Doris Day: From Hollywood party to leading role

romance on the high seasGeorgia Garrett is a fast talking, cigarette smoking, flirtatious night club singer–and she is the character played by Doris Day in her very first film “Romance on the High Seas” (1948).

While other actresses worked their way up to stardom through bit parts and uncredited roles, Day starred in her first movie.

And she continued starring in all 41 of her films from 1948 to 1968.

In the film, newly married Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) and Michael Kent (Don DeFore) worry that the other spouse is having an affair.

Georgia, a broke singer in a sleazy nightclub, frequents the travel agency and plans trips she never goes on and gets passport photos taken each time. Elvira meets Georgia in the travel agency while booking her trip to South America.

“But you have already had seven passport photos taken,” one travel agent says.

“But never as a blond,” Georgia coyly says.

Day as Georgia Garrett in the travel agency

Day as Georgia Garrett in the travel agency

On their third wedding anniversary, the Kents have to cancel a third anniversary trip due to business.  Michael tells Elvira to go without him.

Suspecting that Michael is going to fool around with his pretty new secretary, Elvira sends Georgia on the cruise in her place so she can stay behind and spy on her husband.

Also afraid that his wife is going to fool around on the cruise without him, Michael sends private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) on the cruise to look after his wife.

Paige as Elvira instructing Day as Garrett

Paige as Elvira instructing Day as Garrett

Georgia, while posing as Elvira Kent, falls for Peter, and Peter thinks he is going to lose his job.

Romance on the High Seas” isn’t Doris Day’s most well-known film, but it’s my favorite.

While in the 1950s and 1960s Day was known for her squeaky clean, virginal persona, but her character in “Romance” has some sass.

Day started her career as a girl singer in 1939 for big band leaders such as Les Brown and Bob Crosby, brother of Bing Crosby.

By 1945, she had her first hit with “Sentimental Journey” which resonated with soldiers fighting over seas. More hits followed such as “My Dreams are Getting Better all the Time.”

“In a sense, ‘Sentimental Journey’ became the serviceman’s theme song,” Day wrote in her autobiography, “Doris Day: Her Own Story.

Before heading back East after a visit to Los Angeles, Day was convinced to attend a party at the home of Jule Styne, an American songwriter.

When everyone started performing songs at the party, Day began to get uneasy.

Day as a nightclub singer singing "I'm in Love"

Day as a nightclub singer singing “I’m in Love”

“These people loved singing for each other but I am painfully shy at parties, and particularly shy about performing impromptu,” she wrote.

Day was also going through a divorce at the time with child actress Virginia Weidler’s older brother, George.

She was asked to sing and was convinced to sing the chorus of “Embraceable You.”

The Gershwin tune landed Day her first film role, as the star of a musical comedy.

Styne wrote the score to the Warner Brothers film “Romance on the High Seas.” Judy Garland was originally slated to play Georgia Garrett, but the deal fell through.

Then Betty Hutton was set for the film, but she got pregnant and couldn’t be in the film, according to Day’s autobiography.

“Acting in films had never so much crossed my mind. I was a singer…” she wrote. “They kept telling me how lucky I was to be testing for the lead in a major musical and how many girls would die to be in my shoes, but I was sitting glumly looking out the window, only half listening.”

Her look was made to resemble Betty Hutton and she was encouraged to sing in Hutton’s signature energetic style during the test.

“But when we shot the scene, I did it my own way,” she wrote. “I instinctively understood something then that was to sustain with me through all the years that followed-to thine own self be true. Don’t imitate.”

Jack Carson and Doris Day meet on board the ship

Jack Carson and Doris Day meet on board the ship

Through being herself, Day gives a hilarious performance in the sparklingly musical, comedy which included one of her top hit songs, “It’s Magic.”

After the film became a hit, Day’s option was picked up for more Warner films. However, she wasn’t pleased with the movie. She dressed very casually and didn’t like the ultra glamorous look she had in the film.

Though Day wasn’t pleased with her first film appearance, “Romance on the High Seas” is my favorite Doris Day film—and I have seen all but two of her movies.

Along with the main cast of Jack Carson, Day, Don DeFore and Janis Paige—the movie has top notch character actors. Supporting actors include S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Oscar Levant and Eric Blore.

Paige and Day would later star with each other again in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” (1960). Carson starred with Day in her next two films “It’s a Great Feeling” (1949) and “My Dream Is Yours” (1949).

“Romance on the High Seas” has it all: glamorous wardrobes, sparkling color, hilarious jokes and quality songs written by Sammy Kahn and Jules Styne.

Though Day is best known for her bedroom farce films such as “Pillow Talk” (1959) with Universal, her early Warner Brothers films are some of her best.

Fresh faced films, sunny and shining with Day’s smile.

This is part of the Summer Under the Stars blogathon. Check here for other posts on Doris Day.

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4 thoughts on “Doris Day: From Hollywood party to leading role

  1. Jessica, I *love* this film and this really put into words what makes it so unique–she’s a bit of a hard ass in this one and I love her for it. (And I adore that moment when she comes downstairs TOTALLY dressed for dinner). I am relieved that Hutton couldn’t do the project. I can never take Hutton seriously–she always feels like a cartoon. But like Garland, Day possesses a grounded sensibility that underscores her work. She was perfect for it.
    GREAT JOB!

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    • Thanks for stopping by Carley!
      You know, I like Betty Hutton but I do think she would have been too much in this film. Day is such a breath of fresh air and is so entertaining in this movie! That part where she is dressed to the teeth for dinner is definitely hilarious 🙂 I also love when Jack Carson sings “Run When You See a Pretty Woman”

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  2. Jessica–

    I hate to admit this, but I am not a huge Doris Day fan. *ducks flying plates*

    But…

    I have always enjoyed this film and her performance. And I LOVE Jack Carson. Whew!

    Thanks for a fantastic contribution to the blogathon. I really appreciate it.

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  3. I am a huge Doris Day fan and I really enjoyed reading this. I think my favorite movie was “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” but I also liked “Romance on the High Seas.” She was so beautiful and wholesome.

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