Prince Got the Girl in Purple Rain, but Movie Rival Morris Day Is Stealing Some of His Thunder

updated 09/03/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1984 01:00AM

Nine a.m., and Morris Day—the rubber-faced funkster who is Prince's romantic and professional rival in the top-grossing film Purple Rain—has kept CBS Morning News waiting a full 45 minutes. Day, 27, is supposed to be chatting with entertainment editor Pat Collins about his movie debut, his third album, Ice Cream Castle, and his association with elusive rocker Prince. But the tape has yet to roll, and assistant producer Alex Speyer is about to make one more anxious call to Day's New York publicist.

Just as Speyer picks up the phone, Morris struts in, trailing the publicist and a business consultant. He promptly instructs the makeup artist who powders his freckles to "make me look real good" and settles in opposite Collins. Admiring her emerald and diamond ring between takes, he proves as much the dandy as was his movie character. He informs Collins that, since stardom struck, his "people" (like business consultant Pepe Willie) have advised him to be "more inaccessible," and allows that he and long-ago bandmate Prince, 26, haven't really talked of late. "We can't do that in public any more now that we're stars," he grins, waving a bejeweled hand.

For the moment at least, Day is sparkling. He and the Time—the band he headed until April, when he went solo to "see more of my own name"—got good reviews for their previous albums (The Time and What Time Is It?) and acquired a funk-rock following. But Purple Rain brought the first freshets of mainstream success: While the film focuses on Prince, Morris steals his every scene. Even New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael was charmed: "Morris Day does his vain, lecherous routines with the ease of the top vaudeville artists of decades past," she wrote. "Almost everything he does gets laughs."

For this four-day publicity jaunt to New York, Morris is giving it all he's got. Everyone, it seems, wants him: NBC's Friday Night Videos, MTV, the New York Daily News, Oui magazine. Back at his suite at the Sherry Nether-land, he heads for the bathroom and splashes on more L'Homme cologne. A newspaper shooting is set for 12:30 p.m., and Morris—who is awaiting the arrival of the lissome models who'll accompany him—shouts, "Where are the girls?" When they arrive, the ensemble heads across Fifth Avenue and piles into a horse-drawn carriage. "I've got it made now," Day crows, mugging for the photographer.

With two interviews before him, the man of the moment retreats to his suite for a room-service lunch. Reading from the menu, he asks, "What's chicken Kiev?" After polishing off the novelty he paces between two large mirrors. It is an instinctive thing: A mirror looms in the distance, and out comes the comb. He's ready to push his slight pompadour to new heights by the time he reaches the glass—150 preenings a day, by his own reckoning.

While the rest of New York wilts in the August heat, Morris, who has donned a 1940s-style custom-made suit and glaring white patent shoes for the day's second photo session, hides the fact that he, too, is suffering. "It ain't like this in Santa Monica," admits Day, who moved into a California condo last winter from Minneapolis, the hometown he shares with boyhood friend Prince. Indeed, in California he spends his free time cruising in his Porsche or his Corvette when he's not cooling out at the beach. Still, he faces the hot work cheerfully, posing and signing autographs for fans who spy him in Central Park.

He does less well at the 3:30 Friday Night Videos taping, when he has a tough time introducing his new video. Sweating profusely under the studio lights, he repeats, "Hello, this is Morris Day and this is my video from Ice Cream Castle." With much coaching and many false starts, he manages the seven-second spot. "I'm more at home on a stage," says the guy who has been drumming and singing since he was 15. "I'm still getting used to being in front of the camera."

Not that he isn't trying. Back at the Sherry, Day, whose mother is a civil servant and father a health inspector (they are now divorced), pauses to contemplate his next move. There are scripts to be read, projects to be considered. Richard Pryor, he says, wants to discuss a film, and the phone is ringing constantly. In short, there's a whole new world for Morris to conquer. Retrieving a fresh pair of white patent leather shoes, he sets to work, dabbing away the scuff marks with nail-polish remover. Pleased with the results, he studies his reflection in the wing tips, giggles joyously and cries, "I wouldn't want to be anybody but Morris Day right now!"

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