Musical Interlude: Doris Day in Musicals

Musical Interlude: Doris Day in Musicals

As a teen, Doris Day had dreams of becoming a dancer, but after her leg was broken in an accident when a train hit her car, her original plan of heading to Hollywood to dance was changed. She then reinvented herself as a singer and gained fame as the singer with Les Brown and his Band of Renown.

When Doris Day did make it to Hollywood, her former life as a dancer and her singing talents – along with her acting ability — made her a triple threat and a natural in movie musicals.

As we remember the late Doris Day, here are a few of the musicals she made throughout her career…


Romance on the High Seas (1948)

Romance on the High Seas

Doris Day played the lead in her first film as nightclub singer Georgia Garrett. Married couple Elvira (Janis Paige) and Michael (Don DeFore) don’t trust each other, so Elvira sends Georgia on a cruise to pose as her so Elvira can stay home and spy on her husband, while Michael sends a private detective (Jack Carson) on the cruise to spy on Elvira. Peter falls in love with Georgia — thinking she is Elvira — and thinks he will be in big trouble with Michael.

Romance on the High Seas is delightful, and a different role than Day’s later musical roles. She sings fabulous Sammy Cahn lyrics, smokes cigarettes and is full of sass — all in Technicolor!


Lullaby of Broadway (1951)

Lullaby of Broadway

Doris Day plays Melinda Howard, a singer who comes to New York to visit her mother Jessica (Gladys George). Melinda believes that her mother is successful and lives in a mansion, but in reality, she is a former singer and alcoholic. Servants and a millionaire, Adolph Hubbell (Cuddles Sakall), help perpetuate the farce for Melinda’s sake. Hubbell, who is also a Broadway producer, decides to star Melinda in his next show.

Lullaby of Broadway is an often overlooked Doris Day musical, co-starring Gene Nelson as her Broadway co-star and love interest. The movie is filmed in vibrant Technicolor, and also has a sad, touching side since it involves a daughter and her mother. Something to note: Notice how the beginning of Doris Day’s number “Lullaby of Broadway” begins by highlighting only her face. Director David Butler mimicked how Busby Berkeley filmed Wini Shaw singing “Lullaby of Broadway” in “Gold Diggers of 1935” for this number.


I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951)

I’ll See You in My Dreams

This is a biographical film about lyricist Gus Khan (Danny Thomas) who wrote several popular songs such as “It Had To Be You” and “Pretty Baby.  The film begins as Khan meets his composing partner Grace (Doris Day) and the two eventually marry. The film spans from 1908 to the 1930s, and follows Kahn’s career and marital ups and downs.

I’ll See You in My Dreams is a quiet dramatic musical that is a special favorite of mine. Danny Thomas and Doris Day have great chemistry and play well off each other. While there are many serious moments in this musical, including the 1929 stock market crash, Mary Wickes who is also in the film, provides some comic relief.


On Moonlight Bay (1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)

On Moonlight Bay

This duo of films follows the Winfield family from 1916 to 1918. The first film, On Moonlight Bay, starts with the Winfields as they move to a new neighborhood and their tomboy daughter Marjorie, played by Doris Day, who soon falls in love with her college student neighbor, Bill Sherman (Gordon MacRae). Because of Bill’s ideas about marriage and banks, her parents (Leon Ames, Rosemary DeCamp) are uncertain about him. Meanwhile, her younger brother Wesley (Billy Gray) gets into trouble. In the follow-up, ‘Silvery Moon,’ Bill returns from World War I and has to figure out his life path and whether or not that will include marriage.

These two heartwarming Warner Bros. musicals are in the same vain as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – homespun, and following the life of a family for one year. There is a great deal of humor too, plus gorgeous Technicolor, and of course beautiful songs performed by Day and MacRea. They are two of my favorite Doris Day films – simply because they make me feel good.


Calamity Jane (1953)

Calamity Jane

In a fictionalized biographical musical about Calamity Jane, played by Doris Day, Calamity believes she’s in love with Lt. Danny Gilmartin (Philip Carey), but Lt. Gilmartin has fallen in love with the new, lady-like singer in town, Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie). Much to her surprise however, Calamity soon discovers that she’s actually falling in love with her frenemy, Wild Bill Hickock (Howard Keel).

Calamity Jane is such a fun film! The songs funnily mimic some that are from “Oklahoma” (compare “Windy City” to “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City”), and there isn’t a bad song in the whole film. “Secret Love” even won the Academy Award for Best Song.


Love Me or Leave Me (1955)

Love Me or Leave Me

In this biographical musical drama, Doris Day plays Ruth Etting, a popular singer of the 1920s and 1930s, whose life was controlled by gangster and eventually husband, Martin “the Gimp” Snyder (James Cagney). 

While James Cagney sang and danced in other musicals, he didn’t here. His character is purely abusive to Etting. The songs that Doris Day performs in this film are all hits that Ruth Etting would have performed in the 1920s and 1930s, except for two original songs “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” and “Never Look Back.” Doris Day’s performances of “Shakin’ the Blues Away” and “Ten Cents a Dance” will knock your socks off. The character of Ruth Etting was substantially different than other roles Day had up to this point — she smoked, drank, her costumes were sexier and her character ends up bitter and hard. If she ever won an Academy Award, it should have been for Love Me or Leave Me.


Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962)

Set in the early 1900s, the Wonder Circus is run by Pop Wonder (Jimmy Durante) and his daughter Kitty (Day Day), with their main attraction Jumbo the Elephant. The circus is floundering financially and unpaid performers are quitting left and right to join other shows. Kitty hires a drifter, Sam (Stephen Boyd), who does odd jobs and various performances. Kitty falls for Sam, but Sam may also not be trying to help the circus succeed.

While Billy Rose’s Jumbo may not be Doris Day’s best musical, it’s notable because it’s her last movie musical. She left films altogether six years later in 1968. Jumbo’ is very colorful and has some fun numbers like “It Must Be Love” with Doris Day performing on horseback. Stephen Boyd is also an unexpected surprise to see in a musical and is quite easy on the eyes.


– Jessica Pickens for Classic Movie Hub

Jessica can be found at and on twitter at @HollywoodComet. In addition to her overall love of classic movies, she has ongoing series on her site including “Watching 1939″ and “Musical Monday.”

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