Doris Day back in the spotlight

Doris Day
Doris Day returns to the limelight with new album 'My Heart' and the Los Angeles Film Critics' Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day was one of the iconic actresses of the 1950s and '60s.

But nearly 40 years ago, she left Hollywood behind and moved to Carmel after her CBS sitcom “The Doris Day Show" left the airwaves after five seasons. She brought out a few albums, did a series with animals from Carmel ("Doris Day's Best Friends," from 1985-86), and appeared in a PBS special on her life in 1991.

But just a few months shy of her 90th birthday, she is back in the limelight. Day recently released her first recording in 17 years, “My Heart" and she's been doing phone interviews to support the album, which features songs mostly recorded for the animal series, because all the proceeds go to her foundation. The 1956 Oscar-winning tune, “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," which she introduced in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock classic “The Man Who Knew Too Much," is being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February.

But even more important, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. has awarded her its Lifetime Achievement Award. Day will not be coming to Los Angeles for the Jan. 13 ceremony. But in an interview last week from Carmel, she said that she was thrilled with the award, especially since her last feature film was the 1968 family comedy “With Six You Get Egg Roll."

“It's strange to me [to get the award] at this point in my life," she said. “I can't get over it."

She said she has always felt comfortable in front of the camera, from her debut, 1948's “Romance on the High Seas," which was directed by Oscar-winner Michael Curtiz ("Casablanca"), through “Egg Roll."

“I wanted to be in films," she said. “I wasn't nervous. I just felt, 'I am here. I am supposed to be doing this.'"

“I was so lucky to have such terrific actors and directors," she added. “Everything was different and everything to me was just great."

But film historian and writer Cari Beauchamp, who specializes in the history of women on film, and Times film critic Kenneth Turan note that Day is often underestimated as an actress.

“People don't take her seriously," said Turan. “It was a lifetime battle for Marilyn Monroe to be taken seriously; that was a battle she won. Audrey Hepburn was always taken seriously. People are reluctant to take Doris Day seriously. It's too bad."

Though she was one of the most popular stars and recording artists of her day, a series of films in the late '50s and early '60s in which she played a thirtysomething virgin, often opposite Rock Hudson, tagged her with an image that still lingers.

“My favorite Doris Day line is from Oscar Levant: 'I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin,'" said Beauchamp.

“It is a joke, but it sort of isn't," she said. “I talk to people about her and they tend to say she played the girl next door. And you look at her movies, particularly at the time of those films, and she wasn't the girl next door. She always had a backbone. You look at films like 'Pillow Talk' and 'Lover Come Back' with Rock Hudson and she's an interior decorator and an ad executive. She had careers. In 'Teacher's Pet,' she's a journalism professor."

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