The entertainment industry has been paying tribute to legendary screen goddess, Doris Day – one of the last great actresses from Hollywood’s golden era, who has died at the age of 97.
The iconic star, who began her career as a big band singer, was famous for her acting and singing skills, as well as for her dedicated animal welfare work. Her career spanned half a century, from 1939 to 1989, when she worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men to produce a multitude of classic movies.
One of her most famous pairings occurred in the 1958 hit film, Teacher’s Pet, which is a romantic comedy distributed by Paramount Pictures, which teamed the bubbly actress with the suave star of the epic Civil War drama, Gone with the Wind.
When Doris Day met Clark Gable, they were both major Hollywood stars, with a string of hit films under their belts. Cincinnati-born Day (real name Doris Kappelhoff) had established herself as a Hollywood A-lister with classic musicals such as Calamity Jane in 1953.
Her song from the film, Secret Love, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and was also a number one hit for Day in the US. A highly versatile actress, she then starred in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much, opposite James Stewart in 1956.
Her best-known song from the film, Que Sera Sera, also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Day’s signature tune. She returned to her musical comedy roots with The Pajama Game in 1957, before winning the role of university tutor Erica Stone in Teacher’s Pet.
Ohio-born Gable was one of the studio’s biggest stars when he was cast as newspaper editor James Gannon in Teacher’s Pet. He falls for Stone and poses as a student in her journalism class, but their relationship is a rocky one – especially when she finds out he’s secretly an established newspaper man already.
Gable had shot to fame in Gone with the Wind in 1939, in which he starred as Rhett Butler opposite Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in the epic love story. He was one of Hollywood’s most respected actors after starring with screen siren Jean Harlow in the 1932 romance, Red Dust, and was MGM’s biggest star, commanding $2,000 a week.
Day always maintained a wholesome image, both in her private life and in the film roles that she accepted. She was never involved in any scandals throughout her life and privately was an ardent campaigner for animal rights.
In the swinging sixties, during a new era of promiscuity, which manifested itself in films, she insisted on playing the same “girl next door” roles. The decision paid dividends, as she was still a massive box office draw. She turned down the role of Mrs Robinson, an older woman who has an affair with a young man, in The Graduate. The role eventually went to Anne Bancroft.
Many years later, Day revealed she had turned down the role because the script was “vulgar and offensive”, so she felt it would be morally wrong for her to accept it.
Gable, on the other hand, had a reputation as a dashing ladies’ man. He had enlisted in the US Air Force during the second world war, flying five combat missions in 1943 and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
He had a reputation as a heart-breaker and had been married five times. His third marriage to actress Carole Lombard in 1939 ended in tragedy when she died in a plane crash in 1942. Life magazine once described Gable as, “All man … and then some.”
It was surprising that Day and Gable hadn’t starred in any films together prior to Teacher’s Pet. Despite their very different personalities, they struck up a good rapport and showed plenty of on-screen chemistry. Day was 36 and Gable 57 and in the twilight of his career when the film was made.
Teacher’s Pet was described as an intellectual comedy. Critics said that Day certainly fitted the bill as a leading lady for the legendary Gable, not only because she looked stunning, but also on an acting level too.
Day’s studious college professor is initially snubbed by Gable’s gruff city newspaper editor when he turns down her invitation to address her journalism students. He expresses a disdain for journalism learned in the classroom. However, his boss orders him to apologise to the lecturer for his rudeness.
When high school drop-out Gannon arrives at the college, he immediately falls for the beautiful and intelligent lecturer, who is reading his scathing letter to the whole class – not realising who he is. Stone mistakes Gannon for a new student and he plays along, rather than admitting he is the author of such an insulting letter.
Confusion and arguments follow when she finds out his true identity, but eventually, she’s persuaded to give him another chance. Despite Gable being more than 20 years older than Day, their characters still gelled on-screen and Gable laid on his famous charm.
The film was shot in black and white, giving it an atmospheric period feel after Day’s colourful musicals. It wasn’t zany and fast-talking like some newspaper comedies, neither was it as fluffy as some of Day’s romantic comedies. Instead, it was a subtle comedy, with a lot of genuine debate about the value of education versus life experience.
The film was a box office success and was nominated for two Academy Awards. It was one of Gable’s final films, as he died of a heart attack two years later, in November 1960, at the age of 59.
Day always spoke of her co-star with great affection. Describing his unique personality, she said he was “as masculine as any man I’ve ever known”. She also said there was something of a “little boy” in his personality, adding that the combination had a “devastating effect” on women.
In later life, after retiring from acting, Day set up the Doris Day Animal League to highlight the problems of unwanted pets. Every year in her home town of Carmel, fans gathered on her birthday on 3rd April to support a three-day fundraiser for her animal charity, the Doris Day Animal Foundation.
The last fundraiser took place around one month before her death from pneumonia. The star has left an amazing legacy of her records and films that are timeless classics… and still very much loved today!
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