My second favorite Day

LIFE 1943

She lights up the screen in every film and her last name is Day. I don’t mean Doris Day, but today’s birthday girl, Laraine Day.

Today would have been Miss Day’s 91 birthday (she passed away on November 10, 2007) and since she is one of my favorite actresses, I wanted to spotlight her talents.

There are a few actresses that I get excited about when I see they are in a movie like Marsha Hunt and Vera Miles.  I always feel like though they may not have a huge role, they really add something to the film.  Laraine Day is one of those actresses.

Laraine was the leading lady to some of Hollywood’s top leading men: John Wayne in “Tycoon” (1947) and “The High and the Mighty” (1954), Cary Grant in “Mr. Lucky” (1943) and Gary Cooper in “Dr. Wassell” (1944) not to mention Robert Mitchum, Lew Ayres, Herbert Marshall and Joel McCrea- several of who were personal friends.

Laraine started out in small westerns like “Arizona Legion” (1939) and “Painted Desert” (1938) opposite silent star George O’Brien. I’ve seen these movies recently and they aren’t anything special.  Laraine is miscast as haughty young women. If I wasn’t watching the movies for her, I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to her.

Laraine Day and Lew Ayres as Nurse Mary Lamont and Dr. Kildare

But in 1939, the magic year for movies and several actors, Laraine was in two of MGM’s most popular series films: Dr. Kildare and Tarzan.

Her role in “Tarzan Finds a Son” is only about five minutes long but is memorable, Day and her husband die in a plane crash in the jungle and only their baby survives. The baby is adopted by Jane and Tarzan and named ‘Boy.’

Laraine makes more of a splash with Lew Ayres in “Calling Dr. Kildare” and “The Secret of Dr. Kildare” (both filmed in 1939) as lovely but occasionally snarky Nurse Mary Lamont.  In “Calling” Nurse Lamont is new to the hospital and tries to open young Kildare’s eyes to the conniving Lana Turner.  In “Secret” romance begins to blossom between Kildare and Lamont which continues until Laraine Day wanted off the series and her character was unhappily written out of the plot in 1941.

Laraine Day in the 1940s

During and after the Dr. Kildare series, Laraine Day made several entertaining films such as “And One was Beautiful” (1940), “Keep Your Powder Dry” (1940), “Kathleen” (1941) (with Shirley Temple) and “The Locket” (1946).  All great films, but  largely forgotten today.

Though she was in several high budget films with big stars her talent and fresh faced beauty seemed to be over looked.  According to her New York Times obit, Laraine Day was once asked what was most memorable about her experiences at MGM she said, “I guess getting paid, because I never got a part that would have done anything for me.”

Day was offered the female lead in “It’s a Wonderful Life” but turned it down since she was working on “The Locket.” The role went to Donna Reed (who also had a hard time getting good parts at MGM).  I wonder how that might have helped Laraine’s career.  Day was also promised the lead in Robert Taylor’s first film back from the military, “Undercurrent” (1946), but it was given to Katherine Hepburn. After this, Day didn’t return to MGM, according to IMDB.

Leo Durocher visiting Laraine Day on the set of "Tycoon" in 1947

These days, most people remember Laraine Day more for her marriage to baseball manager Leo Durocher from 1947 to 1960. They even appeared together in a TV segment on “Screen Directors Playhouse” with Jeannette MacDonald.

She wrote a book about being a “baseball wife” and was dubbed “The First Lady of Baseball” though she once told an interviewer that she never liked baseball.

I love Laraine Day, because  she brought something special to the picture even if she wasn’t the lead actress. For example in “I Take this Woman” (1940) I wanted to pay more attention to and learn more about Laraine than Hedy Lamarr and Spencer Tracy.

Laraine was beautiful and her smile and acting seemed sincere. Others had said that she was very friendly and smart. I only wish someone would write a biography about her so I can learn more!

Happy birthday Laraine Day, one of the loveliest stars of the 1940s and 1950s!

LIFE, 1945

And also happy birthday to Robert Walker and Cornel Wilde-October 13 must be a popular day for stars to be born.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page for the latest updates.

Take my pulse, Lew Ayres: Medicine in Old Movies

One summer Turner Classic Movies showed almost all of the 15 “Dr. Kildare” movies from the 1930s and 1940s…and of course I had my mother tape every single one. So for a a couple of weeks my family sat down and fell in love with Dr. Kildare (Lew Ayres), Mary Lamount (Laraine Day), Nurse Molly Byrd (Alma Kruger), Hospital Admin Dr. Carew (Walter Kingsford) and of course Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore).

Each movie was cute, somewhat suspenseful and always had a bit of comic relief from Dr. Gillespie-who was wheel chair bound due to Barrymore’s arthritis.

The most interesting thing about the Dr. Kildare series is seeing how much medicine has changed. Part of me is thankful to live in contemporary time with up to date medical technology, but I still want to live in the 1940s.

1940

It is also interesting to see the way they cure some of the medical cases. For example, in “Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case” (1940), a man is found on the street who was seemingly out of his mind. As it turns out the man had schizophrenia and they cured it. (Also notice how they pronounce the word in old movies: Ski-zo-FREE-nia)

Yes that’s right. Dr. Kildare cured schizophrenia. Amazing since even today it is incurable. The man was unconscious and given a shot that makes him go back to a “primate state and go through the stages of man until he is himself again.” And it works. The man is better, finds his wife (he also had a case of amnesia) and lives happily ever after.

However, the Dr. Kildare series isn’t the only movie that suggests schizophrenia can be cured. In the film “Bewitched” (1945), sweet Phyllis Thaxter has a voice inside of her head telling her murderous things such as to kill her fiancé. At the end of the movie, her psychiatrist helps her see which personality wins out.  She is cured and back to normal.

Moving away from schizophrenia, in “The People vs. Dr. Kildare,” Dr. Kildare performs an emergency surgery on ice skater Bonita Granville at the scene of a bad car accident. Granville then finds that she can’t walk (though her leg healed properly) and sues Dr. Kildare.  I may not be a med student, but I find it questionable that Kildare performed the surgery outside in an area that was not sanitary.

I will say I appreciate the bluntness of Dr. Gillespie. Doctors would be sued if they talked to their patients the way Gillespie barks at his, but they are usually cured and he gets the point across.

Here is an example of Dr. Gillespie’s doctor tactics:
Dr. Gillespie: Well, Mr. Ingersoll, good morning, and how are you feeling today?
Patient, Rufus Ingersoll: Never felt better in my life!
Dr. Gillespie: Oh ho, that’s fine. That’s fine…because your system’s in a state of collapse. Sit down before you fall down!

“Emergency”-My favorite TV show

Though the medical practices of Dr. Kildare might seem archaic by today’s standards, they certainly seemed up to date for the standards of the 1940s. The doctors were in New York City -not the country doctor seen in many other movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Actually, the medical practices you see 30 years later in the television show “Emergency!” (1972 to 1979) aren’t much different. Nurse Dixie McCall, Doctor Bracket and Doctor Early seem like they are the only employees at Rampart General Hospital. My family and I always joke that those three doctors were the only doctors in the hospital because they did it all: Deliver babies, perform surgery and general practice.

Regardless of the questionable terminology and medical methods of the “Dr. Kildare” series, don’t let it turn you off. After watching all 15 movies, you will feel like Laraine Day, Nat Pendleton, Lew Ayres and Marie Blake are part of your family.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page and Radio Waves Over Hollywood Facebook page.