By Jessica Pickens
The name Doris Day is synonymous with a bright, sunshiny smile. Known for her cheerful roles, Day’s career spanned four decades—from her first film in 1948 to her television show ending in 1973.
Though Day is often remembered for her three films with Rock Hudson, she has several hidden gems in the more than 40 films she made. Here are a few you shouldn’t miss:
Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) and Michael Kent (Don DeFore) are newly married and already suspecting each other of cheating. Elvira tells her husband she is going on a cruise but enlists nightclub singer Georgia Garrett (Doris Day) to travel in her place, posing as her, so Elvira can stay home and spy on her husband. In turn, Michael sends private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) on the cruise to see if Elvira is cheating. When Peter falls in love with Georgia—thinking she is Elvira—he thinks he will be in big trouble with Michael.
Some actors struggle to get their first leading role, but Doris Day’s first film was a leading role. “Romance on the High Seas” is delightful and a different role than Day’s later virginal roles. She sings fabulous Sammy Cahn lyrics, smokes cigarettes and is full of sass — all in Technicolor!
Starting in 1916, the film looks at a year in the life of the Winfield family, starting with the Winfields moving to a new neighborhood hoping to refine their tomboy daughter Marjorie (Doris Day). Marjorie falls in love with college student William Sherman (Gordon MacRae), whose has college ideas have him saying he doesn’t believe in marriage and that banks are parasites. These ideas don’t please her parents (Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp), so Marjorie dates several other young men, but she is preoccupied with thoughts of William. The film is filled with antics of her younger brother (Billy Gray).
This nostalgic film is in the same vein as “Meet Me in St. Louis,” but stands on its own rather than feeling like a carbon copy. Based loosely on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories, “On Moonlight Bay” is a delightful and fun story with several humorous scenes. Gordon MacRae and Doris Day made several films together and are one of my favorite movie couples. They have great chemistry, particularly in these homespun films. The film has a sequel too, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (1953).
A biographical film about lyricist Gus Kahn (Danny Thomas), who wrote songs such as “It Had To Be You,” “Pretty Baby,” and “San Francisco.” Kahn meets his composing partner Grace (Doris Day), and they fall in love and marry. The film follows Kahn’s career highs and lows—from having his songs used by producer Florenz Ziegfeld to the stock market crash in 1929 to popularity in Hollywood. Throughout the film, Gus’s wife Grace supports him every step of the way.
“I’ll See You in My Dreams” is a sentimental film, but is a little realistic than the nostalgic musicals like “On Moonlight Bay.” The film deals with financial and marital problems as well as wounded pride. In their only film together, Danny Thomas and Doris Day are a great screen team.
Set in the 1920s and 1930s, Doris Day plays jazz singer Ruth Etting in this biographical film. The film follows her rise to fame as Etting is helped by gangster Marty Snyder (Cagney), who makes her a star. Synder is abusive and his attitude gets in the way of her career. Etting falls in love with piano player Johnny (Cameron Mitchell), but Snyder won’t let Etting go.
If Doris Day ever won an Academy Award for any of her performances, it should have been for “Love Me or Leave Me.” She gives one her best performance in this film. “Love Me or Leave Me” is a gritty story told as a Technicolor musical and it works fabulously. Doris Day was playing a character different than characters were used too—her costumes were sexier and she smoked and drank, and the story deals with abusive relationships and even marital rape. Though the biographical aspect of the film is fictionalized, this is still a great film.
Jane Osgood (Doris Day) is a widow in Maine who owns a lobster business that relies on the timeliness of the railroad. When her lobsters spoil because the train is late, with the help of her lawyer boyfriend George (Jack Lemmon), Jane sues the railroad owner, Harry Foster Malone (Ernie Kovacs).
“It Happened to Jane” is the best Doris Day movie that you’ve never seen. Overshadowed by another Doris Day film released in 1959 — “Pillow Talk — “It Happened to Jane” is rarely mentioned in Day’s repertoire but should be. It is a fun and adorable film, and Day and Jack Lemmon are an adorable couple. This is one you should seek out.
Abby McClure (Doris Day) and Jack Iverson (Brain Keith) are two widowers who fall in love, and want to get married. The only problem is their children don’t want their parents to get married and have hostile responses to the romance.
“With Six You Get Eggroll” was Doris Day’s last film appearance, but I love it just as much as her early roles. Similar to “Yours, Mine and Ours” (1968), but with less children, “With Six You Get Eggroll” is an entertaining comedy. Doris Day ended on a high note with this last film.
What is your favorite Doris Day film? Rent her movies here:
Jessica Pickens is a North Carolina-based writer. She has a degree in print journalism and now works in public relations. Outside of work, she writes about pre-1968 films at CometOverHollywood.com with a special interest in musicals, films released in 1939, and World War II-era films. You can follow her Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.