This week, I stand corrected. Seriously – as surprising as that statement is, not least to me! I recently wrote about the end of ‘old Hollywood’ and the loss of legends. Well, this week, my faith has been strengthened and hope (at least slightly) renewed.
This is because, after almost twenty years, Doris Day has released a new album. Admittedly, some of the content dates back more than twenty years – but this should do nothing to dim our excitement. Doris (unlike Mademoiselle Chanel, I feel I’m on first name terms with Ms Day) has always been underrated and underestimated by, well, everyone and I feel like I should right some of the wrongs. I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t care about the commonly held belief that she was never cutting edge or sexy enough to be cool – but I do.
Basically, the premise to my argument in her favour is that we shouldn’t care that she was cutesie and pretty rather than vampish and glam. The key to Doris’ charm is her wholesomeness – she brought fun and colour (very bright technicolour colour) to a time which was full of serious boredom. I apologise to Americans the world over – but the 50s and early 60s are a dark period in their history: the myth of the perfect family and home brought about a time of censorship and rampant materialism which managed to make a lot of people exactly as miserable as they were supposed to be shiny and bright.
Despite the fact that Doris looks to all the world like the epitome of this era, a lot of her work is surreptitiously anti-establishment. She frequently portrayed women stuck in unhappy domestic arrangements or striving to be independent by juggling careers and love lives at a time when ‘serious’ film couldn’t and / or wouldn’t. Due to the threat of McCarthyism, any creative effort that made overt statements questioning the status quo was at risk of being banned and the creator blacklisted from the industry they worked in – be that film, art or literature. Even the news was at risk of being pulled if it became too controversial.
Well Doris – probably not consciously – was the perfect vehicle for stealthily undermining the censors. After all, how could someone as picture perfect and beguilingly charming (yet not at all sex kittenish), be a threat to the state? In those days, blonde girls wearing dirndl skirts and pillbox hats were not expected to even have an opinion – let alone do something about it. All of which meant that women could safely watch a film with a heroine whose aspirations for life stretched a little bit further than being in possession of the latest washing machine or finding the perfect brand of starch to use on their husband’s collars and cuffs.
Instead they could watch a woman who didn’t mind looking like a goof while she went about her business. And, make no mistake, the women Doris portrayed either had business to attend to or wanted to have business to attend to. Even when she was acting the good wife, her character knew there was more to life. In short, she brought multiple layers to the personalities of the people she played.
In her personal life, she was no less complicated. I won’t dwell but she went through numerous husbands (all of whom turned out to be duds), had to support her son through his problems, endured bankruptcy, struggled with horrible health issues and weathered crushing professional misfortunes. When you consider this, it makes her upbeat performances seem all the more accomplished.
Lastly, the style of Doris should be mentioned – since this is, ostensibly, a blog about clothes. Many people associate Doris Day with the sort of prom dress fashion that, actually, was Audrey Hepburn’s big thing – at least until Breakfast At Tiffany’s came along. Instead Doris was much more the pencil skirt, kitten heels (she had to run for a bus before she got soaked by a car splashing through a muddy puddle, after all), architectural hat, clutch bag type of girl. Très chic. I admit that she didn’t have much time for trousers – but I wouldn’t either if I could get away with it!
So, in short, I have to say that there is one more legend left – admittedly not a megawatt, super-glam diva type, like Elizabeth Taylor. More the epitome of the girl next door struggling with the same crap we all are. She comes across as the kind of person you’d want to be friends with – not the kind of person who’d steal your boyfriend (oh yes – I mean you, Liz) or who’d turn mean after a couple of drinks. In my mind, she’d lend you her handbags and help you paint you flat.
Perhaps we should look at Doris and celebrate not just her breezy, cheery image but the things that it epitomises: surprisingly modern perspectives, a willingness to stay optimistic and the importance of friendship. That might sound cheesy but, really, is that kind of cheesy cliché actually bad? The answer, WAIWers, is ‘no’. We all want a little bit of her world…and we shouldn’t be ashamed of the fact.
God bless you, Doris – I’m drinking in the sunshine as I write this! And it feels fantastic.