Pierre Patrick profiles Doris Day’s “CBS Television Years” (1968-1975)

May 10, 2002 No Comments

The Doris Day Show (known as Que Sera, Sera in French) is probably the only show in the history of television to have been brought on the air without the star’s knowledge or approval!

CBS signed Doris Day exclusively, in the spring of 1967, without her knowledge, through her husband and manager, Martin Melcher. Variety called it “One of the industry’s all time plush talent deals.” The Melchers would own the negatives of the show, plus all re-run rights, and the rights to produce movies for CBS (the movies were later switched for two extraordinary music specials featuring the vocal talents of Miss Day). CBS was ecstatic.

For years, CBS had had to deal with the unshakable Lucille Ball, now on her third series. She was the network’s biggest superstar, and was making more incredible demands every year. Doris Day, being a major movie star and recording artist, would create a certain balance within the CBS empire, giving the network some negotiating power. The feeling was that Doris Day would be an unbeatable value for the network. The only problem was that Miss Day wanted nothing from television. Her only previous television appearance had been on the game show I’ve Got a Secret in the mid-50s. She had made major efforts to stay away from the medium, yet had no idea that within a year’s time she would be working very hard in it.

Came 1968, and Doris’ husband/manager of 17 years suddenly died, having somehow forgotten to mention this major television deal he had signed her onto. Miss Day, still suffering from her loss, found by accident a few complete scripts for a Doris Day Show. She was shocked, surprised, and baffled! Barely recovered, she discovered from her son (who became executive producer of the show) that she was locked into TV for five years.

Far worse was that her husband had invested all her money from 30 years of hard work with a crooked attorney, who took it all after her husband’s death. Doris needed to work and needed to fight back. And, yes, she was successful at both. Throughout her life she has been able to turn tragedy into gold. She did that with her series, fought her attorney, and won.

Doris Day succeeded in television where virtually no other movie star ever had (Fred MacMurray being the other notable exception). Lana Turner, Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda all failed to create hit series, but Doris was magic, and people welcomed her into their homes.

Television’s Doris Day Show was an innovative, fast moving, and creative series. It is sometimes noted for having the most changes in the history of television, which is not true at all. Doris Day played Doris Martin as a character who evolved through the years and became, according to Vanity Fair (Dec. 95), “one of the best working women on television.”

Without input from the star, it was decided by the creator of the show, James Fritzell, that Doris Martin would be a recent widow with two children, having left the city to return to her father’s ranch (CBS knew how to make those small farm community shows, so why not put Doris Day in one!?!).

Doris made the show very real and very human, as opposed to the other farm shows, which were a little off the wall. Miss Day was not thrilled with the format, but dealing with the loss of her husband, she let it go… at least for a while.

CBS was sure that Doris Day would be an instant hit, so scheduling would be important for the show which would follow Miss Day’s. As it happened, The Doris Day Show was to serve as lead-in to another new series, a serious one with journalists doing major investigation The show was called 60 Minutes. The Doris Day Show was scheduled for 9:30 on Tuesday, and 60 Minutes followed, hoping to keep a large portion of her audience. The rest is history.

September 24, 1968 was the day we all met Doris Martin, beautiful widow, talented journalist, fashion trendsetter, wonderful singer, animal lover, and a determined, caring person. It is no coincidence that those are also some of Doris Day’s best qualities. As stated in the 1996 Encyclopedia of Fictional People: “Doris Martin is perfect. Blonde hair, blue eyes. She favors coat dresses and color coordinated ensembles. She always smiles through her problems and always looks nice.”

The Doris Day Show was very much a reflection of Doris Day’s career. People who worked on the show in front of and behind the camera had been with Doris for years. The songs on the show were from Doris Day’s albums or movie soundtracks. References were made to her movies, and Doris Martin even met Doris Day (DORIS GOES TO HOLLYWOOD).

The Doris Day Show was filmed, and never in front of a live audience. Doris wanted a situation comedy that was not based on jokes. A lot of time was spent on selecting locations, sets and backgrounds. The 1ook of each show was like a mini-movie in a period when TV was turning to videotape. A show like this today would easily cost $2 million to produce.

