Day, Laraine

Day, Laraine
Oct. 13, 1920-Nov. 10, 2007
American actress


Since her motion picture debut in 1937, Laraine Day has achieved film stardom, acted on the legitimate stage, conducted her own radio and television shows, written a book, and won the reputation of being "the First Lady of Baseball." Among the thirty-five pictures in which she has appeared are My Son, My Son, Foreign Correspondent, Journey for Margaret, Mr. Lucky, The Locket, and the Dr. Kildare series.

After her marriage, in 1947, to Leo Durocher, the present manager of the New York Giants Baseball Club, the actress developed into one of the game's foremost women enthusiasts. She has recently limited most of her professional activity to television interview shows during the baseball season and to TV film shorts about sports.

Laraine Day was born La Raine Johnson in Roosevelt, Utah, on October 13, 1920, the daughter of Clarence Irwin Johnson and Ada M. Johnson. She has two brothers (one of whom, Lamar, is her twin) and four sisters. Her maternal great-grandfather, Charles C. Rich, was an important leader in the Mormon Church who had tried unsuccessfully to establish a Mormon colony on the Pacific Coast. Her grandfather had settled in Roosevelt, and her father, who served as mayor of the town, worked as a grain dealer and Government agent among the Ute Indians for over twenty years. The family moved from Utah to Long Beach, California, in 1931, and it was there that Laraine attended George Washington Junior High School and was graduated from Polytechnic High School.

Laraine had wanted to become an actress ever since she was taken to her first movie at the age of six. In Long Beach, she joined the Players' Guild, managed by the late Elias Day, and was eventually given leading roles in such plays as Growing Pains, Call It a Day, Flyaway Home, Winterset, Private Lives, Victoria Regina, and, in addition, toured the West in the road company of Conflict. The young actress received most of her dramatic training from Day, and in gratitude she took his surname for her own in 1938.

According to Collier's (June 7, 1941), Laraine Johnson was "discovered" by talent scout Marty Martyn. She was given the part of a girl who sat at a soda fountain and spoke four lines in Samuel Goldwyn's production of Stella Dallas (1937). Then Paramount signed her to play a small role in Scandal Street (1938); later, when her six months' option came up for renewal, the studio dropped her for "lack of talent."

Her next screen appearances were as George O'Brien's leading lady in three Westerns made by RKO-Radio: Border G-Man (1938), Painted Desert (1938), and Arizona Legion (1939).

Taking the name Laraine Day, she signed a seven-year contract in 1938 with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Her initial assignment for the studio was a subordinate role in I Take This Woman, starring Hedy Lamarr and Spencer Tracy, which was not released until 1940. Actually, Miss Day was first seen under Metro's auspices as an Irish lass adopted by a New York policeman, played by Wallace Beery, in Sergeant Madden (1939).

The public came to know Miss Day chiefly through her portrayal of the young nurse, Mary Lamont, in the Dr. Kildare series. She first created this role in Calling Dr. Kildare (1939), and along with Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore became a permanent member of the cast in each succeeding picture, which included The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939); Dr. Kildare's Strange Case, Dr. Kildare Goes Home, and Dr. Kildare's Crisis (1940); and The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941). Studio officials finally decided that Miss Day was becoming too closely identified with this character in the public's mind. Therefore, in Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941), the script writers arranged to have Mary Lamont killed by a truck and Miss Day was free to go on to more ambitious productions.

Her first big opportunity came on a loan-out to United Artists for the Edward Small production of My Son, My Son (1940), in which she was cast as Maeve, a sensitive young girl who wanted to become an actress. She was tested for this role, but did not get it until Frances Dee collapsed on the set. Critical praise for this part won her the feminine lead in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent, which Walter Wanger produced for United Artists later that year. A nationwide poll of motion picture exhibitors in 1941 designated Miss Day as the most promising of all the younger players in Hollywood.

At MGM, Miss Day had appeared in Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939); And One Was Beautiful (1940); The Trial of Mary Dugan and The Bad Man (1941). Following her release from the Dr. Kildare series, her studio assigned her to Unholy Partners (1941) and Kathleen (1941). These were followed in 1942 by A Yank on the Burma Road, Fingers at the Window, and Journey for Margaret (a story of war-torn Britain which featured Robert Young and Margaret O'Brien). The New York Herald Tribune critic found Miss Day "moving" in the serious role of a young matron suffering from emotional shock.

On May 16, 1942, Miss Day married James Ray Hendricks, a former dance-band singer who became an executive of the Santa Monica airport. They adopted two girls and a boy.

Miss Day's favorites among the films in which she has starred are Mr. Lucky (1943) in which she played a sophisticated Park Avenue socialite, and The Locket (1946), a psychological melodrama in which she portrayed "a sweet-faced wanton." Critic Eileen Creelman in the New York Sun felt the actress made the neurotic girl "a very real person." During the period between these two pictures, Miss Day was loaned to Paramount for Cecil B. De Mille's The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944); returned to RKO for Bride By Mistake (1944) and Those Endearing Young Charms (1945); and Keep Your Powder Dry (1945).

