She was – and continues to be – an extremely complicated and contradictory woman. This makes her all the more fascinating for a biographer, no less than for a reader.” – David Kaufman
David Kaufman, author of Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door talks to Bryan James, creator of The Films of Doris Day website and Forum, about his love affair with Doris Day – strictly from the cinema stalls – and the highs and lows of writing a book about a screen icon.
His latest book, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin, is due for publication in March 2016.
I was all of six or seven years old, when my parents took me to see my first Doris Day film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”; and by identifying with her on-screen son, I immediately fell in love with her.” – David Kaufman
Doris Day first caught the world’s attention during the Second World War with the song, “Sentimental Journey” in 1945, her first No 1 chart hit. She captured the mood of the time, including that of a young US Navy aircraft mechanic heading for the Philippines named Roy Harold Fitzgerald, later to become her most famous co-star Rock Hudson.
Her life has been well documented in books and videos, So what more is there to say? Quite a lot, it turns out. In recent years there have been several new books about her – a number of these books have caused controversy among fans who object to Miss Day’s private life being mulled over for what they see as financial gain for the authors. As the creator of a forum about Doris Day, I can bear witness to the divisive disagreements and bitter arguments between fans on the morals and merits of some of these books.
On the controversial side, from some people’s point of view – but not leading the pack – is David Kaufman’s “Doris Day – The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door”, first published in June 2008. I met him in London before the book was published when he flew over to talk to members of her UK fan base as part of his research. We had an interesting ‘Doris Day’ dinner and I listened, fascinated, to stories of Doris and Hollywood – including a few OMG tales that didn’t make it into the finished book! David seemed very interested in what I thought as a fan and we met again the next day when he brought a small tape recorder. Never having met her I couldn’t see how anything I said could be of much interest but I had the sense that, along with the hundred or so other interviews he was conducting, that it would help to build a picture in his mind of her influence and how she is perceived.
I left, impressed by his sincerity and obvious liking and enthusiasm for his subject, saying I would either review the book or interview him about it at a later date. A year later, after the book had been published, it became an argumentative topic on the forum that people couldn’t agree on. Some took to Amazon to condemn it – without having read it in many cases.
But the majority of Amazon reader’s reviews were positive, although you have to wade through all the negative ones to read them. One appreciative review summed up the situation as I saw it by saying:
The publication of this book seemed to cause many Doris Day fans to have negative comments regarding this book. I assume that those Doris Day fans feared that the book would shed an unfavorable light on Ms. Day, but I assure you that is not the case. Doris Day was and is a great lady and the author only reaffirms her positive image… I think the fan websites jumped to unfair conclusions without first reading the book. If anyone wants to get the “dirty laundry” on Ms. Day, one will not find it contained in this bio.”
I started by asking David Kaufman questions via email:
Q “You’ve spent most of this decade writing and researching the lives of two very different individuals with, to the casual observer, nothing in common, apart from both being in the entertainment business. What made you choose Charles Ludlam and Doris Day?
(Note from David Kaufman: For those readers who have no idea who Ludlam is, he was a New York theatre figure who wrote, starred in and directed 29 plays in 20 years while running his own troupe, The Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Embraced by the cognoscenti, mainstream critics and a large, if local, following, Ludlam was at the forefront of the very cultural revolution that Day turned her back on in the late 1960s. His achievements abruptly drew to a close, however, when he died of AIDS in 1987, at the age of 44.)
David Kaufman: “Indeed, I’ve spent nearly the last two decades writing about the subjects of my first two biographies. And even though they seem, on first blush, to have nothing in common, I came to realize that both Charles Ludlam and Doris Day were undervalued by the culture, which otherwise celebrated what they had to offer. I also grew to appreciate that they both had an obvious joie de vivre, with which they could infect everyone in their presence.
From a biographer’s viewpoint, I further appreciated that, having written Ludlam’s bio after his demise, and without being able to interview him about his life, my biography of Doris Day could be equally as valid, without my having any direct access to her, given Day’s famous reluctance to respond to any probing questions about her past. I already learned and understood, in other words, that a biographer does not need to have direct access to his subject, in order to write a meaningful biography. How else could there be significant biographies of all of the great historical figures who died hundreds of years ago, be it Michelangelo, George Washington, John Adams, Emily Dickinson, Winston Churchill or T.S. Eliot? As a highly public, and even an iconic figure, Doris Day relinquished her rights to privacy long before I was even born. As much as I respect her rights to privacy now, she has to respect my rights to write about her as a public figure in her heyday, when everything was up for grabs, so to speak, and she was being written about, on practically a daily basis — and, I might add, gave thousands of interviews.”