'The Very Thought Of You': Nellie McKay Channels Doris Day

Dec 5, 2013
Originally published on April 16, 2014 3:46 pm

Satin-voiced singer, adventurous songwriter and theater provocateur Nellie McKay has frequented NPR airwaves, but never before like this. Normal as Blueberry Pie, McKay's fourth record, was made in tribute to the legendary singer and actress Doris Day. So naturally, being a trivia show, we wanted to see just how much McKay knew about the icon.

McKay discovered Day's work in an unusual way. While in high school, she went to an animal rights protest at the Baltimore Aquarium, and afterwards, while waiting for the bus to take her back home to the Poconos, she happened to wander into a record store. Her eye caught a photo still from Romance on the High Seas, Day's 1948 film debut, and it was love at first sight. A bit of an old soul herself, McKay said she connected with Day's music, acting and life story immediately. "In gym class, I'd try to put [Day] on, and they all wanted to listen to Destiny's Child," she told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg.

While McKay has lent her voice to a previous episode of Ask Me Another, now it was her turn in the puzzle hot seat, and she was up for the challenge. To test the extent of her Doris Day fandom, we called upon a worthy opponent: Tom Santopietro, author of the biography Considering Doris Day. Together the two Day devotees demonstrated their savvy for her films, her phone demeanor and her shout-out in an indelible song by a little band known as Wham!

Plus, in the Web extra on this page, hear what music McKay listens to when she wants to relax, and why she brought a pair of leopard-print, "second-hand love cuffs" to give away to the grand winner as a prize.

Interview Highlights

On whether she uses iTunes

I don't have a playlist, because I abhor technology. I think it's done far more harm than good.

On the music (on vinyl) she listens to when she wants to relax

I was just in Mississippi, and I picked up some Stanley Turrentine, and some James Booker and a wonderful album ... about a British Pathé in the West Indies, and it goes into the whole history there from the '20s to the present. It's got a wonderful range of musical styles. It was great to travel through Appalachia listening to that African three-against-four rhythm. It was completely unapropos.

What's up with those handcuffs, Nellie?

Love cuffs. I got them at Goodwill. They're gently used. They still have the keys, which I think is quite rare.

In the video below, McKay performs the pop standard "The Very Thought of You," which Doris Day famously sang in the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn.

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Now let's welcome back our very important puzzler, Nellie McKay.


EISENBERG: You have an album that is a tribute to Doris Day, "Normal as Blueberry Pie." And it inspired us, actually, to write a quiz about the amazing singer who was one of the top film stars of the 20th century, Doris Day. Now, did you grow up watching Doris Day or listening to Doris Day?

NELLIE MCKAY: I did. I grew up listening first. We went to a protest at the Baltimore Aquarium when I was in high school and I went to the record store afterwards while we were waiting for the bus to go back to the Poconos. And I just loved her look on I think it was a still from "Romance on the High Seas" which was her first film. And it was just - it was so romantic.

You know, I mean, in gym class I'd try to put that on and they all wanted to listen to Destiny's Child. You know? And the fact that the she started her own animal league and foundation, I just - she spoke to me on every level.

EISENBERG: So we wanted to find you a suitable opponent in this game and I think we did a pretty great job. So please welcome the author of the biography "Considering Doris Day"...


EISENBERG: ...Tom Santopietro.


EISENBERG: Tom, have you ever met Doris Day?

TOM SANTOPIETRO: I haven't met her. She is incredibly reclusive. She stays in her estate which is in Carmel, California. A year after the book came out - it was actually a while - the phone rang late one night and I was very grumpy because I had been working late. And they said is this Tom Santopietro? I said, well, who is this? And she said, well, I'm calling you from Carmel, California. And it was Doris Day.

She is the person you see on the screen. She is that genuinely nice. And we don't run across many people like that. So it was a pretty fascinating conversation.

EISENBERG: Wow. And why did she call you in the first place? What was the reason?

