Doris Day [Photo: Martin Mills/Getty Images]Nowadays, we take for granted that top female singers will have opportunities in film and television, but this wasn't always the case. Such "triple-threat" performers as Beyonce, J.Lo and Jennifer Hudson owe a debt to such pioneers as Doris Day and Barbra Streisand. Both of these legendary stars are having milestone birthdays this month. Day turns 90 on April 3. Streisand turns 70 on April 24.
Day and Streisand have a fair amount in common. Both started out in supporting roles, but were too talented to stay in supporting roles for long. Day was the "girl singer" with Les Brown and his Orchestra in the mid-1940s before going out on her own in 1948. Streisand had a featured role in the 1962 Broadway hit I Can Get It For You Wholesale, before releasing her first solo album in 1963 and returning to Broadway in a star-making lead role in 1964.
Both were very young when they first made the charts. Day was 21 when "Sentimental Journey," her first of a dozen hits with Les Brown and his Orchestra, charted in in March 1945. Streisand was just shy of 21 when The Barbra Streisand Album debuted in April 1963.
Both parlayed success on records into great success in both movies and television. Day was the top "money-making star" of the year four times between 1960 and 1964, according to the Quigley Poll of theater owners. Moreover, she was the top female money-making star seven times between 1952 and 1965. Streisand was the top female money-making star six times between 1970 and 1977. As for TV, Day headlined a sitcom that ran for five years. Streisand has starred in a series of acclaimed specials.
Both women are icons. Day rated a name-check in two #1 hits of the 1980s: Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" ("you make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day") and Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire." Streisand was saluted 18 months ago on Duck Sauce's quirky #1 dance hit "Barbra Streisand." And she is referenced so often on Glee that's it's hard to imagine the show without her.
The two women had comparable success with hit songs. Day had 46 chart hits (not counting the aforementioned hits with Les Brown). Streisand has had 42. Day had 14 top 10 hits. Streisand has had 12. Streisand is ahead in terms of #1 hits, five to three.
But Streisand has had far more success than Day with albums. She has reached the top 10 with 31 albums: 20 studio albums, three movie soundtracks, three live albums, two hits compilations, two TV soundtracks and a Broadway cast album. Day reached the top 10 with nine albums: eight movie soundtracks and a studio album.
Both women introduced two Oscar-winning Best Songs in films in which they starred, back when Oscar-winning Best Songs were at the center of the pop-culture universe. Interestingly, their dual wins came exactly 20 years apart. Day introduced "Secret Love" in her 1953 movie Calamity Jane and "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)" in 1956's The Man Who Knew Too Much. Streisand introduced "The Way We Were" in her 1973 smash of the same name and "Evergreen (Love Theme From 'A Star Is Born')" in her 1976 remake of the classic love story.
Both recorded duets with a host of top performers. Day charted with four collaborations with Buddy Clark, two with Johnnie Ray and one each with Frank Sinatra, Harry James & his Orchestra, Frankie Laine and Donald O'Connor. Streisand charted with two collaborations with Barry Gibb and one each with Neil Diamond, Donna Summer, Kim Carnes, Don Johnson, Bryan Adams and Celine Dion. (You didn't realize Don Johnson was a musical talent worthy of such a teaming? Me either.)
Inevitably, both worked with some of the same artists. Both recorded duets with Frank Sinatra. (Day also co-starred in a movie with him.) Both acted in movies with Lauren Bacall. Both artists even recorded for the same label, Columbia Records.
Both women have received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. Streisand picked hers up in 1995. Day won in 2008. Streisand has four recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Day has three.
Streisand received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2008. Day has been offered the prize, according to a Day insider, but declined because she doesn't like to fly. (Memo to Day: Next time they ask, say "Of course I'll be there.")
Both starred in successful bio-pics of stars from the 1920s. Streisand received a Tony nomination and won an Oscar for her portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Day played Ruth Etting in the 1955 movie Love Me Or Leave Me.
Because Day and Streisand are 20 years apart in age, they weren't really contemporaries. Day made her final appearance on the Hot 100 in 1962, two years before Streisand made her first. Day's last movie (1968's With Six You Get Eggroll) came out the same year (1968) as Streisand's first (Funny Girl).
