"It even has a bar!"

This past November the Special Collections Reading Room at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a small exhibition assembled by British film scholar, Tamar Jeffers McDonald.  The small display included fan magazine reproductions of periodicals from the collection accompanied by exhibit text.  ‘Girl-next-door’ Doris Day’s fashion influence was the display’s subject.  I was surprised to learn that in the 1950s Doris Day was the most featured figure for fashion in film fan magazines of the day.  According to Jeffers McDonald, Day was regarded as a kind of everywoman who possessed a casual, natural, and achievable beauty.   In 1956 Day even designed her own line of sweaters, which were featured in the March issue of Modern Screen.  Thanks to Jeffers McDonald’s informative display, I decided to revisit some of the pert blonde’s films in connection with my research on cocktail culture and the post-War cocktail dress. 

 

I recently re-watched That Touch of Mink (Mann, 1962) in which Day plays opposite Cary Grant in a film set largely in Manhattan.  Day is ‘Cathy Timberlake,’ an unemployed, subway riding, goody two shoes with a wisecracking redhead roommate, ‘Connie’ (played by the husky voiced, Audrey Meadows).  Grant is ‘Philip Shayne,’ an extraordinarily wealthy man who tries to initiate an affair with Cathy only to learn she is too wholesome to abandon her “upper Sandusky” morals by having premarital sex. 

 

The plot flirts with illicit sexual activity and temptation only to [SPOILER ALERT!] end in marriage.  It’s plots like these that have kept me away from Day’s repertoire.  Yet several delightful things happen in the film.  First, within hours of meeting one another – Mr. Shayne’s driver inadvertently splashed Miss Timberlake at a busy intersection, which provides the pretext for their meeting – the debonair executive invites the lovely miss to accompany him to Baltimore that very day where he is going to take her business advice and speak directly to the owner of a firm he wants to purchase.  They reach Baltimore via his private jet and of course her suggestion works.  There is something slightly condescending about his acknowledgement of her business sense but let’s leave that to the side for the moment.  More relevant to our cocktail culture concerns is the jet. 

 

Like any young modern career girl, Cathy is in frequent contact with her best gal pal and roommate, Connie (would that they were a lesbian couple instead of “roommates”!).  In an era before mobile phones, Cathy manages to keep her friend apprised of her goings-on throughout the day with remarkable efficiency calling Connie first at work and then at home from different offices and restaurants.  While in Baltimore she phones Connie to tell her that they flew there in Mr. Shayne’s private jet, which is “fully furnished” and “even has a bar!” 

 

Air travel at the time was far more glamorous than it is today, as so many have lamented to the point of making the topic banal.  But even by early sixties standards, it’s hard to beat a private jet that is fully furnished with a bar.  Alas, we catch no glimpse of said jet’s interior.

 

A second thrilling moment in the film comes after the excursion to Baltimore for business and afterwards to Philadelphia for pasta.  Cathy decides to decline her new suitor’s offer of a trip around the world only to change her mind and accept.  After agreeing to leave for Bermuda, ‘Leonard’ from Bergdorf Goodman arrives on her doorstep to help her put together a wardrobe for her travels.  In the tradition of other “women’s pictures,” there is a brief fashion show at Bergdorf’s where Cathy’s eyes sparkle at the sight of a mink coat that can be worn with an array of overcoats in colors ranging from trampish, brilliant red to innocent, subdued off-white (Cathy’s choice in the end).  Though her color choice is restrained let us not forget that she has just accepted a mink coat – along with an entire wardrobe – from a man she has known for fewer than 48 hours. Some girls have all the luck! 

 

The ensembles presented for Cathy’s consideration include several day dresses, outerwear, evening attire, hostess attire (will she be hosting? and where? at his posh new apartment?), and of course the mink coat.  Interestingly, the only cocktail dress presented for the woman trained in “operating computing machines” is the relatively understated black sequined number worn under the mink during the fashion show sequence.  There is no question that the mink with its changeable satin overcoats is the show-stopper, not the cocktail dress.  Yet the cocktail dress provides an opportunity to showcase the mink.  An intimate cocktail party is just the sort of occasion where one might want to be seen in an expensive fur.  But of course Cathy struggles with the moral dilemma of premarital sex with a handsome, rich man lavishing her with gifts versus, well, marriage and the preservation of her virginity before said rite of passage.

In the end there are no cocktail parties and hence no cocktail attire. Between all the air travel and elegant dinners there simply isn’t an opportunity to wear anything other than day dresses and evening length gowns.  Thankfully the mink is versatile and Miss Timberlake will get mileage out of it by pairing it with a day suit and the subdued off-white over coat and then later with a long black slinky evening gown. 

 

The cocktail is not central in this film but that does not mean that cocktail culture does not simmer beneath the surface as a signifier of refinement and elegance.  The private jet, after all is equipped with a bar.  Moreover, on two separate occasions Philip Shayne is seen out drinking martinis with ‘Isabella,’ a sophisticated brunette with a European accent.  Cathy lacks Isabella’s sophistication but in the end [SPOILER ALERT!] she gets her man.  Once the wedding ring is on her finger [SPOILER ALERT!] Cathy finally serves up her prized virginity and the film closes with the happy couple pushing a baby buggy through a Manhattan park.  We can only speculate about whether they have outfitted their home with a fully stocked bar.

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