I have been a Doris Day fan ever since I was kid. Her old movies were shown frequently on local TV and AM radio stations were still playing her records. In my VH1 veejay years of the late 80s, it really hit me what a phenomenon in the entertainment business she was. Doris Day, as you probably know, was a hit vocalist during the World War 2 years. She sang with a band. Then she did popular radio show appearances. Then Hollywood gave her a big break in 1948. Reportedly, Warner Bros had planned ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS as a vehicle for Betty Hutton. Hutton, at the time, was a top Paramount star. Well, Warner Bros. didn't get Hutton and took a chance on singer Doris Day, a talent who could sing and dance yet never had any acting training. Well, she proved to be a natural in the last category. Day became a big, new star on the Warner Bros. lot.
Doris Day went on to star in a hit CBS sitcom.
Now... about her defiance. The early years of the AIDS crisis were dark, brutal years in which anger and ignorance reigned. There was anger from our gay community at the Reagan Administration for not acknowledging the epidemic and doing something to fight it. As far as the ignorance, AIDS was the new leprosy. People did not want to touch you if they knew you were HIV positive. NEW YORK MAGAZINE had a major article in which it was noted that expensive people who were regulars as posh East Side Manhattan restaurants stopped being regulars. Why? They assumed that all male waiters were gay, all gay men had the AIDS virus and they could transmit it to you by touching your food plate and silverware. That's how some educated people thought and reacted. The 1980s were like Medieval times. A book publicist friend of mine who worked for a top publishing house in New York City had seen some of this ignorance play out at swanky cocktail parties. He noticed that people would get visibly nervous if someone gay or even assumed to be gay simply sneezed.
Compassion and education -- and medical attention -- were needed. To me, female Oscar nominees charged forward with the quality of compassion that, well...frankly, President Reagan did not. There was, of course, 2-time Best Actress Oscar winner Elizabeth Taylor. There was also another woman who'd been Rock Hudson's leading lady -- Doris Day.
Rock Hudson, after his big movie star days had lessened. went on to years of success and more popularity on NBC in the 1970s. In 1984, he was added to the cast of DYNASTY. There, a change in his appearance had been noticed. Reportedly, one actress did not want to do a love scene with him.
Hudson, who'd kept private about being a gay man, had been diagnosed with AIDS and the revelation of his illness in the news gave a famous face to the disease.
After her CBS sitcom years, Doris Day had a chat show that she taped where she lived. In the Carmel, California area. She did an episode with her longtime friend and famous co-star, the now-ailing Rock Hudson. Whereas some folks in America were so misinformed that they thought that simply being up close to a person with AIDS could infect them, there was Doris Day to make you feel like a coward. We saw the defiance and strength of her sunny disposition image in those dark years when she hugged and kissed her terminally ill friend in public. Cameras were rolling. I'm sure Hollywood knew about Hudson's condition before it was made public. A fellow you'll see giving a short soundbite in this piece is Doris' noted record producer son, the late Terry Melcher. Rock Hudson died in 1985 at age 59.
I've long been a fan of Doris Day movies and records. But this defiance and sweet devotion of hers in public to a plague-stricken friend always made me love her even more. It was an example of how we all should behave.