Please Don't Eat the Daisies

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Doris Day was the hottest property in Hollywood...

 

Ralph McKnight

 

Doris Day was the hottest property in Hollywood, the Number One Star (female or male) at the box-office and could write her own ticket. I wondered, privately, why would she now make a picture with that awful title? These were the days of the great movie palaces, and in Kansas City, Missouri, like any other big city, we had plenty of them: The Roxy, Paramount, Loew's Midland, the Capri, the Uptown, the Empire, the Rockhill, Plaza, and many more. I was very young, but able to attend movies on my own, so I went downtown to see the critically acclaimed film. There were crowds, four deep, around the corner to get in. Festive moviegoers descended from the theatre looking thoroughly satisfied after viewing the movie, intensifying our enthusiasm to see the picture.

 

 

Well, what do you know? The critics were right. This was a great comedy! David Niven turned out to be a wonderful leading man for Doris Day. She, of course, looked incredible in the role of Kate Mackay, which became one of her most believable characters. Unlike most of her female peers in films during the 50s and 60s, Doris played wives with children. Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn and Kim Novak almost completely avoided on-screen motherhood during these years, but not Doris Day. Remember that she had a son in her second film, "My Dream is Yours" and semi-regularly played young mothers throughout her movie career. Many actors could not compete with children and avoided acting with them. Doris' acting was so natural with kids, you'd think she'd actually given birth to them!

 

 

"Please Don't Eat the Daisies" opens with Day preparing to attend the opening of a new Broadway show, which her husband, Larry Mackay, is reviewing. He is a former professor who has just joined the "Holy Seven" group of New York theatre critics, who can destroy any chances that a new show has to succeed with just one bad review. "Luckily", his best friend, the perennially successful Alfred North, is producing the show. The Mackay's brood, four young, mischievous boys are raising havoc while expecting the new baby-sitter to arrive. An expert comedienne, Day, as the harried mother, plays this scene with just the right amount of exasperation, helplessness and understanding, despite the almost demonic behaviour of her boys which appears to be taken in stride as a "boys will be boys" attitude.

The show, "Mlle Fanny" starring Deborah Vaughn (Janis Paige) turns out to be awful. Larry is forced to give the show a bad review, which infuriates Miss Vaughn - and Alfred, who considers the review as a betrayal of their 20-year friendship. Alfred, with the help of Deborah Vaughn, launches a counter-attack on Larry, which results in several public confrontations between Deborah and Larry, including a public slapping at Sardi's, which make headlines. These provocative reports result in a vigorous box-office for the play, much to the delight of "Mlle Fanny's" producers.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kate and Larry attempt to fulfil their marriage dream of moving out of Manhattan to the country. On a limited budget (we don't know why), Kate picks a rundown, enormously large house, which needs major repairs before habitation. For some reason, the whole gang pitches in and with the help of carpenters, painters and landscapers, the "disaster" turns into house beautiful. Meanwhile, Mackay is desperately trying to stay above the fray, what with Alfred and Deborah on the warpath. Kate is growing weary of the countless parties they must attend with the dilettantes of New York society, while enduring the periodic brushes with Vaughn and North.

Kate throws herself into the suburban lifestyle by getting involved with the Hootin' Holler Players, a locale theatre group in Hooten, New York. They are desperately seeking a play to produce for charity and are referred to Alfred North as a possible source. North remembers that Larry, while in college, wrote a disastrous play, "So Passion Dies", of which he has many copies. He changes the title to "Ghostly Music" by 'Irving O'Reilly' and gives permission for the group to use Larry's play with the hope of obtaining revenge on Mackay for his "betrayal".

 

 

When Larry attends a rehearsal for the play in which Kate is starring, he recognises the dialogue and refuses to allow the group to perform it - realising how devastating it would be for his career that he has written such a mediocre play. Day pleads with him not to thwart the production and he reluctantly agrees, but not before writing a self-deprecating news article about the play to save his face. The marriage between Kate and Larry cools as he spends more time in Manhattan while she works on the house in the country. Kate's mother, Suzie Robinson (Spring Byington) steps in to save her daughter's marriage by taking sides with Larry. Miss Byington, gives a wonderful performance, filled with grandmotherly pizzazz and outspoken brashness. Larry is suddenly torn between his new life as a top New York film critic and his life as a father, husband and friend. Kate, after heartfelt advice from her mother, realises that she must make sacrifices as well and decides to make peace with her mate.

 

Janice Paige

Janis Paige, as the oversexed Deborah Vaughn, gives an incredible performance. Why she wasn't nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for this is beyond me. Today, if an actress were half as good as Paige was, she would have two or three Oscars on her mantle. She was absolutely brilliant as she made a lewd play for Larry during a chance meeting in a quiet cafe. He says to her, "I'm just not available". She retorts, "Don't be silly, sweetie, everyone's available who isn't dead." Richard Hayden, as Alfred, is appropriately haughty. He seemed like the Tony Randall substitute in this and appeared genuinely hurt as a result of, what he deemed, a "friend's betrayal".

Patsy Kelly is fun as Maggie, the maid. It's sad that there isn't an Oscar category for bit players. There are some great ones in this movie. Carmen Phillips has a nice bit as a vampire-like apartment hunter; Jack Weston plays the same part he always plays. This was his first really big movie and, years later, he had wonderful things to say about Miss Day, both as a human being and as a professional actress. Veteran actress Margaret Lindsay (Jezebel) plays Mona, a socialite, with wicked aplomb. Charles Walters beautifully directs the children. Charles Herbert, Stanley Livingston, Flip Mark and Baby Gellert are all believable as the small monsters.

 

 

Doris Day is completely natural and gives one on her best performances. Genuinely realistic in her scenes, it was difficult to tell if she was acting or whether she was actually "Kate Mackay" in the real world. This is a remarkable achievement and credit should be given to the director who kept the reality in check for Miss Day. During the proceedings, she had the opportunity to reprise "Whatever Will Be, Will Be" in a quiet moment in a bistro with Niven and performed "Anyway the Wind Blows" during a rehearsal for the play. She also sings the title tune with a group of children at after-school activities.

There is no great plot here, just some interesting occurrences, just like in real-life. That's what so pleasant about this movie. It just breezes along, something happens, you laugh and settle back again just to enjoy watching some interesting actors saying clever things, wearing great clothes and making us like them. Filmed in CinemaScope and colour, it was a handsome production by Joe Pasternak and Martin Melcher with the screenplay by Isobel Lennart, based on the best-selling book by Jean Kerr about life with her husband, Walter Kerr, a New York film critic.


Ralph McKnight, New York, October 2000