Chelsea Pines is the home to film stars of the golden age, which thanks to home video and DVRs we can see and enjoy their films any time we want. But no star was bigger, brighter or more multi-talented than Doris Day. Ms. Day has had a “room” at Chelsea Pines (as do 21 other iconic film stars) for many years now, and she has been a personal favorite of mine since I was a kid. Obviously, this is true for my guests as well, as her room has always been among the most requested. And we can now thank Nellie McKay, one of the music world’s most popular singers, for revisiting the world of Doris Day’s music.
Nellie has made her mark as singer/songwriter/arranger/animal right activist, and her albums chart on Billboard and Amazon.com in the top 100 with regularity. Now she has taken all her passions and combined them into an amazing recording called “Normal as Blueberry Pie,” a tribute album to the songs and style of singer/actress/animal right activist Doris Day. Ms. Day, whose career spanned the early 1940s as a big-band singer, then a top recording artist and Hollywood actress through the mid-60s, and finally the star of a regrettably dopey TV series until the early 70s, has taken an unfair beating in tbe film and music field until recent years and a more comprehensive look at her amazing career. With virtually all her films now available on DVD and most of her recordings on CD and MP3, and several recent books that examine her personal and professional lives, Ms. Day can now be seen for what she really was: a show business phenomenon that will probably never be repeated again.
Now 87 and living totally out of the spotlight, Ms. Day continues to own the pet-friendly Cypress Inn Hotel in the picturesque town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calfornia, where guests are encouraged to vacation with their cats and dogs. While she rarely if ever appears in public, her popularity has reached a new peak in the 21st century. The fact is that Nellie McKay has produced this new recording, which brings Doris to a whole new (and much younger) music-listening audience, as an homage to Ms. Day’s unique style and sound, without attempting to offer an imitation but more a suggestion of Ms. Day’s artistry.
True, Doris was saddled with some really poor song choices by her then-husband (who famously lost all her money in bad investments while signing her to a TV-series contract without telling her, and then dying and leaving her to clean up the mess), and at least one of them (the title song from the lame “Send Me No Flowers,” suprisingly by Bachrach and David) does surface on this album, and time hasn’t made it any better. However, from the hundreds of songs Doris recorded over a 20-year period, Ms. McKay’s other choices are generally terrific, including the first song that made Doris a singing superstar (“Sentimental Journey”) and one of her last recorded songs, “Close Your Eyes” (from an amazing album with music great Andre Previn called “Duet”). Other highlights are “Mean to Me” (from what is arguably Doris’ finest film performance, as singer Ruth Etting in “Love Me or Leave Me”) and the Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut “Wonderful Guy” (from “South Pacific,” one of the films Doris should have made, with apologies to Mitzi Gaynor). Ms. McKay even includes an original song, “If I Ever Had a Dream,” written and sung in the best Doris Day style.
It’s taken too many years for Ms. Day to receive her due (she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and a Lifetime Grammy in 2008), and her final years of performing in films and TV were formulaic, to say the least. How different would her legacy had been if she had accepted the offer to star as Mrs. Robinson in the late-60s classic film “The Graduate”? Watch her performances in such classics as “Pillow Talk,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and aforementioned “Love Me or Leave Me” and you can see what an amazing and natural talent she had. And now we can listen to both Nellie McKay and Doris Day and revel in their very different but equally amazing musicality.
And we know that both Doris and Nellie would love Charlie Chaplin, our hotel mascot (he’s really the owner, I only do what he tells me).