The Pajama Game

Doris Day, The Pajama GameThe Pajama Game should be required viewing
– at least once a year!

The Pajama Game is a meticulous rendering of the Broadway smash hit of the mid-1950s. Co-directed by Stanley Donen and George Abbott, it assembles most of the original Broadway cast, adds Doris Day in a sizzling performance, and the result is just about as good as it can get.

Doris Day returned to musicals after a brief hiatus during which she starred in Hitchcock’s classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much and MGM’s thriller Julie. She also returned to the Warners lot, after a three-year absence, to create one of her finest musical portrayals. As Babe Williams, head of the Grievance Committee at a pajama factory, she is tough and determined but also very, very feminine and sexy. When she meets John Raitt, father of singer Bonnie, she falls head over heels in love, and it’s easy to understand why. This was Raitt’s only on-screen musical lead, despite a dazzling stage career that spanned more than forty years. In another time and place. he’d have repeated that success on the screen. Fortunately, this film remains as a lasting reminder of how good he was.

Doris Day and John Raitt. There Once Was A Man, from The Pajama Game

Doris Day and John Raitt. There Once Was A Man, from The Pajama Game.

Doris Day, playing the role created by Janis Paige on stage, is incredible. Whether singing the exuberant I’m Not At All in Love, or stopping the show with Raitt while duetting There Once Was A Man, she is truly a dazzler. Day is especially poignant singing a reprise of the show’s big hit, Hey There. The number was recorded live, which was highly unusual since most musical numbers are pre-recorded.

Bob Fosse stages the musical numbers with style and the supporting players, including Carol Haney, Reta Shaw and Eddie Foy, Jr, are wonderful. Harry Stradling photographs the lovely sets with his customary brilliance. The Pajama Game should be required viewing, once a year, by all aficionados of musical theater. It’s a near perfect presentation of a lively and loving romp, from an era gone by, but that deserves to be remembered.

Paul Brogan

‘The first left-wing operetta’ – Jean-Luc Godard

When The Pajama Game was brought to the screen in 1957, Doris Day was given sole star billing, with John Raitt, Carol Haney, and Eddie Foy, Jr. below the title. Raitt had top billing in the Broadway production, but this was Hollywood! Day is fascinating as Babe Williams, head of the grievance committee at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory. She falls in love with the new superintendent, played by Raitt. A seven-and-a-half-cent raise is at stake for the workers, with management playing dirty tricks.

The musical score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross is great. Day is in wonderful voice, which is clear and poignant as she reprises that marvelous standard, Hey There. I’m Not at All in Love is very entertaining, with Day really showing us how a musical number should be done. She and Raitt do the standout There Once Was A Man, and they both perform to perfection. What a great number!  The songs that were omitted from the original Broadway cast were not missed here.

Carol Haney is brilliant as Gladys and dances up a storm with Bob Fosse’s signature choreography in two highlights of the film, Once a Year Day and Steam Heat. Eddie Foy Jr., Barbara Nichols, Reta Shaw and Thelma Pelish, all holdovers from the stage version, add much to the proceedings. Stanley Donen’s direction is deft. This is one of his best pictures, but he never mentions it in documentaries about his career. I don’t understand why he concentrates on Funny Face –  The Pajama Game is a much better film.

Ralph McKnight, New York

Richard Adler: The Man Who Invented Love – for Doris Day

Richard Adler with Sally Ann Howes, who starred in the 1961 show Kwamina, for which he wrote the music and lyrics. Photograph: AP / Guardian

Richard Adler with Sally Ann Howes, who starred in the 1961 show Kwamina, for which he wrote the music and lyrics. Photograph: AP / Guardian

Richard Adler, songwriter for the play and movie wrote in his autobiography, You Gotta Have Heart, that his experiences with Doris Day were divine:

I was actually trembling as I approached the Warner Brothers lot on the first full morning of work. But once I was there, time seemed to collapse. It was home; it was natural; it was almost easy. The film was already deeply into pre-production; Mr. Abbott was working with Stanley Donen, who would be co-directing the film; Bob Fosse was recreating the dances; the film was adhering very closely to the original.

My task was to train the ensemble and Doris Day, who was playing the Janis Paige role. A mass of freckles and beauty and good spirits, she was a genuinely sweet person, and a joy to work with. She had an agile mind, and a sure musical sense, and teaching the songs to her was a breeze.

It was so natural that a couple of day into rehearsal, I thought why not give her a new song, one I’d write myself? It would help her, help me, and possibly help my future. So, I sat down with my tape recorder and then with a musical secretary, and wrote a ballad for her called The Man Who Invented Love. She loved it. It lay in her range, it had nice lyrics and what was most important, it was right for both her and the character. I played it for Mr. Abbott and Stanley Donen, and they liked it, too. It was a sure bet for the film, a breakthrough for me. My career was slowly re-engaging its gears. What I didn’t know at the time, nor did anyone else, was the ultimate fate of the song. It would never be heard. It would end up on the proverbial cutting-room floor.” – Richard Adler

Now, what Mr. Adler didn’t know is that when the DVD version of The Pajama Game was released, The Man Who Invented Love was included as an extra feature, and it is lovely indeed! It WAS finally rescued from the cutting room floor.

Derald Hendry

The Pajama Game, Doris Day. poster

Doris Day Films @ Amazon USA     Doris Day Films @ Amazon UK