The first season opening credits show Doris and the entire cast walking on a vast beautiful field with the sun shining brightly behind them, as Doris sings Que Sera, Sera on the soundtrack with a choir of children. Though different arrangements would follow, this would remain the theme song throughout the run of the show. Doris Day had been and remains strongly identified with the song, having sung it in among other films, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much.

In the first year of The Doris Day Show, shot at Golden West Studios in Hollywood, we discover Doris Martin recovering at her father’s ranch with her two young sons, Billy and Toby, all feeling the loss of the husband-father “Steve,” and living far from their city home. A new loving environment on the ranch would be provided by Buck Webb, grandfather extraordinaire; farm help Leroy B. Simpson; plus two housekeepers, Aggie and Juanita, who never worked on the same day.

The ranch was located at 32 Mill Valley road in the community of Cotina in Mill Valley, a suburb of San Francisco. The house was huge. It had four bedrooms, two stairways (one from the kitchen and one from the living room). Traditional American furniture garnished the house, along with a beautiful fireplace complete with a “Home, Sweet Home” sign right above it, and with ducks, pigs, horses and cows all around.

Our main character was definitely a hard working, loving wife and, although a city person, she adapted well to the farm. Doris was where she needed to be, at least for a while. She was involved with the community. She directed a school musical. She even went back to work for a short time for “Women’s World, Magazine” in New York. Doris worked on the farm, brought some important values to the kids, and even dated a little.

The cast for the series was top-notch. Veteran actor Denver Pyle played Buck Webb, Doris’ father, who had been operating the ranch for three generations. Buck was a good man with old fashioned common sense and a good heart.

Doris’ older son, Billy, was played with conviction and determination by Philip Brown, who recently worked on ABC’s The City.

Todd Starke played the youngest son “Toby”, a very sensitive young man who looked up to his older brother and loved his mother very much.

Jim Hampton, remembered by many for his role as Dobbs in F Troop, played farmhand Leroy B. Simpson. He was very clumsy, causing more problems on the ranch than poor Buck could ever imagine. He was a nincompoop.

Two maids were added to the cast; opinionated and stubborn Aggie, played by Fran Ryan, and warm and loving Juanita, played by Naomi Stevens.

And, last-but-not-least, Lord Nelson as Nelson the family’s big, shaggy dog, and the first cast member to follow Miss Day from film to television. Lord Nelson had “co-starred” with her in With Six You Get Eggroll. He was the most natural dog on television, and his relationship with Doris and the kids gave the show a real family home atmosphere.

After her first year of television, Miss Day took her show in hand and made some changes. Doris Martin got herself a job with the San Francisco magazine ”Today’s World” where she would remain until the end of the series.

For the second season, a new opening was created where Doris Martin says “Goodbye” to her family and drives in her new red convertible to her new job in San Francisco which to some extent mirrored the move made by the production company to the CBS Studio City facility, where Doris Day was very happy to be working. Que Sera, Sera was sung solo this time by Doris Day.

Doris’ first job at the magazine was as executive secretary to managing editor Michael Nicholson, played by McLean Stevenson in his first regular series. Mr. Nicholson was a cautious and patient boss who cared about Doris very much. Although no romantic relationship ever developed, it was hinted at now and again.

A special addition to the cast this season was Rose Marie: “My understanding was that Doris asked if I was available to do her show. I went to meet her, and we clicked immediately and I did the show for three years.”

Rose played the perpetually single Myrna Gibbons, always funny and always right beside Doris.

Veteran character actor Paul Smith was also added, as Ron Harvey, Assistant Editor. Ron was not terribly smart, and always had a bad joke. It is a wonder he got the job. As Miss Day says, “There’s one in every office!”

Doris still lived on the ranch and had the hard life of a commuter. The episodes were split between the magazine offices and the farm.

The changes Doris Day created helped the series tremendously. CBS moved the show to Monday nights at 9:30pm, where it jumped to the top ten. Suffice it to say that CBS was thrilled with their new acquisition.

