Biography

The All-American quintessential girl, Doris Day, continues to be revered by her fans, whilst the media still relates to the actress/singer and her Hollywood “girl next door” image…

However, Doris Day’s personal life, faced with steely resolve, was the very antithesis of perceived movie super-stardom which promoted screen roles highlighting her wholesome vivacious blonde personality. In hindsight, such concentration on image undermined her great acting and musical talents with only a full appraisal in recent years deservedly allowing full appreciation by new generations. Films like “Calamity Jane”, “Love Me or Leave Me” and “Pillow Talk” remain favourites amongst the thirty-nine movies she starred in. Running parallel to such big-screen entertainment, a series of excellent albums recorded between 1956 and 1968 expanded such popularity and are as relevant today as when released.

Born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff on April 3, 1924 in Cincinnati, Ohio, her parents came from German stock and the youngest of three, Doris had two brothers, Richard, who died before she was born and Paul who was a few years older. She was named after silent movie actress Doris Kenyon, whom her mother admired and growing up in the 1930’s Doris was attracted by music and dance; eventually forming part of a dance duo which performed locally until a car accident damaged her legs and curtailed ambitions to become a professional dancer. However, while recovering Doris gained singing experience by listening to the radio, becoming a fan of the embrionic records of upcoming Ella Fitzgerald and encouraging her to take up singing lessons. At age 17 Doris began performing locally and whilst working with local bandleader Barney Rapp she adopted the stage name “Day” as an alternative to “Kappelhoff”, when he suggested the name was too long and cumbersome for marque appeal. After leaving Rapp, Day worked with a number of other bandleaders including Bob Crosby and eventually hired by Les Brown, she had two stints with his Band, with marriage to trombonist Al Jordan, birth of her son Terry and subsequent divorce, coming between. Co-written by Les, her 1945 hit “Sentimental Journey” with the band was recorded at the ideal time, as it personified the sentiments of weary homecoming demobilised troops after war service in Europe and the Pacific conflict with Japan.

Following her second hit record with Les Brown – “My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time” – Doris went solo in 1947 with a contract from Columbia Records and radio work (with Bob Hope and later Frank Sinatra) leading to separation (and eventually divorce) from second husband George Weidler. An invitation to sing at a Hollywood party clinched her movie career when song-writer Jule Styne arranged a screen test which lead to her first movie “Romance on the High Seas” (1948) with its director, Michael Curtiz, placing Doris under a personal contract for further films at Warner Brothers. “Tea for Two”(1950), “Lullaby of Broadway”(1951), “On Moonlight Bay”(1951),“By the Light of the Silvery Moon”(1953) and “Calamity Jane”(1953) were amongst popular musicals which helped Doris sell hit records like “It’s Magic” and “Secret Love”. The occasional dramatic role in the dark “Storm Warning”(1950) and musical melodrama “Young Man With a Horn”(1950) also proved Doris had a natural acting ability. On a personal level, Doris married her agent Marty Melcher in 1951 who subsequently handled her career as producer including the decision to not renew her contract with Warner Brothers after the completion of “Young At Heart” in 1954. As a freelance actress, her range of roles increased with the bio-pic based on Twenties singer, Ruth Etting “Love Me Or Leave Me”(1955) for MGM a triumph of both singing and acting, followed by Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) teaming her with James Stewart and location work in Morocco and London. Used as an inoculous plot device in that film, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will be, Will be”) ensured it won an Oscar for Best Song and when recorded by Doris for Columbia, became such a massive hit, it was henceforth perceived as her signature numbeer although she admits to initially disliking the song.

Doris returned to Warner Brothers for “The Pajama Game” in 1957 – based on the Broadway hit which ideally cast her as a feisty union shop-steward, in a pajama factory with great songs to keep the action bouyant. After the histrionics of “Julie” (1956) at MGM, Doris successfully starred in comedies with Clark Gable, Jack Lemmon, Richard Widmark and David Niven. However, in 1959, Doris starred in “Pillow Talk” (1959) with Rock Hudson for Universal which gained her a “Best Actress” Oscar nomination and began a run of sophisticated box-office movies with two more with Rock as well as Cary Grant in “That Touch of Mink” (1962), “The Thrill of It All” (1963) with James Garner and the dramatic “Midnight Lace” (1960) with Rex Harrison. As for musicals, the solitary “Jumbo” gave Doris the lovely Rodgers & Hart score to sing but the circus story based on a Thirties Broadway spectacle was frankly too old-fashioned to make any impression in 1962. Doris was voted Top Box-Office female star for her screen efforts during the early 60’s, but fickle tastes eventually rejected such frothy fun for Hollywood’s more explicit sex and darker themes. By mid-decade her box-office appeal had slipped a few notches but Melcher continued to star Doris in light-weight fare with “Move Over Darling” (1963) and “The Glass Bottom Boat” (1966) the best of the bunch thanks to Doris’ personable appeal energising them well beyond their worth. Ironically, her final movie “With Six You Get Egg-Roll”(1968) gave an indication that roles nearer her actual age might be the way forward.

