Laraine Day

Demure Hollywood leading lady best known as Nurse Mary Lamont in the 'Dr Kildare' films


La Raine Johnson (Laraine Day), actress: born Roosevelt, Utah 13 October 1917; married 1942 Ray Hendricks (marriage dissolved 1947), 1947 Leo Durocher (one adopted son, one adopted daughter; marriage dissolved 1960), 1961 Michael Grilikhes (died 2007; two daughters); died Ivins, Utah 10 November 2007.

A reliable leading lady of Forties cinema, the fresh-faced and demure Laraine Day acted opposite such stars as Cary Grant and Robert Mitchum, and starred in the fine Hitchcock thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), but she was most identified with the role of Nurse Mary Lamont, the hero's sweetheart in seven of the popular Dr Kildare films. When her character was killed off, it created a furore similar to that aroused today by such drastic departures in the most popular television soap operas.

But she could also portray hidden anguish, such as her destructive psychotic in the disturbing film noir The Locket (1946). Though a contract player at MGM for nearly a decade, she was taken for granted by her studio – one executive memorably described her as "attractively ordinary" – and found her best roles when on loan-out to other studios.

Christened La Raine Johnson, she and her twin brother Lamar were born in Roosevelt, Utah, to a prominent Mormon family, in 1917. Her great-grandfather Charles C. Rich had been one of the pioneers who crossed the plains to establish the Mormon church. Laraine was later to reveal that she never smoked, and she never drank alcohol, tea or coffee. Her father was a grain dealer and government interpreter for the Ute Indian tribe.

When she was six, her family moved to Long Beach, California, where she later trained at the Long Beach Players' Guild under Elias Day (whose surname she later took) along with another aspiring actor, Robert Mitchum. Spotted by a talent scout, she was given a minor role, billed as Lorraine Hayes, in the crime drama Tough to Handle (1937), starring Frankie Darro, followed by several B westerns plus a small role (four lines) in a soda-fountain scene in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937).

After briefly renaming herself Laraine Johnson for two westerns with George O'Brien, she was signed by MGM, took the name Laraine Day, and was given small roles in Sergeant Madden (1939), starring Wallace Beery, and I Take This Woman (1939), the Spencer Tracy-Hedy Lamarr romantic drama that had such a convoluted history (four directors and endless alterations) that it was joked that it should have been called I Re-Take This Woman. Day later said that the studio head, Louis B. Mayer, wanted another contract player, Lana Turner, for the role, and that his resentment affected her career. "MGM never really gave me a break. They loaned me out for leading roles, but cast me in programme pictures."

Calling Dr Kildare (1939), in which she played Mary Lamont, a nurse who becomes involved in a murder case with Dr Kildare (Lew Ayres), was the second of the studio's series featuring the young doctor and his gruff mentor Dr Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore), and Day remained as Kildare's love interest for six more films until, in Dr Kildare's Wedding Day (1941), Mary was fatally struck by a truck on the day she was to wed the doctor.

Other MGM films included Tarzan Finds a Son (1939), in which a baby survives a plane crash that kills his mother (Day) and is discovered by Tarzan, and And One Was Beautiful (1940), in which she was one of two sisters in love with the same man. She had better roles on loan-out in Charles Vidor's My Son, My Son (1940) and in her greatest film, Alfred Hitchcock's tale of espionage and murder Foreign Correspondent.

Remembered for such set pieces as the assassination midst a sea of umbrellas, the fight in a windmill and a frighteningly effective plane crash into the ocean, the film featured Day as a woman who helps a reporter, Joel McCrea, uncover a spy ring, not knowing that it is led by her father. "Hitchcock was a character," she recalled.

In one particularly scary scene I had to sneak down a dark corridor. When I got to the end there was Mr Hitchcock, sticking out his tongue and flapping his hands in the back of his ears. I didn't dare laugh, because the cameras were turning. But he certainly eliminated any tension I felt.

At MGM, she was the wise-cracking pal of a newspaperman, Edward G. Robinson, in Unholy Partners (1941) then was awarded top billing as a show girl accused of murder in The Trial of Mary Dugan (1941), a remake of a 1929 Norma Shearer vehicle, but censorship restrictions diluted the story's power and it paled beside the original. She was oddly cast as the wife of Herbert Marshall, who was noticeably many years her senior, in the Shirley Temple vehicle Kathleen (1941), but effectively played a woman who agrees to adopt a war orphan (Margaret O'Brien) in the popular drama Journey for Margaret (1942).

A Yank on the Burma Road and Fingers at the Window (both 1942) preceded two prestigious loan-outs, firstly to RKO for Mr Lucky (1943), in which she reforms a playboy gambler, Cary Grant, who plans to appropriate money she has raised for the war effort. "Cary would arrive on the set and everybody's morale immediately lifted," she said.

The crew were crazy about him and so was I. But, curiously, I never felt the male-female chemistry that you sometimes experience on a set. I could have been talking to my best girl-friend.

Day than went to Paramount for Cecil B. DeMille's The Story of Dr Wassell (1944), starring Gary Cooper as the heroic real-life physician.

Gary turned out to be the surprise of my young life. He was so convincing with his stuttering, stammering awkward little boy manners. When the action called for Dr Wassell to kiss me, I got all set for a bashful boy kiss. Well, it was like holding a hand grenade and not being able to get rid of it! I was left breathless.

At MGM, Day was surprisingly effective as a tough, by-the-book WAC officer who conflicts with a former playgirl Lana Turner in Keep Your Powder Dry (1945). "I didn't want to do it, but they said if I did it they would give me Undercurrent with Robert Taylor," she said. "Then they gave Undercurrent to Katharine Hepburn, so I left MGM."

Day's next film was to be her personal favourite, John Brahm's moody, haunting melodrama The Locket (1946), which also featured her old friend Robert Mitchum.

My character was the greatest challenge I ever had – a destructive young woman who's a kleptomaniac. The form of the film – flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks – was criticised by some reviewers of the time as too confusing. Today, though, its style is highly regarded by film historians. . . Many movie fans seem to remember me best from the Dr Kildare series but, first and foremost, I remember The Locket.

Day was leading lady to John Wayne in the sprawling drama Tycoon (1947), and starred opposite Kirk Douglas in My Dear Secretary (1948), but after I Married a Communist (1949, called The Woman on Pier 13 in the UK), she virtually retired, returning to the screen when John Wayne, producer and star of William Wellman's hit suspense movie The High and the Mighty (1954), asked her to play an unhappily married woman who is contemplating divorce but reconciles with her husband (John Howard) when the aeroplane on which they are travelling seems headed for disaster. Though Day was competent, she was overshadowed by the Oscar-nominated performances of Claire Trevor and Jan Sterling.

Day's second marriage, in 1947, was to Leo Durocher, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and later of the New York Giants. She took such an active interest in her volatile husband's career that she became known as "The First Lady of Baseball", hosting a radio sports programme and in 1953 writing a book, Day with the Giants.

In 1971 she wrote another book, The America We Love, and she devoted much of her time in later years to the Mormon church. Day's third husband was a television producer, and she continued to act occasionally on television, her last appearance being a Murder, She Wrote episode in 1986.

Tom Vallance

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal