Monday, April 29, 2013

DORIS DAY AS RUTH ETTING

The 1950s saw the downfall of the Hollywood movie musical. With the coming of rock 'n' roll and the end of the studio system, musicals were falling out of favor. However, the decade saw some of the most beloved musicals made like "Singin In The Rain" and "The Band Wagon". Both were released by MGM, and not to be forgotten is the movie bio of torch singer Ruth Etting called "Love Me Or Leave Me". The movie was the first film undertaken by Doris Day in 1955 after her 'liberation' from Warner Brothers. She was now free to make her own choice of films and she was very intrigued with the idea of playing the role of Ruth Etting. Not only that but she had an outstanding producer, director and a very literate script. However, it was the idea of playing opposite Jimmy Cagney that finally convinced her to tackle the role. The film also had a great musical score that also attracted her. One of her biggest pleasures was working with the great musical department at MGM.

On the recommendation of former Warner star, James Cagney, Doris Day was offered the coveted lead in the Ruth Etting story. Miss Etting had been a top singing star of the 1930s whose career had spanned the speakeasies of Chicago, nightclubs, recordings, radio, the Ziegfeld Follies and Hollywood films. Superstar, Ava Gardner, desperately wanted to play Etting, but MGM, influenced by the already-cast Cagney, who felt that Doris Day had the depth and talent as an actress and singer to bring life to this highly dramatic role, offered the part to her. She was such a huge star in 1955, that she would become the first actress to receive billing over James Cagney in 30 years. Ruth Etting, who died in 1978 at the age of 80, reportedly disapproved of Day playing her. Etting had wanted Jane Powell to play her, but the studio insisted on an actress with more acting ability. Not to say that Jane Powell was a bad actress, but she did not have the range that Doris Day had.

In her book, Doris Day, Her Own Story, she said: “I prepared for the role by listening to all the Ruth Etting records. She had a quiet way of speaking and singing. It was not my intention to mimic her, but to suggest her style with little inflections and shadings that I picked up from the recordings.” She obtained 112 sides of songs that Miss Etting originally waxed when she was the toast of Broadway, and it was from that group of songs that the songs for the film were ultimately selected.


Ruth Etting, Martin "the Gimp" Snyder and Johnny Alderman were all living and were consulted during the preparation for the film. This is highly unusual, for most biographies are produced after the principals are deceased. Their firsthand remembrances enhanced the realistic depiction presented in the movie. It was amazing what the movie depicted, being produced in 1955. It shows the physical and mental abuse that Ruth Etting had during her marriage to Martin Snyder. It even eludes to an incident where Snyder raped Etting. Doris Day later said that more graphic sceness were filmed that never made it into the movie.


Doris Day wrote in her autobiography that she hesitated before accepting the lead in this film. Ruth Etting was a kept woman who clawed her way up from seamy Chicago nightclubs to the Ziegfeld Follies. It would require her to drink, wear scant, sexy costumes and to string along a man she didn't love in order to further her career. There was also a certain vulgarity about Ruth Etting that she didn't want to play. Producer Joe Pasternak convinced Day to accept the role because she would give the part some dignity that would play away from the vulgarity. After this film was released, Doris Day was deluged with mail from fans attacking her, a Christian Scientist, for playing a lewd woman who smoked, drank, and wore scant costumes in the nightclub scenes. Day cared about everyone who was disturbed by her characterization, and she answered every piece of mail, explaining the necessity for realism, and that it was essential to separate actress Doris Day from character Ruth Etting. She felt that as a performer, she had the same responsibility to the public that a politician has to the electorate.

The movie was different than any movie that Doris Day had been in, and I feel that although this movie was a musical, it displayed Day's acting ability more than any movie she had ever been in. James Cagney was nominated for his role, but unfortunately lost. Doris Day was sadly not even nominated. The story of Ruth Etting was the role of a lifetime at the time, and I feel that Day portrayed it as accurately as 1955 Hollywood would allow. Reading the true account of Ruth Etting's life, "Love Me Or Leave Me" only touched upon the real Ruth Etting. Etting died long after the jazz era was over on September 24, 1978. As for Martin Snyder, he lived out the rest of his life is vitual obscurity, and he outlived Etting. He died on November 9, 1981.  Doris Day as Ruth Etting was one of those memorable roles in a splashy Hollywood  musical that they really do not make anymore...


5 comments:

  1. This is an excellent overview of this subject. Thank you.

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  2. I am 73 years old and saw this movie in 1955. I have the movie on VHS and DVD and have watched it over and over again. I love it, the songs, Doris Day, and everything about it......quite a story! Thank you!

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  3. Would love to see the movie. Did not know anything about her.

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  4. I'm an old lady of 74 1/2. I remember seeing this movie in 1955 (I was 13) and was in awe of Doris Day's performance. I have the DVD and every time I watch it I'm blown away again. Way to go Doe Doe!

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  5. I am watching Love Me or Leave Me right now. I am mesmerized by the depth to which Day and Cagney enacted the real characters. Wonderful, just wonderful! Next DVD purchase I make!!

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