An interview with Tom Santopietro, the author of “Considering Doris Day”

June 4, 2007 No Comments

Tom Santopietro’s book ‘Considering Doris Day‘ is available now. Below is a Q&A session with the author which he kindly undertook during the release of his new book.

In your own words how would you describe “Considering Doris Day” to the fans out there?
“Considering Doris Day” is my attempt to grant Doris Day her rightful place as a great American artist, placing her career and persona within the context of American society in the second half of the twentieth century, the century historians refer to as “the American Century.” It is not a standard biography, but rather, a critical analysis of the extraordinary body of work which constitutes Doris Day’s career. I examine of all of her films, most of her 600 recordings, and all five seasons of the CBS sitcom. It’s an examination of why her work continues to resonate today, even though she has not worked as a performer in over twenty years, and how she came to be a genuine, worldwide icon.

I hope it’s an even-handed assessment- I am forthright when I don’t think the films are very good; some of those early Warner Brothers films like “It’s a Great Feeling” are just not good films, as Doris Day herself has stated. However, the sign of just how talented Doris Day is can be seen by looking at a film like “It’s a Great Feeling” ,because in the midst of all that nonsense she sings “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” with such beauty, with such intense dramatic feeling, that one is left a little awed. My feeling is that only by looking at Doris Day’s growth as an actress is the full extent of her enormous talent highlighted. By the time of the mid- 50s she was hands down the most versatile, most consistently accomplished A list actress in Hollywood.

This makes the book all sound very serious, like a textbook, and it’s not—I treat Doris Day very seriously, as any true artist should be treated, but I deliberate wanted to make the book conversational in tone so that it is a fun read for people. Hopefully I have achieved that goal.

How did you come to write “Considering Doris Day”? Was there something specific that inspired you to do choose Doris as a subject?
Two things inspired me to right the book- like John Updike I have always been in love with Doris Day- this huge talent who also happens to radiate a goodness and decency so rare today; in the signings and lectures I have been giving in connection with the book I always joke that I have to mention John Updike in this context because it is the only time my name will be mentioned in the same breath as his!

Even more so, I come back to the word “underrated.” Doris Day has never received her full due as the incredibly gifted singer and actress she is and I wanted to rectify that situation. I think the reason she has not received her full due is not only because her range is so wide- from musical comedy to heavy drama to musical drama to farce- singing, dancing, acting- and she made it all look effortless. When it looks effortless, which is a state that only great artists can achieve- think of Fred Astaire dancing- people tend to take it for granted.

In addition, people have made all those wisecracks along the lines of Oscar Levant’s “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin” and that has caused a complete misreading of her personality and film persona. Remember- at the time of “Pillow Talk”, Doris Day was the only Hollywood star who consistently played career women with great jobs who were happy in their lives and not desperate for a husband. People have really forgotten how self-sufficient and capable she was, the intelligence she always projected on film.

Finally, I wrote the book because Doris Day has always been my favorite singer and I wanted to share that feeling- to share a serious look at that talent- with others.

Which part of researching for this book was the most personally interesting to you?
The most interesting part of researching the book for me was listening to every single one of her recordings and listening to them in chronological order. It was fascinating to chart her growing artistry- it’s really an evolution from the somewhat tentative beginnings, the growing confidence, until the full flowering in the series of brilliant concept albums she made for Columbia Records. I really believe that amongst female pop singers, her recording career has only been equaled by Ella Fitzgerald.

Did your opinion of Doris change in anyway after completing the book?
I don’t think my opinion of Doris changed so much as the fact that certain facts and patterns were made clearer. Specifically, I found the dichotomy between her total belief in her own talent-( the fact that she never had doubts about her ability in whatever she undertook)- and her rather marked lack of ambition to be fascinating. Once Doris committed to a project she gave it 110%, but I never sensed a burning desire to “make it”. In this day and age where everyone wants to be a star, desperate for their 15 minutes of fame, the fact that this enormous talent could walk away from it all is very interesting. . It also speaks to a very healthy outlook on life. Like any fan I wish she were still acting and singing but I greatly admire her shift to other aspects of her life, her total commitment to improving the welfare of animals.

What is your earliest memory of Doris Day?
My earliest memory is of my mother playing Doris Day records. I have a very specific memory of being a very young boy and seeing that highly evocative cover of the “Day by Night” album. My mother was a big fan of Doris Day’s, and that is why the book is dedicated to her (along with my nephew and nieces).

What is your favourite Doris Day record and movie?
My favorite Doris Day record is “Day by Night”- in the book I call it a perfect pop album and I really think it is. The concept of nighttime is carried out effortlessly throughout the entire album with beautiful songs, and the arrangements by Paul Weston are extraordinary. I think he was the arranger who understood Doris Day the vocalist better than anyone else- just like Nelson Riddle with Sinatra. When I listen to Doris sing “Moonglow” I always think “This is as good as it gets.”

My favorite movie- I have three favorites: “Love Me or Leave Me”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The Thrill of It All”- but if I have to choose one it is “Love Me or Leave Me.” It’s an extraordinary blend of terrific acting and singing and Doris is so good that she absolutely holds her own with James Cagney, and that speaks volumes. The range of vocal styles she covers in the film, the deeply thought out characterization- I think it is the best performance by a female in a musical film that I’ve ever seen. (I’d put Streisand in “Funny Girl” and Judy Garland in “A Star is Born” pretty damn close)

How does Doris compare to Barbra Streisand?
There are great similarities and differences between Doris and Barbra Streisand.

The biggest similarity lies in the fact that both are absolute perfectionists in the recording studio and on film sets- it’s why they both shied away from live performances, with Doris never playing Broadway and never giving live concerts, while Barbra hasn’t appeared on a Broadway stage to perform in over forty years, and only now has come back to the concert stage.

There are, of course, several differences. In terms of singing, Barbra loves the drama of it all- she luxuriates in spinning out sagas of lost love, the world of “if only”. Barbra can really belt and is terrific with a full orchestra- she is a Broadway baby and, I think, the best theatrical singer of her generation, possibly ever. Doris Day, on the other hand, although she sounds great with a full orchestra, prefers a simple accompaniment- this is something Day herself has commented upon. She is an amazingly intimate singer and you really do believe, just as her voice teacher Grace Raine taught her, that she is singing directly to you. She is an artist incapable of telling anything but the truth.
Both have consummate acting ability which has informed all of their singing and both are extraordinary artists. I think Doris stretched herself more as an actress, yet Barbra stretched herself by writing songs, producing and directing films.

In terms of personality, the biggest difference is that Doris Day is a much more mellow personality. Barbra has received somewhat of a bad rap simply for being a woman who took charge of her own career (no one criticized Warren Beatty for writing, directing, and starring in “Reds”), but it’s also clear that she can be edgy and volatile. Barbra is a much more polarizing figure- she inspires worship and derision. Doris inspires devotion and a smile- the first comment everyone makes to me is “I love Doris Day.”

Who/what will your next project be about?
My next project is a book on Frank Sinatra- my favorite male singer and an absolutely terrific actor when given the right material. It has been fun to watch “Young at Heart”, his one film with Doris, twice now—once I studied it from the Doris standpoint for “Considering Doris Day” and now I have looked at it again from Frank’s standpoint.

What Sinatra shares with Doris Day and Barbra Streisand is the fact that all three were, at the peaks of their careers, the single biggest star in the world- enormous film stars and top of the charts singers. All three are not just stars, but icons. They not only reflected the culture at large, but actually changed it.

Sincere thanks to Tom Santopietro for taking the time to do this Q&A interview conducted by Stephen M

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