Calamity Jane: Putting the spotlight on the wonderful work of Hollywood icon

”Of all the movies I made Calamity Jane is my personal favourite. She was such a tomboy and we had enormous fun making the movie. And, of course, there were the wonderful musical numbers, including the Academy Award-winning song ‘Secret Love’” – Doris Day.

The Rialto Picture House was located in Hallcraig Street, Airdrie. With a stalls-only seating capacity of 540, it was the first Monklands cinema to become a bingo venue during the late 60s.

The year was 1957 when the Warner Brothers Technicolor production of Calamity Jane (1953) opened at the Rialto for a special return engagement that my mum and I loved – and it marked the genesis of my admiration for, and appreciation of, Doris Day and her movies.

Born Doris Kapelhoff on April 3, 1924, to Alma and William Kapelhoff of German stock in Cincinnati, the young Doris had ambitions to become a dancer, but aged 13 she was involved in a car accident that severely fractured her right leg.

It marked the end of her dancing days and the beginning of her singing career, when she began singing lessons aged 16. Her singing teacher, Grace Rain, introduced her to Andrew Carlin who ran an amateur talent program on the Cincinnati Radio Station WLW.

When band leader Barney Rapp heard Doris sing Day By Day he recognised her potential and invited her to join his band and, inspired by the song she sang on Radio Rapp, persuaded her to change her name to Day.

He didn’t think Kapelhoff sounded very good – and it looked even worse on the marquee outside the venue where the band played. When movie director Michael Curtiz was asked by composer Jule Styne to audition Doris Day for his next picture, Romance on the High Seas (1948), despite her lack of acting experience, Curtiz recognised her undeniable charm and outstanding voice and convinced Warner Bros to put her under contract.

Doris Day went on to star in a total of 17 films for the studio, with the contract ending with her final film for Warner Bros, The Pajama Game (1957).

Ask the average moviegoer to name a Doris Day film and chances are Calamity Jane , the flick about the nineteenth-century Wild West , will be at the top of the list – for all sorts of wonderfully acceptable reasons.

First, there is the vibrant, ground breaking, memorable performance by Day in a role she was born to play opposite Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok .

Then there is the fabulous musical score by Sammy Fain and Paul Webster who also wrote the score for MGM’S big hit Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Every song became a hit but it was Day putting heart and soul into the interpretation of them that made the tunes triumphs.

The Man Who Knew Much (1956), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was the first of Day’s contemporary movies as she played a sophisticated woman opposite James Stewart.

The film is significant in Day’s career as it gave her the chance to sing Que Sera Sera , the tune which became her signature song and trademark, selling three million copies worldwide.

In another straight dramatic role, Day gave a brilliant performance as a young American in London being stalked by a sadistic fiend through telephone calls threatening to kill her.

Midnight Lace (1960), produced by Universal Pictures, was a great thriller to see from the beginning – and don’t reveal the ending to anyone. It was well worth the walk from Airdrie to the Odeon Cinema in Coatbridge during Easter of that year to enjoy the latest Day flick.

A new Day movie genre was created when the star found her greatest success in slick romantic comedies with the handsome Rock Hudson.

Pillow Talk (1959), the first of only three movies with Hudson, was a film that restored and increased Day’s box office appeal, taking her and Hudson to new career heights and making them the most popular movie couple of the moment.

Day was nominated for an Academy Award and the media almost unanimously responded to this “new Doris”, who was seen as having gone sexy.

Produced by Ross Hunter for Universal with fabulous sets and costumes designed by Jean Louis, Day never looked better. The successful Day-Hudson formula was repeated again in Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964).

An added bonus was Day singing the bouncy title songs from each movie, and it is obvious the pair liked each other and enjoyed working together enormously.

In 1963, Doris Day teamed up with James Garner, playing husband and wife in two of the biggest box office hits that year – The Thrill Of It All for Universal and Move Over Darling for Twentieth Century Fox.

The latter film kept Fox afloat after the huge losses it had incurred with the 1963 box office bomb Cleopatra.

The title song, sung by Day, hit the charts and was written by Day’s son, Terry Melcher, who was a songwriter and record producer with such stars as The Beach Boys.

But he was also famous for turning down an aspiring musician named Charles Manson. When Manson and his followers embarked on their murderous rampage in 1969, they headed to the house once owned by Melcher hoping to find him there and instead came upon actress Sharon Tate and visitors, all of whom were killed.

MGM was running true to form when they produced their spectacular Panavision and Metrocolor 1962 screen version of Billy Rose’s Jumbo .

It was Day’s final Hollywood musical as she starred as the daughter of a circus proprietor, played by screen veteran Jimmy Durante.

In keeping with the grand tradition of lavish MGM musicals, the quality in this wonderful family movie was evident in every department.

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