America’s psychological virgin

Doris Day, America’s sweetheart, was more complex than you might think.

With the passing of movie star Doris Day May 13 at her home in Carmel Valley, California, at age 97, much has been made of the way she was pooh-poohed for her goody two shoes image on film in the 1960s, an era when attitudes toward women’s sexuality were expanding in the advent of feminism. (It was an image that Day, who had a number of troubled marriages, dismissed herself on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” and indeed she often played complex wives, most notably in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and as the torch singer Ruth Etting in “Love Me or Leave Me.” )

In recent years, however, we’ve come to understand Day’s onscreen persona as that of a working woman defending her integrity, perhaps more so than the mores of her time, in romantic comedies in which Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Garner served as her rakish foils. She was, to borrow from Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding, author of “Women’s Mysteries: Ancient & Modern” (Shambala, 1990) “a psychological virgin,” one who is “one-in-herself” and “does what she does – not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved, even by herself; not because of any desire to gain power over another, to catch his interest or love, but because what she does is true.”

Day was a real Artemis/Diana, the Greco-Roman goddess of nature, who devoted much of her life to animal rescue – and to people rescue as well. (Her embrace of Rock Hudson as he was dying of AIDS in 1985, a time when the paralyzing fear of the incurable disease caused people and governments to recoil, did as much to humanize it as Princess Diana’s supportive touch of an AIDS patient.)

Day once said pets were more loyal than humans. Perhaps. You can’t, however, control nature. But if the book title “All Dogs Go To Heaven” is true, we’re sure Day is now up there offering her four-legged friends cuddles and treats. 

– Georgette Gouveia

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