Remembering Doris Day

Doris Day and James Cagney in “Love Me or Leave Me”.
“I consider this to be her greatest performance, in her best picture.” – David Kaufman.

Q “If you had to publish the book today would you change anything?”

David Kaufman: “Even though I have made some corrections as the book has been reprinted – and still more for the paperback edition – there are some things I’ve learned since finishing the book, which I could not include, since it would have meant new pagination and redoing the Index – which is a much bigger job than most readers might imagine. One of them was that Les Paul approached Doris Day to be his lead vocalist, before deciding to go with Mary Ford, instead. (Indeed, the 93-year-old Les had me meet him backstage at the Iridium, here in New York, last summer, before he went on, to give me details.) There are some other things I’ve learned, which I can’t say, without first running them by lawyers. There’s also a lot more I can say about Barry Comden, now that he’s died.

I can also say, that had we decided to redo the Index, I would have cut back on the reviewers’ quotes of Day’s films. A number of people have pointed out that I’ve included far more than I should have, and I’ve come to agree with them.”

Praised in David Kaufman’s book as a great film noir; Louis Jourdan and Doris Day, on the Carmel coast, discuss a scene in “Julie”, while producer Martin Melcher looks on.

Q “How do you think Doris Day will be remembered? I can’t help feeling that despite whatever is written or revealed about her that she will still always be seen as “the girl next door”.

David Kaufman: “I agree that the image of Doris Day as “the girl next door” is simply embedded in our culture and will remain with us for a long time. But part of why, I think, she lost her popularity near the end of her film career, is because there was a growing cynicism and scepticism towards old-fashioned Hollywood mores, which she stood for, par excellence. And even though the star, Doris Day, will embody those characteristics in perpetuity, I hope that my book has humanized the woman, Doris Day. But whatever impact my biography has had, and will continue to have – in terms of both humanizing Doris Day and rehabilitating her reputation – I know that Doris Day on screen and on records will long surpass it.”

Q “Will she still be popular in the future, as memories fade?”  

David Kaufman: “Given the technological advances, I think that Doris Day’s films and recordings will always be available, and I think that her natural talents as both a singer and an actress will continue to give pleasure to future generations. I don’t think that there will ever be a star of her calibre again, not only because of her outsize talents, but also because the studio system has vanished. And without the system’s PR apparatus controlling the media, no star will ever receive the kind of extended attention they did in the past. But Doris Day will live on, well beyond her own time – and ours.”


Doris Day comes out of this book, with her legendary star status firmly intact. David Kaufman’s book simply reminds people that there was another person behind the image we have of ‘Doris Day’ – and that person wasn’t always the confident woman we’re used to seeing on the screen, but rather a more human character with problems and shortcomings that we are all too familiar with in our own lives.

It is perhaps understandable for a woman who seldom, rather than never, looks back, that she doesn’t want to be reminded of a past she has said goodbye to, although there are stories of her watching some of her films again and revising a previous feeling that ‘they were all terrible’! But, she is, as David Kaufman reminds us, a public figure and for that reason she will still inspire people to put pen to paper in an attempt to explain the star that writer David Thomson referred to as ‘the icon nobody really knew – who isn’t interested in her own legend’. 

David Kaufman has gone further than all others in revealing the woman behind the legend in his definitive Doris Day biography. It’s a forensic labour of love and, I believe, even if Doris had agreed to speak to him, it wouldn’t have changed anything he’s written. He is a man of integrity and takes his work very seriously. Beyond all that, the book is very good read!

I discovered, having met him again a few more times, that he is a great storyteller. I think Doris would have enjoyed the story too.

Bryan James


David Kaufman is a best-selling and award-winning* author and has been a New York theater critic since 1981, working for New York Daily News and as a long-time contributor to Nation, Vanity FairVillage Voice and New York Times.

*Kaufman’s  biography, Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, won the LAMBDA Literary Award for Best Biography and the Theatre Library Association Award for Outstanding Theatre Book of the Year.

David Kaufman talks about Doris Day to Mark Lynch: (radio interview)
“Doris Day is nothing less than a full-fledged icon of American entertainment culture, with a stellar career in film, on TV and in music. We speak with writer David Kaufman about his monumental and revealing biography of this complex star of such wonderful films like “Calamity Jane” and “Love Me or Leave Me”.  
Listen to Mark Lynch’s interview with David Kaufman

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