There are other differences between the two stars. Day never appeared on Broadway. Streisand never undertook a TV series. Day didn't segue into directing or producing.
Also, Day's appeal was always that of the girl-next-door (assuming the girl next door is gorgeous and talented). Streisand has always had a larger-than-life aura.
Streisand emerged in the early 1960s as a kind of anti-Doris Day: She wasn't blonde and conventionally pretty like Day or, say, Sandra Dee. In fact, she played a culturally significant role in expanding people's ideas of beauty.
Here's another difference: Day all but retired from show business after 1975, the year that her last TV special aired and an "as-told-to" biography was published. She was just 53 at the time. (Day has done a few projects since then, including a cable TV talk show in the mid-1980s, but has mostly focused on her foundation, the Doris Day Animal League.)
By contrast, Streisand has remained fairly active professionally, with major concert tours and a steady stream of albums. She has a movie due in November (The Guilt Trip, with Seth Rogen as her son). She may record a third Broadway album.
Day's breakthrough hit, "Sentimental Journey," logged nine weeks at #1 in the spring and early summer of 1945, just as World War II was coming to an end. As such, it was the "homecoming" song for millions of servicemen.
Day launched her solo career in 1948. Her first solo release was "Love Somebody," a duet with Buddy Clark, which logged five weeks at #1. Her first film, released that same year, was Romance On The High Seas, in which she introduced the song "It's Magic." The song hit #2 and received an Oscar nomination for Best Song.
Day was nominated for a Grammy in the first year of the awards, 1958, for Best Vocal Performance—Female for her top 10 hit "Everybody Loves A Lover." She received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress for 1959's Pillow Talk, her first of three movies with Rock Hudson.
Day starred in a so-so sitcom, The Doris Day Show, which ran from 1968 to 1973. She was never nominated for an Emmy, for that show or for any other TV appearance, perhaps because she always made it look so easy.
TCM is celebrating Day's birthday by airing more than 30 Day movies this week (April 2-6). Warner Home Video has released a four-DVD package, TCM Greatest Classic Legends: Doris Day. (The set consists of Romance On The High Seas, Calamity Jane, Love Me Or Leave Me and 1960's Please Don't Eat The Daisies.) On April 3, Sony Masterworks will release a two-CD set Doris Day: With A Smile And A Song. Day personally picked the 30 songs for the set.
The Beatles dominated 1964, but Streisand had a pretty good year, too. In March, Funny Girl opened on Broadway. In April, she made the cover of TIME. In May, she won two Grammys (including Album of the Year) for The Barbra Streisand Album. In June, "People" cracked the top five on the Hot 100. In October, People became her first #1 album.
Streisand conquered TV in April 1965, with the airing of her landmark TV special, My Name Is Barbra. She won an Emmy for her performance in that must-see special. She has since won three more, for 1994's Barbra Streisand: The Concert (winning as both performer and producer) and 2001's Barbra Streisand: Timeless.
Streisand extended her domination to movies in 1968 with Funny Girl. She won an Oscar for Best Actress (in a tie with Katharine Hepburn that served to draw even more attention to the category). She won a second Oscar eight years later for co-writing "Evergreen (Love Theme From 'A Star Is Born')." Streisand is the only person in Oscar history to win for both acting and songwriting. (She has also been nominated for producing. The Prince Of Tides was a Best Picture finalist for 1991.)
Streisand received the Life Achievement Award from the AFI in 2001. As noted, she has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy. Streisand and Fred Astaire are the only artists to win both of these key awards.
In 2007, I wrote the liner notes for The Magic Of Doris Day, which became a top 20 album in the U.K. (The closing track on the album: a cover of "The Way We Were.") In 2010, I interviewed Streisand when she received the annual Person of the Year award from MusiCares. The Q&A is posted at www.Grammy.com. Here are the links to part one and part two.
Where to begin checking out the work of Day and Streisand? For Day, start with "Secret Love," a first-rate piece of movie music, "Sentimental Journey" and "It's Magic." For Streisand, start with "People," an exquisite single, and two albums filled with Broadway classics: The Broadway Album and Back To Broadway.