Movie star and recording artist Doris Day died this week at the age of 97. For some reason, she had been on my mind for a while and I happened to watch a movie of hers on YouTube that I hadn’t seen since it first came out in 1968.
With Six You Get Eggroll is a goofy comedy about a blended family (an anomaly at the time) and the obstacles the new couple face as they try to make their new family and marriage work. Day, who plays a widow, meets a widower played by Brian Keith of The Parent Trap (1961) fame.
When I saw the movie for the first time, I was on the verge of puberty. I remember identifying with one of the characters, Day’s older teenage son, who appears in an early scene with shaving cream on his face. I can’t be sure what I was feeling at the time except that the image must have held significance for me in my developing identity as a male. I recognized it again immediately when I watched it on YouTube.
Beyond personal appeal, the movie offers a glimpse into a period of Americana that has just about disappeared. Set in a suburban community in the Bay Area, there are no sidewalks, white picket fences separate ranch style houses, and birch trees cluster in groups on front lawns like giraffes. The film portrays, accurately, the tranquility typical of towns throughout the Bay Area at that time, particularly in the South Bay in what would later become Silicon Valley.
Interestingly, this was Day’s last movie. Some have surmised that she sensed the changing mood of the country and the growing restlessness among youth. Certainly, the movie hints at none of the social unrest that led to the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, race riots in cities across the country, and antiwar demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, all of which occurred that same year.
These took place against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, the Paris riots, the Tet Offensive, the Second Vatican Council, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. It is possible that 1965-1975 has been the most tumultuous decade in recent history.
You wouldn’t know if from watching With Six You Get Eggroll, but then the movie doesn’t attempt social or political commentary beyond an idyllic portrayal of family life. Unfortunately, that life would soon change forever.
Other movies released in 1968 took on social issues with edgy perspectives more suitable to the changing times: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and Rosemary’s Baby, for instance. I saw all of these in the theater and can tell you that, as thrilling as they were, none of them resonated with me the way this movie about egg rolls did. The fact that no egg rolls appear anywhere in the movie is beside the point (see Note to Self below).
No doubt, my identification with a teenage son as opposed to a gorilla or Satan worshiper had something to do with this, although these other movies most likely were not aiming for a prepubescent audience. We would have to wait another thirty years and Titanic for that.
Day’s instincts proved right about the country and its turn to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. There would be no more room for the wholesome “girl next door” character going forward. We can thank Jean Paul Sartre and the French deconstructionists for that, at least in part, but suffice it to say that things would never be the same again in the Bay Area or anywhere else in America. That’s not misplaced nostalgia but the historical record.
Still, Doris Day did not let the past define her. Neither did she long for it even though she had been a successful singer through the 40s and 50s. Retiring from Hollywood and public life did not mean her work was over. She devoted herself to the care and protection of animals, even founding a nonprofit organization and opening a pet friendly hotel in Carmel, California.
Such resiliency may be her greatest legacy and the most important lesson we can take from her long life, which was not without suffering. Ironically, she had four marriages and endured the premature death of her son.
In the end, I can watch With Six You Get Egg Roll and recall it as a marker in my own life, shaving cream and all.
As long as it serves as a guide to the future.
RIP Doris Day Flickr photo by Trending Topics 2019 shared under a Creative Commons (BY 4.0) license. Album cover Flickr photos by Kevin Dooley shared under a Creative Commons (BY 4.0) license with some alteration for spacing.
Dedicated to Pam, Jodie, and Kim Bryan, the girls next door. Note to Self: Egg roll movies with no egg rolls, egg cream drinks with neither egg nor cream. I feel a post coming on.