.

Like many women then and now, Day's Martin still tries to balance her home and work life.  She still isn't equal to men: her job is a secretary, a traditionally female job, but now steps are made to make her a woman in charge.

Season Three continues her evolution.  Gone from the confines of the country (and in a sense, from the protection of her father), she now fully embraces the city.  We still have the trappings of family life, but now Day/Martin is coming into her own.

When we get to Seasons Four and Five, we have a new woman.  Gone are the kids, and instead of nice walks in the country, we have walks down a runway, where Day showcases elaborate gowns, hairstyles, and even in Season Five, her derriere (the shot frozen to showcase her figure).  Day/Martin, now Miss instead of Mrs. or a widow, even gets some sexy-time with Dr. Lawrence, showing that should she have wanted to, Doris Day could have indeed played Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (a role she was offered but turned down for being vulgar). 

In these last two seasons, she is no longer just a secretary.  She's a reporter, someone who is paid to give her views and do hard investigative work.

If you think of it, Doris Day was doing an early version of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, only with Day a more sensual figure than Mary Richards.  Her dates didn't go disastrously wrong.  Instead, she had a very flirtatious and sexually desirable connection with Dr. Lawrence.

Doris Day was a very sensual woman with an incredible body, and unlike all her other screen appearances wasn't ashamed or embarrassed to express interest in sex.  Obviously, there was never going to be a scene of Doris Martin and Peter Lawrence in bed together, but now she was having relationships with men on equal terms, or even on her own, a far cry from the widow in the country being watched over by Daddy Buck.

The Doris Day Show wasn't just escapist television.  It was an unintended chronicle of Doris Day's liberation.  She wasn't going to be stuck out in the country as only a daughter or mother.  She was going into the world, living her life and tasting the pleasures of freedom and of the flesh. 

She was also a survivor, someone who needed to work not just for money but to have a sense of purpose.  Doris Martin's career on The Doris Day Show went from mere secretary (someone who could be cowed into pretending to be her boss' wife) to reporter (someone who could be quite aggressive towards her own boss).  With her first boss, she did as she was told with some complaint but no real recourse.  With her last boss, she told him where to get off with no fear about the end results going her way.

It's fascinating, if you think on it, how Doris Day image evolved during the five years of her eponymous television program.  She starts out as a widow with two children, needing a man to protect her, then starts taking steps to grow.  She goes into the city, gets a job, but still isn't strong enough to put her boss in his place.  By the end of the show, Doris Martin is a strong woman, able to confront any man who dares get in her way.  She also now is free to express sexual desires, though at a cost (her two sons were never seen or heard from again after Season Three). 

Did they go to boarding school?  Did they move with their grandfather Buck?  Did she kill them?  The world will never know.

The Doris Day Show wasn't perfect.  In Doris and The Doctor, Day is given a gauzy filter that appears to be an effort to make her look younger, a filter that is unintentionally hilarious..  The Palluccis, the owners of the apartment/restaurant, are broad Italian stereotypes.  Mr. Jarvis is, shall we say, a little too San Fran for television. 

The biggest laugh I got was when in Season Three, Doris Martin was told that the apartment was available for $140 per month. 

Even now, a small studio apartment at $140 per month is fantasy, but in the early 1970s to have a two-floor apartment, in San Francisco of all places, for $140 is nonsense.

The Best of The Doris Day Show gives us a glimpse into what could be a good television series.  It wasn't revolutionary or unique, but comfortable and well worth some time for nonthreatening viewing.  It also gives us a good exploration into how Doris Day's screen image evolved.  She starts as a widow on a farm.  She ends as a single girl not afraid of a little Sex in the City.

If we had started her out where she ends up, The Doris Day Show could have been better remembered, a real precursor to or even a hybrid of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Sex and The City, maybe even a little Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City thrown in for good measure.  That may be doubtful: Doris Day never had a real interest in going far from her image (with few exceptions, most notably The Man Who Knew Too Much, she rarely ventured away from musicals or comedies), and she had some cultural conservatism to her (hence, her declining to do The Graduate, sing more contemporary songs despite her own love of Motown or perform in Las Vegas despite many offers).

In her own way though, Doris Day was ahead of her time. She showed that she was more than just her screen image, and that she could have done more had she chosen.  It's a fascinating 'what-if', and The Doris Day Show gives us a little glimpse into how things could have been different had Doris Day wanted them to have been.

Never sell out Doris Day.  She was always more than what she appeared to be.

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