Fortunately, the title song from “Move Over Darling” gave Doris a major Top Twenty UK hit in 1964. Produced and co-written by her son Terry, the song encouraged an intended move to more contemporary numbers but when her Columbia Records contract ended, a 1967 independent album project entitled “The Love Album” not only concluded her recording career but was ironically unissued for over twenty-seven years with its belated 1994 UK issue preceding a much more recent US release.

Despite numerous hit singles throughout her career, Doris’ recording achievements are best celebrated by sixteen superb concept albums; amongst them “Duet” recorded in 1962 with the Andre Previn Trio which embodied all that’s great to the Day vocal style, with minimised jazzy accompaniment in simpatico mood for her close-up-and-personal approach to the lyrics, and personified by her melodic vocal strength. “I Have Dreamed” (1961) dedicated to softly reflective numbers, naturally displayed an intimate dream appeal, shot through with sensitivity, whilst “Cuttin’ Capers” (1959) proved to be a knock-out-up-and-at-‘em swinger which hit its mark via a mixture of brilliantly orchestrated standards and newer numbers, kicked by Doris into touch with high spirits and infectious shifting layers of vocal vigour. These are but examples as none of her themed albums disappoint and additionally the extended chart success of the “Love Me or Leave Me” album soundtrack was joined by similar souvenirs from “The Pajama Game” and “Billy Rose’s Jumbo”. Thankfully all these albums are currently available, together with various compilations which feature her many singles.

“When I recorded for Columbia, I could usually do anything in one take…I would invariably want to use the first take because that would be the one that was spontaneous and fresh.” – Doris Day

The sudden death of Marty Melcher in 1968 was the catalyst to Doris discovering he and business partner Jerry Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Years were taken up suing Rosenthal in the courts with a large civil judgment up awarding Doris $20,000,000 but whether she ever received such an amount is unknown. Doris also discovered Melcher had committed her to a televison sitcom series. Nevertheless, despite grave misgivings, dislike of television, and the ultimate need to clear her debts, Doris went ahead with “The Doris Day Show”, (winning Doris a Golden Globe (1969) for Best Actress in a Television Series) and with annual changes in formula, successfully steered the series for five years from 1968-1973 as executive producer with son Terry – only leaving the gruelling schedule on her own terms. Additionally, two US television Specials “ The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special” (1971) and “Doris Day Today” (1975) gave Doris a chance to sing once more with Perry Como and John Denver as guests. A cable television series “Doris Day and Friends” had limited coverage during 1985/86 and with a talk-show basis with guests, the emphasis was mainly dedicated to animal welfare.

Publication of her biography – “Doris Day – her Own Story” in 1976 was a surprisingly honest autobiograhy as related to A. E. Hotchner and revealed much painful trauma in her private life and three marriages which belied the sunny image portrayed on the screen and through her records. Some television interviews ensured the book became a best seller in the USA. The same year, Doris briefly married Barry Comden (1976-1981).

Having lived in Carmel for many years, Doris dedicates her life to animal welfare and lobbies tirelessly for the sake of suffering animals, defending their rights to the hilt. This is something she does out of sheer passion and sincere conviction through her two animal charities, the “Doris Day Animal League” and the “Doris Day Animal Foundation”.

“I just love that I can make it better for the animals. I know I have – so far – with my Pet Foundation. That is thrilling for me…We really are doing everything that we can and it’s a labour of love because they are the loveliest things on this earth, as far as I am concerned.” – Doris Day

In fact, Doris claims there was no conscious decision to retire yet has no regrets about leaving fame behind in exchange for support of such animal causes has given rise to constant media speculation over the years, bringing forth rumours she is reclusive. This is far from the truth as she often invites special admirers to her home or chats with fans on the ‘phone and answers the piles of mail still received from those who still equally appreciate her enormous contribution to the world of entertainment and animal charities. Additionally, as co-owner of the pet-friendly Cypress Hotel in Carmel, Doris keeps an eye on how things are running and can often be seen there. At the same time she expresses her amazement her reissued records and DVD’s of her movies still sell.

