Thursday, May 16, 2019

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson...

One of the tidbits mentioned in every appreciation written about Doris Day, who passed on May 13th at the age of 97, is that she was Mike Nichols' original choice to play the relentlessly intimidating Mrs. Robinson in his 1967 film, "The Graduate." It's a Hollywood legend. The above photograph provides a preview of what it might have been like with Day in the role.

No, it's not an early, unused shot from "The Granduate." Day famously - and wisely - turned down the part, even though she could have handily pulled it off.  The still is actually from her 1960 comedy for Universal, "Pillow Talk," but it provides an enticing peak of what could have been.

Full disclosure: I've never been crazy about "The Graduate." It's an amusing film but I simply didn't "get" it, which is odd because, at the time, I was approximately the same age as Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin and should have related to it. (Although he was playing a 21-year-old, Hoffman was 30 when he made the movie.) And repeated viewings haven't helped.

Subsequent screenings have only made me more critical of the film. The "iconic" Simon and Garfunkel song score never made much sense to me and both Hoffman and Anne Bancroft (who, of course, played Mrs. Robinson) are singularly unpleasant in the film, especially Bancroft.

Not good company at all.

But back to Doris Day. "The Graduate" is one of five films - at least, five of which I know -  that would have starred her in the lead.

-- When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II set out to produce their own film version of "South Pacific" in 1957, their choice to play Nellie Forbush was Day. Perfect casting. But she lost the role under singularly unusual circumstances. Both she and Joshua Logan, who was to direct "South Pacific, were reportedly at a Hollywood party where Day was asked by the host to entertain the guests with a song. She demurred, something which offended Logan, so much so that he wrote her off and cast another actress in the role. Mitzi Gaynor played Nellie in the 1958 release.

-- When Jack Warner bought the screen rights to "Gypsy," his intent was not to cast the show's original stage star, Ethel Merman. She was never much of a box-office attraction and this was an expensive property. Two actresses inquired about the role - Judy Garland and Doris Day. Garland wanted to play the lead with her daughter, Liza Minnelli, in the title role. A deal breaker. Plus Garland brought back memories about how shabbily Warner treated "A Star Is Born" in 1955. Day - who was once a Warner Bros. contract player - was just the right age for the role and had the perfect voice for it. But she was no longer under contract with the studio, having moved on, and Warner never forgot that her last film for his studio, 1957's "The Pajama Game," although critically liked, was not a box-office success. Rosalind Russell played Madame Rose in the 1962 release.

-- Rumors were rampant in the 1970s that Twentieth Century-Fox was playing with the idea of filming Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" with Day and Debbie Reynolds in the roles created on stage by Alexis Smith and Dorothy Collins. The movie was never made. A missed opportunity.

-- Finally, Albert Brooks wrote his 1996 film "Mother" with the hope of casting Day in the title role. But, again, she demurred. She had been out of the spotlight now for more than two decades, quite comfortable with her pets and animal friends in Carmel and, well, passed. Her friend Debbie Reynolds ended up playing the role, and quite memorably.

Moving on, one tidbit that's been missing from the Day appreciations has to do with her leading men, specifically her most-frequent male co-star.

If you're thinking Rock Hudson, you'd be wrong.

That would be - drum roll, please! - Gig Young.

Day and Young  appeared in four films together - ”Young at Heart,” “Teacher’s Pet,” “Tunnel of Love” and “That Touch of Mink.”

Hudson follows in three titles -“Pillow Talk,”  “Lover Come Back” and “Send Me No Flowers"

Day also made three films with Gene Nelson ( “Lullaby of Broadway,”  “Tea for Two” and “The West Point Story”), Gordon MacRae (“Tea for Two,”  “On Moonlight Bay” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”) and Jack Carson (“Romance on the High Seas,” “My Dream Is Yours” and “It’s a Great Feeling”). And two each with James Cagney (“The West Point Story” and  “Love Me or Leave Me”), Ronald Reagen  (“The Winning Team” and “Storm Warning”), James Garner (“The Thrill of It All”  and “Move Over, Darling”) and Rod Taylor (“The Glass Bottom Boat” and “Do Not Disturb”).

I'm not counting "Starlift," given that Day, Nelson, Cagney and MacRae all play glorified cameos in it.

Note in Passings: More about "The Graduate"... While Nichols wanted Day as Mrs. Robinson, his original choice to play Benjamin was Chris Connelly who, at the time, was famous for his role as Ryan O'Neal's younger brother in the TV version of "Peyton Place."  (Connelly, who died young at the age of 47 in 1988, would go on to play O'Neal's role in the TV adaptation of "Paper Moon," opposite Jodie Foster.) 

Mrs. Robinson, like most of the older adults in the film of "The Graduate," has no first name. In the book, we are told that her first initial is "G." In the stage version that starred Kathleen Turner, she's called Judith.

One more thing. I also never understood why the word "plastics" gets such a huge laugh in the film - and still does. Walter Brooke's advice to Hoffman in that famous scene has actually proven to be downright prescient.

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you. -J

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~Doris Day in "Pillow Talk"
~photography: Universal-International 1960©


Alex said...

Joe. So happy to hear that I am not the only unable to "get" the popularity of "The Graduate." Absolutely hate it. But I would give it a second chance if somehow Day was in it. I like Bancroft. A lot. But the idea of sexiness that she brought to the film is gross and not at all sexy.

Vanessa said...

It's amazing. Day outlived all of her wonderful leading men.

Bill Miller said...

Kirk Douglas, Day’s leading man in “Young Man With a Horn” (1950) is still alive at 102. I may be wrong, but I think that, until Day’s death, this was the earliest film in which the leading man and woman were still living.

joe baltake said...

Terrific bit of trivia, Bill. Thanks. -J

spazaru said...

I recently watched The Graduate again after not having seen it for at least 20 years and loved it more than ever. I can see why some wouldn't like it though, so it never surprises me when people don't. As for Doris Day, I loved her so much and as I'm due to be in Carmel in 4 weeks I had held out hope that I might catch a glimpse of her when I was there. Obviously a pipe dream even when she was living. Now I'll just have to use my imagination and appreciate being a place where she was happy. Thanks for all the little notes about her career and yes thanks Bill for that bit of trivia concerning Kirk Douglas. It's getting harder and harder to find classic films that star folks that are still with us and with Ms Day's passing, that much more difficult!