Among the highlights of the second season was DORIS HIRES A MILLIONAIRE, a special two-part episode with one of Doris’ favorite actors, Lew Ayres, as William Tyler, an eccentric billionaire who needs to keep his identity a secret. Tyler would come back again in the next season in two episodes where Doris would work for him. Doris said of Lew Ayres that he was a beautiful person who shared her passion for peanut butter. Other notable second season episodes include DORIS, THE MODEL, the first of four annual episodes featuring Doris as a model; TODAY’S WORLD CATCHES THE MEASLES, which brought the entire cast to the ranch under quarantine; and COL. FAIRBURN TAKES OVER, the season finale that introduced Col. Fairburn, the magazine publisher who would remain until the end of the series, brilliantly played by Edward Andrews (who had made three movies with Miss Day).

Rose Marie reveals a droll anecdote from DORIS, THE MODEL:

‘We did the scene and nobody said cut. And I looked at her and I said, ‘Do you want a baloney sandwich?’ She said, ‘Baloney gives me gas.’ I said, ‘Ah, everything gives you gas!’ She said, ‘Is anyone gonna yell “Cut?””

Those fashion show episodes were out of this world. Doris wore trendy, outrageous crazy clothes. Doris Day may have been over 40, but she was the most beautiful woman on television. These episodes were favorites with viewers and with Doris Day herself. Miss Day can in all likelihood be credited with starting “Fashion Television.”

Another episode that needs to be mentioned is THE GAS STATION, which was Rose Marie’s favorite. Working in a gas station had never been so difficult.

The third season found Doris Martin secure in her job and ready to stop commuting. A move to San Francisco was needed. CBS, in expanding its budget on this filmed series, decided to give Doris a beautiful apartment in the city of San Francisco, built by creative Art Director, Perry Ferguson II.

The apartment was distinctive because of its spiral staircase which centered the room, a beautiful terrace, a red kitchen, an alcove with a piano and two bedrooms. Her flat was decorated lavishly with plants, flowers, candles, and antiques. Although the decor would vary from season to season, Doris stayed in this great location.

965 North Parkway, Apartment 207 where rent would be $140 a month, was conveniently located atop Pallucci’s Italian Restaurant (the best kept secret in San Francisco). The owners of the building were Angie and Louie Pallucci, played by veteran actors Kay Ballard and Bernie Kopell, respectively. Angie was always eating, always on a diet! Her husband, Louie, did not like children until he met Doris’ and found out that they loved his pizza.

Again a new opening was created, with Doris Martin greeting her audience by coming down the now-famous spiral staircase, sequenced with the cast and shots from the fashion shows.

Another new and important cast member would be Doris’ old friend from her Warner Bros. days, Billy DeWolfe. He played Doris Martin’s nemesis and next door neighbor, Mr. Jarvis. His most famous quote was when Doris would point her finger at him: “Never touch, Ne-ver touch!” The three new cast members would remain till the end of the series.

Highlights of the season include TONY BENNET IS EATING HERE, guest starring guess who; DORIS GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, in which Doris Martin meets Doris Day; and Doris traveling all over the world in DORIS LEAVES TODAY’S WORLD. Season three also saw a departure for Miss Day when she interrupted the Doris Martin saga with her first musical special in DORIS MARY ANNE KAPPELHOFF, with guests Perry Como and Rock Hudson. Doris sang some of her greatest songs: It’s Magic, Sentimental Journey, and Everybody Loves a Lover. The show was a huge hit.

Season four brought some exciting new changes and yet another opening, showing the new cast, some new Doris modeling shots, and greeting her guests at the door.

With the fourth season, Doris Martin became a “Today’s World” reporter. She no longer worked for the managing editor, Mr. Nicholson, but for Cyril “Cy” Benett, City Editor, played by John Dehner. Cy was a driven ego-tripping, pompous, cheap, overbearing, hypochondriac. “Get the story done at any cost” was his motto, but our heroine was determined not to let him walk all over her. She argued, fought and defended her point of view on any story. Doris and Cy would go head-to-head on many issues.

Another addition to the cast was Jackie Joseph, who played Jackie Parker, Cy’s secretary. She was single, confused, and had big, tall hairdos.

For this season, Doris was finally given an office, but it was the smallest office in the history of television where Doris could reach everything from the chair behind her desk.

Leaving the show was Rose Marie, who recalls her time working with Doris fondly:

“I loved her. First of all, she’s the most underrated talent in the business today. She’s so wonderful and so brilliantly talented… everybody takes her for granted… It was wonderful to work with her. She was such a professional. So great to work with. We still write to one another, we call one another. Christmas cards, birthdays, everything. We were a nice big family, I know that’s a cliché that everybody uses, but it was true, because Doris was a very easygoing kind of person. There were no tantrums. And if the kids had any problems, they’d go to Doris or come to me.”

