Considering Doris Day
by Tom Santopietro
St. Martin's Press | 400 pages | Biography
Includes 20 b&w photos throughout
Thomas Dunne Books | Pub Date: 03/2007 | ISBN: 0-312-36263-3
excerpts from I Dig Doris Day: A Conversation with Tom Santopietro
Borders Books Newsletter - Conducted by Jennifer Farina
Why did you choose to deconstruct the career and persona of Doris Day?
TS: Because I think Doris Day is the single most underrated actress ever to emerge from Hollywood and also because she is a brilliant singer who never received her full due. As an actress she could play anything from musical drama (Love Me or Leave Me) to the heaviest of dramas (Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much) to comedy (The Thrill of It All) and because the effort never showed; people took that enormous talent for granted. As a singer she has been praised by everyone from Sinatra to Tony Bennett, Paul McCartney to Sarah Vaughan, yet again she never received the plaudits her talent warrented. That lack of recognition is another reason I wanted to analyze her career: She is the biggest female box-office star in Hollywood history but beginning in the late 1960s she fell out of fashion, derided as the "perennial virgin"; a tag which is a total misreading of her films and persona. In addition, her success as the biggest film star in the world in the early 1960s sheds a lot of light on the America of that time period. So I've aimed for a serious analysis of her work—not a tell-all biography—but I wanted this to be a fun read for people; they can learn a lot about Doris Day and about pop culture, but hopefully have some great laughs while reading.
What's the most surprising thing you learned about Doris Day as you researched her life and work? What do you think will most surprise readers of your book?
TS: The surprising things I learned about Doris Day in writing the book are three-fold: First, the dichotomy between her very difficult personal life—multiple divorces, with a first husband who beat her while she was pregnant, and a third husband who, whether knowingly or not, left her utterly broke—and the optimism she projected on film. That optimism was not an act—Doris Day really does believe the glass is half full. With such a difficult personal life, overwhelming optimism is all the more extraordinary. She personified what I call the post-World War II American attitude: "hands on hips—eyes on the horizon—we can solve any problem."
Second, I think readers will be surprised by how extensive and extraordinary her recording career was. She released over 600 songs and I examine the recordings in depth, particularly the 16 "concept albums" she made for Columbia Records that are, I think, downright brilliant. People will be surprised at how sexy and intimate her singing was. Just one real listen to "Sentimental Journey" will convince anyone of that. I hope that the book will lead readers to re-discover Doris' singing. As Sarah Vaughan said, "I dig Doris Day!"
Third, as Doris herself has stated, she never had the slightest doubts about her own ability, as either an actress or singer. Yet, at the same time, even with this remarkable self-confidence, she was not particularly ambitious and was more interested in having a satisfying personal life. As she said about her singing and acting, she genuinely felt, "If I can do it, anyone can do it!" That's a fascinating statement—and all wrong! No one else had that combination of a great voice, all-American beauty, and terrific acting ability. She is not impressed by her own enormous talent, which makes her career even more interesting to examine.