Doris Day 100th birthday: James Garner ‘She was the sexiest star I worked with’

Move Over, Darling official 1963 trailer

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Garner worked in the Golden Age of Hollywood, among the heady likes of Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner but, for him, two actresses shone far more brightly. The Silver Screen veteran said: “I’ve had to play love scenes with a lot of screen ladies, but of all the women I’ve had to be intimate with on the screen, I’d rate two as sexiest by far – Doris and Julie Andrews, both of them notorious girls next door.” And he explained why.

Garner added: “Playing a love scene with either of them is duck soup because they communicate something sexy which means I also let myself go somewhat and that really makes a love scene work.”

He went even further talking about Day: “Doris didn’t play sexy, she didn’t act sexy, she was sexy. And then she could take a sexy scene and make you laugh. Which is better in the bedroom than a lot of things. And Doris was a joy to work with. Everything she did seemed effortless. She’s so sweet and so professional – she made everyone around her look good.

“I think Doris is a very sexy lady who doesn’t know how sexy she is. That’s an integral part of her charm… I don’t think she could have had the success she’s had if she didn’t have this sexy whirlpool frothing around underneath her All-American-girl exterior.”

In response, in her biography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, she said: “Jim and I worked together only twice, in Move Over, Darling and The Thrill of It All. He’s so good at what he does… I felt married.

“We didn’t see each other much over the following years, but we’ve stayed friends because we talk on the phone regularly. I don’t know how, because Jim hates the telephone. I usually have to call him. “Can’t you pick up a phone?” I say, but he just grumbles.”

She also described the horrifying moment her co-star broke two of her ribs on set filming Move Over Darling.

Day said: “We had fun. He’s a marvellous actor. He’s very real when he talks to you. He’s so funny and so nice, I just love him. Even though he broke two of my ribs. Jim, if we don’t speak for a while, I forgive you for breaking my ribs. Both of them. Don’t give it another thought.”

Move Over Darling is inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem Enoch Arden where a shipwrecked husband returns home to find his wife has moved on. The genders are swapped on-screen as Day’s Ellen Arden returns after five years presumed dead to find it’s her husband Nick’s (Garner) wedding day to new flame Bianca (Polly Bergen).

Ellen tricks her way into Bianca’s hotel room and gives her a massage. Nick bursts in and pulls her off. It was only days later that a horrified Garner realised how badly he had hurt Day.

Shooting subsequent scenes Garner felt heavy bandages under her costume and discovered he had cracked two of her ribs when he grabbed her the day before.

It was typical of Day that she had not made a fuss and had immediately returned to work, even though she later confessed in her official 1976 biography Her Own Story that it was difficult to breathe and excruciating to laugh.

Despite the accident, Day always seemed to have better luck with her on-screen husbands than in real life. 1963’s Move Over Darling was another box office smash for the actress, who was teh biggest global box office draw in 1960 and 1962-1964. She should have been one of the richest stars in the world by then. Except she made a devastating discovery when her husband died a few years later.

Day’s third husband Marty Melcher passed away on April 20, 1968, from an enlarged heart. To her shock, she discovered Melcher and his business partner Jerome B. Rosenthal had mismanaged and embezzled her fortune, leaving her not just broke, but deeply in debt for $500,000. He had also signed her up for the CBS TV comedy show The Doris Day Show without her knowledge – and spent her advance fee.

Day sued Rosenthal and was awarded $23million. He declared bankruptcy and she was eventually paid $6million across 23 years.


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