As for her role being eliminated, she is philosophical:

“Well, they figured they wanted to change the whole concept of everything. It’s just like anything else. You’re not on and you’re on, or you’re on and you’re not on.”

Changes were important to Doris Day — give the audience something new every year; keep the show fresh and entertaining. Doris, who was used to making two or three movies a year, where everything would change, was always looking to find new horizons.

Season four brought the most sweeping changes in personnel yet, as also departing the show were Denver Pyle, Philip Brown and Tod Starke; as well as Mclean Stephenson, who joined the cast of M*A *S*H.

No real explanation was given for the departure of Doris’ family, but it could be well assumed that the kids went back to help their grandfather on his ranch, and Doris, being the kind of daughter and mother that she was, would certainly accept such a move and would certainly visit all the time (off camera) so she would be free to travel and pursue her career. She dated some more adventurous men. A major new love interest was brought into Doris’ life, Dr. Peter Lawrence (beginning with DORIS AND THE DOCTOR). Peter Lawford played Doris’ new beau, and the chemistry between the two was extraordinary. They achieved a perfect balance of humor, love and entanglement.

Highlights from season four were more exciting trips around the world, meeting a sheik (THE SHEIK OF ARABY), and some thrilling undercover adventures and international intrigue featuring our feisty reporter (A WEIGHTY PROBLEM, THE ALBATROSS, THE SORROW OF SANGAPUR).

The major change of the fifth and final season was that Doris Day became executive producer of her show. Despite Miss Day having wanted little to do with television four years earlier, now she was ready to do it all. She took over the budget, the music, the casting, the set design, etc… and loved it all.

Mr. Jarvis became Doris Martin’s hard-to-deal-with landlord, while the Palluccis just took care of their restaurant.

The only regular cast member added to the last season was Patrick O’Neal, (Doris Day’s leading man in Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?) who played foreign correspondent Jonathan Rusk, another love interest for Doris. During the last year, Doris dated both Peter Lawrence and Jonathan and America was on the edge of its collective seat waiting to finding out who she would pick.

Highlights of the last season include THE MUSIC MAN, in which a young musician falls in love with Doris; ANNIVERSARY GIFT, wherein Peter Lawrence buys her a classic car; and MEANT FOR EACH OTHER, in which she accepts a marriage proposal from Jonathan.

And so the series ended with a possible marriage in the future for Doris Martin. Had the series continued, Jonathan would have probably made a run for the White House, and Doris Martin would have been the best First Lady ever!

After this fifth year, CBS wanted desperately to keep Doris Day on the air, as the show was doing extremely well. Doris instead decided to make a graceful exit from prime time.

“I have done everything I can with the series. My contract is up. Thank you very much” – Doris Day

Doris Day would come back to CBS one more time; in February of 1975, with a musical special, Doris Day Today!, featuring guest stars John Denver, Rich Little, and Tim Conway. In 1977, Doris did a talk show tour promoting her book, Doris Day; Her Own Story. In 1985, she hosted an informal talk show with music called Doris Day’s Best Friends, which featured Denver Pyle, Kaye Ballard, and costumer Connie Edney from The Doris Day Show among the guests. In 1993, a Doris Day Best Friend event was staged in Carmel, with media coverage presented on a Vicki Lawrence special.

The other on-camera veterans of The Doris Day Show continued working steadily long after the end of the sitcom. In addition to the aforementioned McLean Stevenson’s stint on M*A *S*H, Denver Pyle enjoyed a successful run on The Adventures of Grizzly Adams; Bernie Kopell signed up for a hitch with The Love Boat; John Dehner continued to grace both the small and big screens with his presence, often in far more sinister roles than Cy Bennett, until his death a few years ago; and both Rose Marie and Kaye Ballard have continued to be in demand as popular comedic actresses. Ms. Marie recently completed her autobiography, Hold the Roses.

As for the star herself, Miss Day continues to look to the future, now working hard with her animal charity organizations that save the lives of many unfortunate creatures.

Pierre Patrick

Features, Television

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