Just when the reader feels vaguely annoyed by Day’s pert matter-of-factness (“I have never tried out for anything that I’ve failed to get,” she says at one point), she reveals a heartbreaking vulnerability and honesty. Nowhere is this truer than in her passages about the brutal Jorden, whom she claims routinely beat her, once holding a gun to her stomach while she was pregnant with their son, Terry.
Day planned an escape, returning to Cincinnati only to be stalked by Jorden while she was working at a local radio station. Throughout Her Own Story, a still traumatized Day repeatedly refers to the horror of her first marriage and the damage it caused her psyche.
But the fighter in Day would not let her give up. There were more years of exhaustive touring, and another busted marriage. By 1948, Day was worn out, living in a trailer outside of L.A. and desperate to get back to Cincinnati, where her mother and Terry were living. Uninterested in acting, she reluctantly agreed to her first movie audition, for 1948’s Romance on the High Seas.
A distraught Day cried throughout the audition in front of director Michael Curtiz, much to her agent’s horror.
Curtiz was charmed, and she got the part.
According to Day, acting for the camera was the easiest thing she had ever done: “I had no inhibitions, no doubts, no hang-ups.” A creature of habit, she loved being a “lunch-bucket lady” at the studio where “the bell rings at noon, you go to lunch, the whistle blows at six, you go home…I love that kind of organized life.”
This confidence did not extend into her social life. When not performing, Day was painfully introverted, and hated the Hollywood social whirl. “Snug in a corner, gratefully overlooked,” Day recalls of one L.A. party. “I realized that there had been standing in the corner beside me, as immobile as I, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock… I had heard he was the shyest man in L.A., but after we stood there for a while, I think he realized he had met his match.”
After a long silence, Hitchcock told her, “You can act.” Day’s costars agreed with Hitch. Called Clara Bixby by her closest friends and Jutt-Butt by Bob Hope (since “we could play a nice game of bridge on your ass”), she was adored by everyone from Jack Lemmon to James Cagney, Rock Hudson, and Jimmy Stewart. These men and many others uniquely contribute their remembrances of Day throughout Her Own Story, praising her while often talking even more about themselves. (They are actors, after all.)
Day is equally complimentary of these “charming men” and others, including her assertive childhood idol Ginger Rogers, the gentle and clever Louis Jourdan (whom Kaufman posits she may have had an affair with), and the hilarious and tightly wound Judy Garland, who hated flying as much as Day did.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, as Kaufman notes. As her fame grew, crews nicknamed the fastidious Day “Nora Neat” and branded her a “temperamental worrywart.” For her own part, Day refreshingly isn’t above occasional catty comments, calling her That Touch of Mink costar Cary Grant “very distant” and recalling of her ex-boyfriend Ronald Reagan, “when he wasn’t dancing, he was talking…talking at you, sort of long discourses on subjects that interested him.”