Singer and actress Doris Day said it was due to disappointment over not being available to sing with the Joe Franklin Orchestra that she agreed to do the movie, “Love Me Or Leave Me,” with Jimmy Cagney. “I thought throwing myself into the Ruth Etting character would compensate for missing my chance to perform with Joe’s band,” Miss Day wrote.
The date: May 19, 1986.
The “telegram” from Doris Day was read, along with other “attributes” from female big band vocalists who could not make Joe’s 70th birthday celebration. Other best wishes were “received” from songstresses, Helen O’Connell and Helen Forrest and read by me, his daughter who well, took poetic license when composing the “telegrams.” And while it was all in fun, one thing I have always known to be true: My dad loved Doris Day. Big band music was an influence that began in his teens. A trumpet player with the New Britain High School Band and a lad who eventually went on to form his own orchestra with his buddies, hitching rides to the shoreline for gigs and hiding the drum set in the woods until a car stopped to pick them up. The high-schoolers who slept on the sands of Chalker Beach and dreamed their dreams of that big break at Lake Compounce. The five-piece band members who would marry and have children but never abandon their passion. The boys who became men to wear matching grey sports coats and sharp bow ties, Joe Franklin And His Orchestra in bold script across their band stands while couples crowded the dance floor every Saturday night at either New Britain’s Moose or Quartet clubs.
I met Doris Day in 1955. On the big screen at the Strand Theater on New Britain’s Main Street. Yet, realistically I had known her for years. My dad took me to see her in “Love Me or Leave Me.” I know, what’s a kid doing at an adult movie. She is sitting next to her dad feeling so grown up and thinking this is the best day of her life to be with him and seeing the face of this woman who, in her child’s mind, was as familiar as her mom’s and many aunts because ever since she could remember, the voice of Doris Day could be heard spinning out from her dad’s 78 records: “Gonna take a sentimental journey, gonna set my heart at ease… Gonna take a sentimental journey, to renew old memories…”
Back in 1997, two years after my dad’s passing, I’m fiddling with the radio dial on my way to having tests on my thyroid and find Doris Day singing with the Les Brown Band on the 1945 classic. The song finishes and impatient with the one following, switched the station and instantly I am 11 sitting in the Strand Theater and can almost feel my dad’s hand in mine as I heard her…
“…Ten cents a dance, that’s what they pay me, gosh how they weigh me down…”
I pulled into the hospital’s parking garage and again, the familiar voice this time singing, “Day By Day” and I thought, what’s with all the Doris Day all over the radio.
And then I knew.
I read an article once that stated certain experiences between parent and child, which may seem insignificant at the time, become memorable and long-lasting for the child because it is something shared by the two of them and create a one-on-one bond. That closeness epitomized the relationship between my dad and myself. A father’s love and support would not cease to be when all my life it was there for me. There are signs. We just need to recognize them. And I know there are those who will say that what I thought transpired was a state of mind fueled by my emotions and anxiety at the time. They will understandably and logically explain it all away.
And, there are those who will not.