I take a particular interest in the challenges of ageing. This is no more than enlightened self-interest, because I am now in my seventies. I write about it from time to time on my blog and it is my next book project.
I also broadcast about it from time to time, because I have a show on community radio here in Bristol: the wonderful community station www.bcfmradioradio.com, since you asked. On my radio show which I often co-present with my colleague Jim Currie, our particular interest within this field is people who have reinvented themselves. Jim and I feel that reinvention is better than retirement, provided you’ve got your health of course.
We play lots of music too, especially from the golden years of the Great American Songbook. So when I think of people who have reinvented themselves, one who died fairly recently at an advanced age was Doris Day. She was for a long period the most successful and well-paid entertainer in the Western world and her whole life was a series of reinventions. Doris (even her name was a reinvention) began intending to be a professional dancer and maybe no more than that but in her teens she suffered an accident, the details of which I forgotten, and as a result she was bedbound for some time. During that period she listened to the radio a lot and naturally heard the popular singers of the day. This was the 1930s, so people like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald etc. Lying there in her bed she started to imitate them; their phrasing for example, so that when she recovered she decided that she wanted to be a singer too.
Her early days as a singer were with the big bands, first with Bob Crosby (Bing’s brother) and his Bobcats; and then Les Brown and His Band of Renown. With the latter she had one of her most enduring hits, “Sentimental Journey”.
A friend of mine who’s a very gifted and critical singer always said that although she didn’t care for all of Day’s repertoire, she was always ‘not just on the note but in the middle of the note’.
Later in life she became a successful actress. She is best known for her many innocent romcoms with people like Rock Hudson, James Garner etc giving rise to the phrase ‘I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin’. However she also showed herself capable of straight roles such as Love Me or Leave Me with James Cagney. Here’s the final scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBtvCHKn_oU
After many years at the top of the show business tree she finally stopped performing and became a high-profile animal rights activist.
Her attitude of reinvention gave rise to what I think is one of the best quotes of the reinvention game: ‘I never retired, I just did something else.’