“I always felt that making a living wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I decided I was going straight ahead and try to be as uncomplicated as possible. The important thing in life is just living and loving” – Doris Day

Unfortunately, the death of her beloved son, Terry, in 2004 was a major blow. During the same year, Doris was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

“I am deeply grateful to the President and to my country…to come from Cincinnati, Ohio for God’s sake, then to go to Hollywood, and to get this kind of tribute from my country…I love this country so much…” – Doris Day

However, Doris declined to attend the ceremony due to her phobia about flying and for this reason is reported to have turned down an honorary Academy Award and Kennedy Center Honors Award. A Grammy for Lifetime Achievement was awarded Doris in February 2008 and in her absence, Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole were on hand for the tribute. In fact, her last appearance at such public events was to pick up her Golden Globe in 1989 when it was presented by Carmel neighbour Clint Eastwood.

Her birthdays are always always celebrated by her fans and this year was no exception with messages phoned in to the local Carmel radio station “Magic 63” from all over the world and Day records played the whole day. As a result, Doris was interviewed over the ‘phone line and apart from having lost four of her beloved four-leggers a few months ago, sounded chirpy and just as we remembered in her films and on records. She sent her love to all her fans and is still astounded she is so well remembered after all these years.

“…I just feel so fortunate and so blessed to have been able to entertain people in the theatres and on record, it’s just an amazing life that I’ve experienced.” – Doris Day

Written by
Allen Pollock (May 2008)

24 Comments to “Biography”
  1. Duane Ramsey says:

    Have always loved Doris Day in films and her singing as well. Just noticed that one of her biographies lists her birth year as 1922 and another as 1924 and wondered which is correct?
    Also admire her support of animal rights.

  2. Elizabeth Orsatti says:

    I just adore and admire Doris day ever since I was three years old when I first started to sing.Her movies are the best fresh and light.

  3. Rob Goss says:

    Doris the world needs a jolt of love from you.Do a commercial or release a song or do a spot in a movie or show please! We need it.

  4. Donna Mayhair says:

    I cannot explain what a huge role Doris Day has played in my life. The movies that I watched growing up that Ms. Day starred in made me believe in a better future. I loved watching Ms. Day so much that I would cry when the movie ended. Ms.Day, I am one of your biggest fans and would love to meet you one day.
    Best Wishes to you!

  5. M R Solomon says:

    My late uncle played trumpet on one of her songs “No Moon At All”. I wonder if Doris remembers him. I have the song saved on my Iphone. Someone was kind enough to post it on You Tube, a magnificient medium.

  6. bwilms says:

    Like the previous postings, I chime in with my admiration of Doris Day. As a young girl, I was entertained and inspired by her positivity. I love her singing, “Secret Love” being one of my all-time favorites. Doris Day movies just make me happy! I thank her for sharing her talents, even in the midst of life’s tragedies.

  7. Ron Bender says:

    I remember many years ago when one of my brothers brought home an album of Doris we were thrilled.
    We are all big fans as well was my grandmother who would take us to see her movies, she loved musicals and loved to see Doris and Gordon McCrea
    dance and sing.
    Still a Big Fan!
    Ron

  8. rachel says:

    Simply wunderful… i love you…..

  9. Barbara Duckett says:

    Ms. Day,

    GOD’S BLESSINGS TO YOU!! What a bright, beautiful star you have been to me and the world, and I love and admire you for your giving heart and the time you have devoted to the animals you care for during the years. I’ve been a fan of yours since I saw you in Romance on the High Seas. I love that movie (and the fashions in the movie)!

    You were wonderful in Pillow Talk, and the turquoise jewelry you wore in that movie was simply beautiful (I wear turquoise most of the time, such a beautiful gemstone).

    I enjoy your movies on the Classic TV channel and your music, and when I feel lonely or sad, I watch the movies that you sing and dance in, and my favorite – Pillow Talk. I feel so much better afterwards. THE MAN WHO KNEW TO MUCH is such a great movie. You displayed a new level in acting (as you did in STORM WARNING, and LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME) Three good movies!!!

