Doris Day died Monday, and our longstanding pal, Hy Hollinger, died in four years ago. We regarded both with great affection, and were excited to learn that their professional paths intersected, however briefly.
The magnet — studio publicity, often more entertaining than the movie, but that’s a discussion for another day.
As our special guest — our longtime friend, veteran Hollywood trade journalist and former studio publicist Hollinger — joined us in evoking a once-upon-a-time publicity adventure he vividly recalled to his final days involving a young Doris Day (she was 24 at the time) at the very beginning of her movie career.
As we have occasionally discussed, getting newspapers to publish a studio-manufactured publicity still was a key objective back in the Forties when print media ruled the media roost. Sometimes the studios would lend their stars to inventive photo ideas dreamed up by the newspapers themselves.
This is where Hy came in, so here’s how he told it in his own words:
There’s a color photo somewhere in the archives of the New York Daily News showing me– as Santa Claus — pinning a necklace on Doris Day.
That photo was taken in late 1948, when I, as a junior publicist at Warner Bros. in New York City, escorted her to the News building to launch a promotional effort for her first movie, Romance on the High Seas.
The News photo editor wanted a shot for the Christmas issue of the Sunday magazine section. Thus, I was dispatched to Brooks theatrical costumes to be fitted with the Santa garb.
The high-spirited Doris made no fuss during the Santa Claus business. (Romance) was her first movie following a career as a band singer, including touring with the Les Brown band and entertaining the troops with Bob Hope. A screen test landed her a contract with Warner Bros. Nobody signed me to play Santa Claus.
The studio pulled out all stops to introduce their new movie queen. Her costars were Jack Carson (clowning with Doris in the top photo), Janis Paige and Don Defore, and the cast included such recognizable supporting players as Oscar Levant, S.Z. Sakall, Eric Blore and Franklin Pangborn.
Michael Curtiz produced and directed, Julius J. Epstein and I.A. Diamond wrote the screenplay, and Julie Styne and Sammy Cahn provided the music, including the Oscar-winning song “It’s Magic.”
Working for a movie company and playing Santa Claus way back in 1948 launched a Bronx-born hick’s career as a fringe observer of the quirks of movie stars and moguls.
R.I.P., Doris and Hy.