SANTOPIETRO: Well, I think she liked the fact that the book was - it wasn't just sort of dishing the dirt about her four husbands. And it was the first book that took her seriously as an artist. Forget all the jokes about being a perpetual virgin, this is a major artist. And I talked about how James Cagney felt about her and Paul McCartney idolizes her and Tony Bennett idolizes her. And I think that's what she responded to.

EISENBERG: Wow. Fantastic. All right. This is going to be a great game. OK. So this is all about Doris Day. You guys obviously both hold a great wealth of knowledge on her. We'll see. Maybe it's going to come down to buzzer speed. Who knows? What song did Doris introduce in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" which she later used as a theme song for her TV show "The Doris Day Show"?



SANTOPIETRO: "Que Sera, Sera."

EISENBERG: That's is correct.


EISENBERG: "Que Sera, Sera" was the answer, a song about giving up.


EISENBERG: Doris starred in over 30 films but received only one Academy Award nomination for her performance in the first of three films costarring Rock Hudson. Name the film.



SANTOPIETRO: "Pillow Talk."



EISENBERG: Doris famously turned down a role in what 1967 film which would've required her to ask Dustin Hoffman would you like me to seduce you?



MCKAY: What is "The Graduate"?


EISENBERG: That is correct. Doris' first hit record was cowritten and recorded by Les Brown and his Band of Renown in 1945. What's the song in which Doris says she longs to hear all aboard?



SANTOPIETRO: "Sentimental Journey."

EISENBERG: "Sentimental Journey" is correct.


SANTOPIETRO: These are the songs I want to hear Nellie sing.

MCKAY: How much you got?


EISENBERG: The 2003 rom com "Down with Love" was an homage to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson films and featured a cameo by what actor who played the third lead in all three of the original movies?



MCKAY: Who is Tony Randall?

EISENBERG: Yes, that's correct.


EISENBERG: You don't have to answer in the form of a question.


EISENBERG: But I understand that is the understood convention that "Jeopardy" has put on all game shows thus going forward. All right. This is your last clue. Many songwriters have paid tribute to Doris in song. Name the 1980's band that had this hit song.


JONATHAN COULTON: (singing) You take the gray skies out of my way. You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day. Turned a bright spark into a flame. My beats per minute never been the same. 'Cause you're my lady, I'm your fool. It makes me crazy when you act so cruel. Come on, baby, let's not fight. We'll go dancing. Everything will be all right.



MCKAY: Who is Lou Reed? I'm joking. I've got (unintelligible).


COULTON: That's great.

EISENBERG: I do love that the audience fell for that. Like you would actually think - anyways, yes.

MCKAY: Jonathan does it better.

EISENBERG: Do you have a...


EISENBERG: Would you like to answer?

MCKAY: No. I don't know. I don't know.

EISENBERG: You don't know?


SANTOPIETRO: I'm actually not sure. I just remember that Billy Joel name checked her in one of her songs.

COULTON: "We Didn't Start the Fire." Yes, that's right.


EISENBERG: All right. Well, anyone out there?



COULTON: No. They don't know. Never heard of them.


EISENBERG: George Michael?

SANTOPIETRO: "Wake Me Up Before You Go-go."

EISENBERG: Yeah. That's it.


EISENBERG: All right, John Chaneski.

JOHN CHANESKI: Well, it was a fun game but America's Sweetheart today is Tom. Congratulations, Tom.


EISENBERG: Well done, Tom and Nellie. You both win an official ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube. So congratulations. Thank you so much, Tom, and well done. Nellie, before we have you leave, can we convince you to play one more song?




MCKAY: I'd like to dedicate this to Tom.


MCKAY: (singing) You're mean to me. Why must you be mean to me? Gee, honey, it's seems to me you love to see me crying. I don't know why I stay home each night when you say you'll phone. You don't and I'm left alone singing the blues and sighing. You treat me coldly each day of the year. You always scold me whenever somebody is near. Dear, it must be great fun to be mean to me.

(singing) You shouldn't for can't you see what you mean to me. Baby, can't you see what you mean to me?


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