Romance on the High Seas

Romance on the High SeasDoris Day makes a spectacular debut in her first film

In 1947, Warner’s planned to bring a lavish musical comedy, Romance on the High Seas, to the screen. Arrangements had been made with MGM to borrow Judy Garland to star in the picture, but unfortunately, Miss Garland was unable to take part for health reasons. Betty Hutton was then cast in the role, however, she discovered that she was pregnant and was forced to bow out. In desperation, the movie’s songwriters, Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn, urged 23-year-old band singer, Doris Day, to audition for the role after hearing her sing at a Hollywood party. Reluctantly, Doris auditioned for Hungarian director, Michael Curtiz, and to her astonishment, landed the coveted role.

Doris Day and Oscar Levant

“So, Oscar, you knew me before I was a virgin, I hear?”

Romance on the High Seas centers on Georgia Garrett, (Day) a talented young singer who has dreams of success in show business, but spends her days in travel agencies dreaming of trips to faraway places.

Georgia is hired by a socialite, Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) to impersonate her on a dream excursion (all expenses paid) to South America, so she can remain in New York to spy on her suspected cheating husband. Kent’s husband, Michael, played by Don DeFore, likewise has suspicions concerning his wife’s infidelities and hires a private investigator, Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to monitor his wife’s activities during her cruise to Rio.

Virgil meets “Mrs. Kent” aboard the ship, and, naturally, falls in love with her, adding to the complications. Georgia’s wannabe boyfriend, Oscar Ferrar (Oscar Levant), is also curious about his “girlfriend’s” mysterious trip. He follows her to Rio, because Georgia failed to explain fully how and why she was going on the cruise. After promising that she would uphold the dignity of Mrs. Kent’s name, Georgia is offered a golden opportunity to sing aboard ship for a great deal of money, but must do it as Mrs. Elvira Kent, not Georgia Garrett. When word of “Kent’s” singing engagement hits the newspapers, the real Mrs. Kent is horrified and her husband becomes suspicious because his wife cannot sing a note. Everyone ends up in Rio and false identities are revealed. Georgia is finally freed to be herself, Mr. and Mrs. Kent discover that each of them is faithful and the film ends on a happy note with Georgia on her way to fame and fortune and professes her feelings for the man she really loves, Virgil.

romance-on-high-seas10Doris Day makes a spectacular debut in Romance on the High Seas. She was fresh and displayed a naturalness that had not been seen on the screen before. Audiences immediately took her to their hearts. The film made Doris Day an instant star and she received almost unanimous raves from movie critics.

During the proceedings, Miss Day sang a song that Judy Garland wished she could have called her own, It’s Magic. This beautiful ballad was performed twice during the picture and became a huge, million-selling record for Miss Day and was nominated for an Academy Award. S.Z. Sakall played Uncle Laszlo, Michael and Elvira’s flustered confidant. Other familiar faces included Fortunio Bonanova, Eric Blore, William Bakewell, Franklin Pangborn, Broadway’s Avon Long whose duet on The Tourist Trade with Carson was a highlight and the Page Cavanaugh Trio who backed Doris on Put ‘Em in a Box.

Jack Carson and Oscar Levant - on the high seas.

Jack Carson and Oscar Levant – on the high seas.

Doris Day’s performance was refreshingly professional. She acted as if she had been making films for years and worked well with her co-stars, Jack Carson, Janis Paige and Oscar Levant. The costumes by Milo Anderson and the Technicolor photography by Elwood Bredell were first-rate and Curtiz’s direction was deft. Overall, Romance on The High Seas is a feel-good movie and brought to the screen a new star, who helped save a dying art, the movie musical. MGM had Judy Garland, 20th Century Fox had Betty Grable, RKO had Ginger Rogers, and now, Warner Brothers finally had a true musical star to equal them all: Doris Day.

Ralph McKnight, New York

A young Doris Day croons classics, like It’s Magic, aboard an ocean-going liner alongside regular co-star Jack Carson and Janis Paige. Day throws herself into her movie début like a woman aiming for a passing lifeboat from the deck of the Titanic.

But this was a fledgling performance from an actress determined to succeed — even if it took a few years of belting ’em out in froth like this. One of those movies to watch with a box of chocolates on a rainy afternoon, that requires nothing more than an open mind and a light heart.” – BBC Radio Times

Romance on the High Seas, 1948

Director Michael Curtiz looks on approvingly as Doris Day prepares for the scene below (with stand-in for Eric Blore as the ship’s doctor).

romance-on-high-seas2

Additional Notes

Doris Day made her film début in this film as a Michael Curtiz discovery. He felt her warmth and magnetism was indicative of the establishment of a great film star. After signing at Warner Brothers, they immediately began to give her acting lessons to prepare her for her role. When Curtiz heard about it, he was not happy. He said that she had a strong screen personality of her own and she should always just be herself, that she really didn’t need acting lessons of any kind. He, of course, was entirely correct. In Doris Day’s book, Doris Day My Story, she reports that he said to her: “You have a natural thing that no one should ever disturb. You listen to me, Doris, it’s a very rare thing – do not disturb.”

Doris day, Romance on the High Seas
After all her one-night bandstands and the other troubles in her life, she found performing in films relatively easy. She said:

From the first take onward, I never had any trepidation about what I was called upon to do. Movie acting came to me with greater ease and naturalness than anything else I had ever done.”

The studio was very pleased with the final results in the film, but she, herself, was unhappy with the way she looked. She said that she looked pancaked with make-up and had horrendous hair – referring to the make-up department as the ‘Warner embalmers’. Her own style was to be casual with little make-up, never really worrying very much about her freckles. She felt that every shot should be redone. The hauntingly beautiful It’s Magic was nominated for an Academy Award and became a big hit for Doris Day. – Derald Hendry


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