Sep 1, 2022

Gays Next Door in 1972: The Doris Day Show

In 1972, when I was 11 years old, my friends and I liked a sitcom called The Doris Day Show, mainly because it was squeezed between the beefcake-heavy Here's Lucy and Sonny and Cher.  

It was a Mary Tyler Moore clone, a workplace comedy centered on Doris Martin (Doris Day), a hip, sophisticated journalist for Today's World magazine, living in San Francisco and dating a number of cute guys (including Patrick O'Neal and bisexual rat packer Peter Lawford, left).

And, in a television first, there was a gay couple living next door!

Lance and Lester (Alan Dewitt, Lester Fletcher) were often referred to, but appeared just once, in a meeting of tenants in the November 27, 1972 episode, "The Co-Op."  I didn't catch the flamboyant stereotypes, and no one used the word "gay" -- I wouldn't hear the word on tv until 1976 -- but I saw that two men had found a way to live together, escaping the heterosexist mandate .  Could San Francisco be a "good place"?

Doris Day got her start in the light musical comedies of the 1940s, but she made her mark as a liberated woman in a series of Camelot-era sex comedies with suggestive titles: Pillow Talk (1959), It Happened to Jane (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), That Touch of Mink (1962), The Thrill of it All (1963), Move Over Darling (1963).  Her usual costar, gay actor Rock Hudson, helped her tiptoe around the boundary between not knowing that gay people exist and knowing but not saying.

But her sitcom began as a hayseed comedy!

In its first season (1968-69), The Doris Day Show was basically Green Acres: City girl Doris, a new widow, moves to her father's ranch with her two sons, Toby (Todd Starke) and Billy (Philip Brown, below, who would go on to a successful career as a soap hunk), plus a ranch hand (James Hampton, right) and a housekeeper.  It aired on Tuesday nights, just after another relic of the 1950s, The Red Skelton Show.

Doris hated hayseed -- she didn't even know that her husband Martin Melcher had signed her up for it.

So in the second season (1969-70), she pushed for some changes: although still living on the ranch, Doris commuted into San Francisco, where she worked as a secretary for Today's World magazine.

Today's World: Modern, hip, with it.

She got two quintessentially urban coworkers, played by  McLean Stevenson and Rose Marie.

In the third season (1970-71): Doris and her sons lived in an apartment over an Italian restaurant in San Francisco (Ranch?  What ranch?), where she got a gay-vague next door neighbor (Billy DeWolf).

In the fourth season (1971-72), the transition was complete: Doris was a sophisticated career woman, Ms. instead of Mrs., who had always been single (Kids?  What kids?).

And she managed to finagle some gay neighbors out of the network, something Mary Tyler Moore was never able to do.


  1. I think Mary had an episode with a visiting gay brother or something similar.

    1. Yes, it was Rhoda's brother. She was upset when Mary didn't want to date him, thinking that Mary looked down on her for being working class, so she was happy to discover that he was actually gay.

  2. Actually it was Phyllis's brother. And of course Rhoda figured it out first.

    1. I have a story on "Tales of West Hollywood" from a guy who claims that making the brother gay was his idea:

  3. RIP Doris! I don't remember the show, much, but in the opening credits, when she walks down a spiral staircase, I became completely OBSESSED with spiral stairs. (Still kind of am).

    1. I actually didn't even remember the staircase until I looked up the intros.

  4. I love how the concept throws away logic from season to season

    1. They didn't expect you to pay attention. Since there was no way to record programs, you saw it once and then never again, so there was no way to check on past episodes.


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