I’m writing this column on Doris Day’s 89th birthday. It also happens to be my last day at a company I’ve worked at for the past 17 years. It’s fitting that these events coincide since Doris Day was my career role model from an early age.
I first saw “Pillow Talk” when I was around 16 years old. It was a transformative experience. No, not because Doris portrayed a character who was still a virgin at 35 years old. Or that she played Rock Hudson’s love interest, rather than Tony Randall.
What impressed me was that she was a single, middle-aged woman (in the early 1980’s, 35 was middle-aged), with fabulous clothes, an incredible apartment, and a great job in the arts (interior decorator). And, of course, the icing on the cake was that her maid was the magnificent Thelma Ritter, who showed up daily (and drunk) to tidy the already immaculate flat.
In my mom’s generation, if you went to college, you had only two career options: nurse or teacher. If you didn’t go to college, you joined the steno pool. The other options were housewife or whore. In my generation, career options for women were still fairly limited. I was planning on going the whore route, but my parents insisted on college. So I mindlessly followed orders and planned to get a nursing degree, as my mother did.
But then I saw Pillow Talk! And, for the first time, I knew I had options. Let’s start with the fact that Doris wore a matching leopard-print hat and muff! I didn’t realize this was an acceptable fashion choice for anyone other than the Duchess of Windsor or Nathan Lane. She was sassy, independent, and chose to remain a spinster rather than marry someone she didn’t love.
Most importantly she worked in an artistic career that she was passionate about. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
As a compromise between my parents’ demand that I be pragmatic, and my desire to be a sunny cross between Doris Day and Dorothy Parker, I became a journalist. When I had enough of that, I joined a publishing company, where I’ve stayed for almost two decades. I started as an editor, and then moved to marketing, and have spent the past 10 years taking advantage of the company’s executive misdirection to create my own opportunities and lead much of the company’s innovation.
Now, after a fine bit of bragging like that, I’m sure you expect me to announce that the ungrateful bastards fired me. But, come on! Would anyone dare sack Doris Day?
After an upper management shakeup transformed the executive suite into a sexist enclave of former frat boys who pathetically talked openly about their chances of banging certain young, buxom editors—as if any smart, large-breasted woman would ever let their sad penises anywhere near them—I took a page from D. Day’s book. When she discovered that Rock Hudson was a cad, she maintained a professional façade, but worked behind the scenes to damage his integrity while maintaining her own. And, I did the same. I quietly found an awesome new job, and quit just when my bosses needed me most.
From Doris I learned that you have absolute power in making life choices, and to always choose passion, creative expression and intellectual challenge over complacency, subservience and submission. And to never be scared of wearing pillbox hats and capes to the office.
She may have become famous for singing “Que Sera Sera,” that exquisite ode to passivity and fate, but to me her true legacy rests in her “Pillow Talk” role of Jan Morrow—a career gal fully in charge of her professional and personal lives.
Happy birthday, Doris. And thanks.