The First Lady of Baseball: Laraine Day

She was a perfect mix of sophistication and fresh-faced beauty.

Laraine Day was an All-American girl next door, who played Nurse Mary Lamont in the “Doctor Kildare” film series while under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Day co-starred with top Hollywood stars such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, Lana Turner and was directed once by Alfred Hitchcock.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of "Tycoon" in 1947.

Day and Durocher smitten on the set of “Tycoon” in 1947.

The sweet-as-pie actress married the baseball infielder and manager, Leo Durocher. Nicknamed “Leo the Lip,” Durocher was a controversial figure in the sport, known for being outspoken.

During their marriage, Day became known as “The First Lady of Baseball.”

Durocher’s professional baseball career began in 1925 playing with the New York Yankees and continued on with the Cincinnati Reds from 1930 to 1933, St. Louis Cardinals from 1933 to 1937 and the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1938 to 1941, 1943 and 1945.

Durocher managed the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Taiheiyo Club Lions.

Durocher was the manager of the New York Giants from 1948 to 1955 while he was married to Day.

Day served almost as a mascot and public relations manager for the team. She was friends with the ballplayers, their wives and the sportswriters and their wives. She was said to have polished the rough Durocher.

Day even hosted a “Day with the Giants,” which was a 15 minute television broadcast before each Giants home game. She also wrote the books about the teams called “Day with the Giants” (1952) and “The America We Love,” though the books are also said to be ghostwritten.

While they were married, she would watch nearly 77 games each year.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

Day cheers for the Giants in 1948.

“It’s making a nervous wreck out of me. I don’t feel like an average fan,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview. “Winning and losing affects our lives. It’s our future.”

She even adjusted her film career around his career, only making one movie per year and doing the occasional television show.

During the season, Day would go to spring training and attend every home game but stayed home with the children when the team went on the road, according to the article.

“Before I married Leo, I wanted to win an Academy Award,” she said. “Now all I want is for us to win a pennant. My work is secondary.”

But before meeting Durocher, Day wasn’t a baseball fan. She didn’t even know who he was.

Day, then married to musician Ray Hendricks, met Durocher at the Stork Club in 1944.

Everyone applauded when he entered and Day asked a friend who he was. The friend told her Durocher played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Day apparently asked, “What’s a Dodger?,” according to the book “The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age” by  Robert Weintraub.

“I didn’t know who he was, but I certainly did dislike him,” she said in a 1954 Associated Press interview, “Laraine Day Now No. One Fan of Giants.”

But the ice melted two years later when Day met Durocher on a flight. She was on her way to Minneapolis and was delayed in Chicago. So was Durocher. By the time their flight left, Day was smitten, according to the book by Weintraub.

Durocher was a well-known ladies man, being seen on occasion with actresses Betty Hutton, Linda Darnell and Copacabana show girl Edna Ryan.

Hollywood’s nice girl started an affair with the rough baseball player, and eventually filed for divorce with Hendricks in 1946. She was granted an interlocutory divorce from Hendricks on Jan.  20, 1947, meaning she had to wait one year before remarrying, according to Weintraub.

However, on January 21, 1947, Day traveled to Mexico where she received a second divorce decree and joined Durocher in Texas to be married.

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Leo Durocher and Laraine Day

Day and Durocher were then surrounded by gossip and scandal, with Day being called an adulterer and bigamist.

It was deemed the Mexican divorce was not legal and her Texas marriage was illegal.

A year later, in February 1948, the two remarried and the Associated Press reported “Laraine Day, Leo Durocher to Wed Again.” Durocher was 42 and Day was 27, the Associated Press reported in the Feb. 14, 1948 article.

In 1955, Day found herself in another “scandal,” while she found herself in an unintentionally groundbreaking photo.

Center fielder Willie Mays played for Giants while Durocher was manager, and Day adored the ballplayer.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

April 1955 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie Mays, Laraine Day and Leo Durocher. The cover sparked controversy in 1955.

“While I interviewed many ballplayers, the favorite of all is Willie Mays, who suffers tortures in the air and yet wins the heart of everybody,” Day is quoted in “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch.

Mays, Day and Durocher were featured on the April 11, 1955, cover of “Sports Illustrated.” Day stands between the two men with her hands on both of their shoulders.

But in 1955, it was an outrage that a white woman would have her hand on a black man’s shoulder.

Letters were sent to the magazine, now only a year old, from outraged readers and others asking to cancel their subscriptions, according to Hirsch’s book.

After 13 years of marriage, Durocher and Day divorced in 1960.

After their divorce, Day said she was done with baseball, according her New York Times obituary.

“When our relationship was over, so was my relationship with baseball,” the obituary quoted Day.

However, Day did return to baseball once more in 1994.

Durocher, who passed away in 1991, was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Day attended the ceremony in 1994 on her former husband’s behalf.

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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.

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