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Constance Alexander: Doris Day, a paragon of ‘good girl’ virtue that many young women aspired to be


When I was growing up, there was no such thing as middle school. In fact, grades six, seven, and eight might have been called Purgatory because those adolescent years were somewhere between heaven and hell.

Pre-teen girls were filled with giggles and tears, aching with non-specific longings and precise aversions. We were curious about things the nuns called “near occasions of sin,” but uncertain about the divide between good and bad girls. We were assured that sleeveless tops were bad, and dresses that ventured above the knee were reserved for toddlers. Makeup was evil, as were nail polish and sandals.

Patent leather shoes? Well, you know all about them.

C. Alexander_Doris Day

There were role models for the young ladies of St. Francis. The Lennon Sisters were good, and singer Teresa Brewer was Catholic Mother of the Year. The duo of Patience and Prudence was sufficiently pure until their hit record, “Tonight You Belong to Me.” That got them into the top 10 on the Legion of Decency Condemned List, along with “Psycho,” “Seven Year Itch,” and any song by Elvis Presley.

Enter Doris Day, the actress who set the standards that good girls aspired to. Blond and blue-eyed, with a splash of pale freckles and startling white teeth, she was spirited, spunky and — gosh-darn-it — always a lady. Starring with matinee idols like James Garner, Rod Taylor, and Rock Hudson, she was impeccably attired and insistently wholesome. In those roles, she established the template for romantic comedies of the late ’50s and into the 1960s. Pursued by rabid male wolves, she was predictably bright and uptight.

Doris and her men had the weird chemistry of stale Ritz crackers washed down with sips of flat Coke. Nevertheless, adolescent girls loved them.

Who wouldn’t relish the role of the über-virgin, who took luxurious bubble baths in her glitzy, bachelor girl apartment? There were phones in every room, most of them in pastel shades or wedding gown ivory. At night, there were frilly peignoirs with lace trim and ruffles at the wrist and throat; by day, modest sheath dresses, accessorized with trim pillbox hats and spanking white gloves.

Our role model was all business, even when socializing. She didn’t kiss on the first, second, third, or even fourth date. When she finally acquiesced, there was no sighing, moaning, or heavy breathing. Afterward, she could be counted on to fix her lipstick and powder her perky nose, determined to resist until Rock (or whoever) put a ring on it.

From 1948 to 1968, Doris Day appeared in 39 films. At age 46, she made her last one, “With Six You Get Eggroll.” When she was approached to play the role of the middle-aged sexpot Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate,” she turned it down because it entailed nudity.

After Hollywood, she retired to Carmel, California, where she spent the rest of her life as an animal activist.

Last week, when she died at age 97, not all the details of her obituary were sunny bright. Her marriages went bad and her first husband was abusive. Her fortune was squandered through bad advice and risky investments. Nevertheless, the way Cincinnati broadcaster Nick Clooney put it, “She had the ability to continue to project that all-American girl when her own house was falling down around her.”

So here’s to Doris Day. May she rest in peace, with a touch of mink, a string of pearls, plenty of pillow talk, and a passel of puppies to keep her company in the sweet hereafter.

See a video biography of Doris Day from the July 12, 2009 installment of the CBS show, Sunday Morning on Youtube:

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.


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