Can We Talk About?…Doris Day Lezzing It Up in “Calamity Jane”

Can We Talk About?… is a weekly series that is successfully waging a war on douchebag culture.

We lost one of the greats this week. Doris “All Goddamn” Day. While she may be best remembered for her romantic comedies with Rock Hudson, or her classic tunes such as “Que Sera Sera” from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Day had a deceptively eclectic filmography.

Aside from rom-coms and that aforementioned Hitchcock thriller, Day sunk her teeth into musicals and the occasional drama or film noir, though her singing was usually shoe-horned in despite the genre. The musical western Calamity Jane is considered one of her finest vehicles and Day considered it her favorite role.

“That was the real me—just blasting off at everybody!” she recalled in 1986.

Calamity Jane bears a striking resemblance to 1950’s Annie Get Your Gun—which “also concerns a feisty, masculine-acting woman of the Wild West who discovers her feminine side after falling in love with a famous, handsome marksman (played by Howard Keel in both movies)”—but Day lost out on that role to Betty Hutton, making Calamity Jane something of a consolation prize.

But Day got quite a prize, including a number one song, the Oscar-winning “Secret Love,” which has become a sort of gay anthem over the years.

In truth, pretty much all of Calamity Jane is a gay anthem. Day plays legendary frontierswoman Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary, a diamond in the rough and the original butch queen first time in drags.

Speaking of drag, Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson) provides some gay-panicky comic relief after he’s mistakenly hired to entertain the hard-up and horny men of the appropriately-named town of Deadwood. Turns out boys can be named Francis, too—cut to him serving you Brooke Lynn Hytes realness.

And he really gets into it.

As do the men, who, lest we forget, are hard up and horny.

When his wig is proverbially snatched, however, the men are ready to get to lynchin’, until Jane steps in with promises to wrangle them a real woman.

On a brief trip to Chicago to persuade Adelaide Adams, the Jennifer Lawrence of her day, to darken Deadwood’s door, Jane is mistaken for a dude. And a handsome one at that.

Then, confusing Adelaide’s maid and aspiring actress Katie Brown (Allyn Ann McLerie) for her, she brings Katie back to town, forming the central relationship of the movie.

Sure, Jane is ostensibly in love with Lt. Lt. Daniel Gilmartin (Philip Carey) and eventually ends up with Wild Bill Hicock (Keel), but Jane and Katie are the real lovebirds.

On Jane’s suggestion, Katie moves into her little shack.

And they fix it up like only two lesbians can.

Along the way, Katie gives Jane a makeover, which catches the eye of every no-good man in town, but when Lt. Gilmartin falls for Katie, Jane gets all in her feelings and the two ladies have a falling out. Soon, however, Jane realizes she’s actually in love with Wild Bill and she sings “Secret Love” about it. Though one can’t help but think Katie might be the true object of her affection.

Wild Bill, for his part, offers one of the most enlightened observations in the film regarding Jane’s anger at Katie.

The climax of the film comes with Jane finally reconciling with Katie, not her getting her man (which she already has by this point). When Katie asks her about Dan, she dismisses loving him as “female thinking.” And the two get in one last friendly hug before marrying their respective heterosexual partners.

If this film were made today, though, maybe Jane and Katie would have ended up together since they clearly make such a great team—even if the real Calamity Jane wasn’t queer. But since when do movies care about historical accuracy?

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is a roaming writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He’s formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat

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