Released from her MGM contract at her own request in May 1946, Miss Day signed a contract in December with RKO to make one film a year for five years, at a salary reported to be $100,000 a picture. She was co-starred with John Wayne in Tycoon (1947), and then lent to United Artists for My Dear Secretary (1948), with Kirk Douglas and Keenan Wynn. She played opposite Robert Ryan in RKO's The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), and was again borrowed by United Artists for Without Honor (1949), with Dane Clark and Franchot Tone.

After she had obtained a divorce in Mexico, Miss Day on January 21, 1947, married Leo Durocher, then manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Club. (They went through a second ceremony on February 15, 1948, when her California divorce became final). It was in April 1947 that Durocher was suspended by Baseball Commissioner A. B. (Happy) Chandler from participating in professional baseball for the rest of that season. He returned as manager of the Dodgers early in 1948, but during the summer made his surprise move to the managership of the Dodgers' arch-rivals in the National League-the New York Giants. "The move from Brooklyn to New York marked a definite change in my life," Miss Day has observed. "Before that I had been commuting between Hollywood and New York and now I settled down to baseball."

At school, as a young girl, Miss Day had hated baseball, and had never seen a regularly scheduled game. When she was first introduced to Durocher, she didn't know who he was or even what the Dodgers were. "After I married Leo, I had to learn about baseball," she has explained (Collier's, March 8, 1952). "I read everything I could, with the exception of the rulebook." Before Durocher even took her to a game, he told her stories about all the players-little incidents about their careers, their families. When she did see the players in action, she felt she knew them so well that she was interested in their playing.

Miss Day, in turn, has used this same method-of stressing the human interest angles, the personalities of the individual players, instead of statistics-in her various efforts to stimulate further interest in the game. "Baseball is not a lot of statistics to me," she has said, "it's blood and tears." Although she quickly developed into one of the game's most ardent fans, she never quite believed she belonged "to the great fraternity of baseball" until 1951, when she was invited to appear at the annual dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers Association-the first woman ever to be so honored.

In May 1950, Miss Day initiated her fifteen-minute sports interview television show preceding all home games of the Giants which the New York Station WPIX carried that year. At first, she had misgivings about the prospect of exchanging "bright baseball quips with famous players before an audience that knew more about the sport than I would ever know," but she soon found that having followed the players' careers closely, she knew just about what to ask them.

Her aim was to interest people in the Giants and in baseball (in that order), with particular emphasis on encouraging new fans among women. The program was entirely unrehearsed and originated from a special booth underneath the stands at the Polo Grounds. Variety's reviewer of the first telecast commented on "her good looks, infectious personality, and better-than-speaking acquaintance with baseball."

Miss Day's other activities included a tour of the summer theatre circuit in 1950 as the star of Angel Street. This marked her first stage work in the East, although she had appeared in the play with Gregory Peck for ten weeks at the La Jolla (California) Playhouse in the preceding year. In May 1951 the Laraine Day Show made its debut over ABC-TV; it was a half-hour program of variety turns and interviews (not connected with baseball) every Saturday afternoon. Also in May, the premiere of Daydreaming with Laraine, a fifteen-minute video show, was given on Thursday evenings over ABC-TV. The premise of this program was that sports figures have unexpected nonathletic avocations. Miss Day extended her broadcast activities in May 1952 with a nightly interview series over New York Station WMGM from midnight to 3:00 A.M. That same year her book, Day with the Giants, (edited by Kyle Crichton) was published by Doubleday. The Herald Tribune reviewer found it "an amusing, informative book, the first … to report on baseball from the viewpoint of the wife," while Aline B. Louchheim (Times) commented: "Every day is Ladies' Day for Laraine Day and she makes a good story of it."

In 1953 Miss Day has been appearing in films made for television, some forty fifteen-minute video shorts. The series is called Double Play with Durocher and Day and features the couple interviewing personalities from baseball and other sports. It was announced in May 1953 that Miss Day's new ABC series, White Collar Girl, would soon go into production at the Hal Roach Studios. Shortly before this, the actress told an interviewer that for the first time in six years she had set up her life so she could return to the major studios for feature film work. "Pictures are still second with me, though," she added. "My life as Mrs. Leo Durocher and baseball come first."

The screen and video star, who is five feet five inches tall and weighs 112 pounds, has light brown hair and blue-green eyes. As a Mormon, she does not drink alcoholic liquors, coffee, or tea, and does not smoke. The Durochers live in California during the winter, spend six weeks in spring training and exhibition tours, and make New York their headquarters during the regular season. (Their two adopted children, Michele, and Christopher Ray, usually accompany them.) She sees every home game at the Polo Grounds and is careful to do all her rooting for the Giants, and not against the opposing team, which she thinks is both tactless and unsporting.

The social life of the Durochers depends entirely upon the outcome of the ball game; they never go out nights following a lost game but stay home and watch television. For recreation, Miss Day enjoys reading mystery stories, has taken up weaving, and writes poetry and children's stories. She likes television and the movie work, but does not care much for stage acting, finding it boring to do the same show over and over again. "Let someone else be the world's greatest actress," she remarked after her conversion to the game, "I'll be the world's greatest baseball fan."

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