Laraine Day, who died Saturday at 87, was the first glimmer of glamour for Leo Durocher.
After a quickie Mexican divorce of her first husband in 1947, the Mormon movie starlet married Durocher, the foul-mouthed New York Dodger's skipper who up to that point was despised by all but the team's fans. The pair settled down for a decade or so of married bliss that saw Day, who kept her movie-star name, dubbed by the press "the First Lady of Baseball."
Durocher, in the meantime, incurred further obloquy by bolting the Dodgers mid-season in 1948 for the crosstown rival Giants. Yet the marriage seemed to soften his image as well, especially after Day began broadcasting a pre-game show on WPIX, the Giants' station at that time, in which she focused on players' human side rather than game action. By her own account, the first time Day encountered Durocher, her first question had been, "What is a Dodger?"
When the couple first met at the Stork Club in 1946, Durocher could have been excused for drawing a blank on Day's profession too, although she was by then perhaps on the verge of major stardom, as reported in the pages of The New York Sun.
Born in Utah of a distinguished Mormon family, Day began acting in westerns in her teens, and by 1941 was popular as nurse Mary Lamont in a series of Dr. Kildare movies. But after she had success in more ambitious films, for instance Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent," MGM determined to liberate her. In "Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day" (1941), she got out of the marriage and the film series by being run over by a truck. The Los Angeles Times called MGM's ploy "the most drastic means ever taken in Hollywood to elevate a young actress to great stardom." It also reported that "Miss Day was one of the deepest-dyed planners of her own demise."
Her fortuitous calamity proved moderately successful, especially in "Mr. Lucky" (1943), in which she starred with Cary Grant. In "The Locket" (1946) opposite Robert Mitchum, The New York Sun's critic said that Day transformed a neurotic and "sweet-faced wanton" into "a very real person."
Her initial meeting with Durocher led to friendship and more, as her first husband, an aviator and bandleader named James Ray Hendricks, reported in a 1946 divorce filing. Hendricks named Durocher as respondent and said he first became aware of the relationship when the Dodger manager appeared at his Los Angeles home as "a supposed family friend" of Day's. Watching a film after dinner, Day and Durocher sat much too close together on the chaise lounge, Hendricks testified.
The sorting out was a feast for headline writers, as Day sought a Mexican divorce and was speedily married to Durocher, only to see that marriage invalidated by a California judge. The baseball commissioner, Happy Chandler, suspended Durocher for the 1947 season as Brooklyn Catholics threatened to boycott the Dodgers. By 1948, the dust had cleared — Day was properly divorced, and she and Durocher remarried, and he was reinstated.
Day continued to work in films, especially in the off-season, but, she told an interviewer, "My life as Mrs. Leo Durocher and baseball come first." In 1950, she told the New York Times, "I'd rather win a pennant than an Academy Award" — not that there was much danger of that. Her film career petered out in the early 1950s, but she did pop up regularly on TV in things like "Your Show of Shows" and "GE Theater."
Durocher moved to the Giants in 1948 — possibly sparked by some animus he felt toward the Dodgers for not sticking up for him in the suspension, but then everything for Durocher seemed to include animus — and Day became a fixture among the Giants' wives, in Section 19 at the Polo Grounds. In 1950, she began hosting the Giants's pre-game TV show, and in 1952 she published "Day With the Giants," a book of anecdotes about the team. The couple adopted two children, including Christopher, who appeared as a Giants mascot sporting a number 2 on his uniform, same as Durocher's. The marriage broke down in the late 1950s, and in 1960 they were divorced.
Day was devoted to her Mormon faith, something that fascinated the press early in her career. "No Tainted Kiss for Mormon Miss" was one headline. In 1961, she married a convert to the Latter-day Saints, Michael Grilikhes, a screenwriter and producer who in 1989 staged "The Wizard of Oz" at Radio City Music Hall. Together they supported Mormon missions in Hawaii and New Zealand, and also helped bring Maori singers and dancers to America. They had two daughters.
Day worked occasionally as a guest star in series including "Fantasy Island" and "Murder, She Wrote." She was also a "solid supporter of President Nixon" and a goodwill ambassador for the National Association of Real Estate Boards. She told the New York Times in 1971, "For an actress, it's one job you can do nowadays without taking your clothes off."
Born La Raine Johnson on October 13, 1920, in Roosevelt, Utah; died November 10 at the home of her daughter, Gigi Bell, in Ivins, Utah; survived by two daughters from her marriage to Grilikhes, who died last March, as well as two children from her previous marriages, Christopher and Michelle, and several grandchildren.