    I miss the big band era days, and we need to hear more songs (like Sentimental Journey!!) that you performed with Les Brown and other big bands, because for me that was what you called GOOD MUSIC!! Gee, I miss those days.

    Ms. Day, I wish with all my heart, I could meet you one day, but I know that is impossible, so I just want you to know what an inspiration you have been to me and I am sure others. May God continue to Bless you always.

    Much love and admiration to you from one of your most admired fans. Sincerely, Barbara

  10. Janet Bockting says:

    Wow. Happy birthday, Doris. I have always been a great fan of yours. I have seen all your movies. I have seen Calamity Jane 16 times. Whip crack away. God bless

  11. Judi Torres says:

    Calamity Jane is my favorite movie though I love all of her movies. I started out signing the songs from that musical as a child and later sang them to my children. More recently I sing them to my grandchildren and when one of my grandson’s used to get fussy my daughter would call me from Wisconsin I would sing “Take me back to the Black Hills” to quiet him down, now he sings it to me and has learned to play it on the guitar! Thanks Ms. Day.

  12. JENI LORD says:

    To think that Doris Day might believe that she is forgotten is ludicrous!! She is and has been the brightest, lovliest, sometimes dramatic and often funniest star to have been seen on the silver screen.

    Like many others, I have followed her career and have a treasured signed photograph from the 50s.

    Even though she has had many leading men I loved her coupling with Gordon MacRae. Their voices blended beautifully. With love Jeni Lord

  13. Craig Marquis says:

    I love doris day, what’s there not to love?

  14. Donna says:

    Thank you for remembering our four legged beloved friends. I think only they and God know unconditional love. I hope your days are spent with others and your animals as I know what it is like to have the love of a pet and nothing else. Married three times and I will trust and pet over any male anytime.

  15. afonso zilio says:

    Na minha juventude assisti muitos filmes da Doris, gostava mais como atriz do que como cantora,(Ignorancia minha), adorava aqueles olhos claros e cabelos curtos loiros apaiximantes. Uma estrela que veio nos entreter, com uma sensualidade escondida, sem apelar. Muito saber que ela ainda vive.

  16. Rick says:

    I was wondering what happened to Doris Day, but now I know shes doing very good and iam so happy about what a sweet lady she is. Thank you so much for saving animals of all types I also love animals (dogs). GOD BLESS YOU DORIS DAY, LOVE & Happyness always

  17. Corry says:

    Jan16/2012
    Hi,Doris,
    While reading the many submissions above,I have no doubt that you are still loved and admired by many many fans of the late forties and fifties. I have been slowly building up a new film library (the old VCR ate my videos)but what a joy to see them over and over again.

    You are truly an icon who brought so many of us joy and happiness in such a big way

    Bless You for this…..
    I Remain a Big Fan…Corry

  18. GP says:

    I have read her book and enjoyed it very much. I have loved every movie she has ever made. I had to put my dog, Daisy (21years) down last year. What I wanted to do most was to travel with my Daisy and visit Carmel and Stay a Doris’ place. I have still not gotten over my Daisy and I am quite a fan of Doris’ actions with and for dogs. Thank you Ms. Day

  19. Elaine Snow says:

    I have just watched an interview with Doris on BBC 4 she looked so beautiful just as she did in her films. Most of which was made before I was born but I still think they are great and love to watch them whenever on. I have just downloaded Doris Day book for my iPad and cannot wait to get into it. I love the fact she is down to earth and love the fact she looks after and helps animals. Happy Birthday for April 3rd 88 what an age. Thank you for making these films that I love all the best

  20. Kathy L. says:

    I have been a fan of yours for 50 years. Growing up my aunt and people I didn’t know told me I looked like you. I was thrilled. You were definitely a role model for me growing up in the 60’s.. I’ve enjoyed all of your movies and own most of them which I play constantly…my favorite being “A Touch of Mink” and “Pillow Talk”…I was so disappointed when I read that Rock Hudson was gay, had always hoped that the two of you would marry! Ha! Ha! I too love dogs, I have a little black cocker that is 10 yrs. old and her name is Boo’G” I wish you good health and thank you for all the happiness that you have given us watching you through the years.

  21. Julie says:

    Happy Birthday Doris! You were born the same year as my Mother. I had the pleasure of watching your first movie, Romance on the High Sea this morning. It was wonderful! You are a beautiful, talented woman! Take care!

  22. Tom says:

    Yes, Happy Birthday, Doris. I assume there is no controversy about what year your mother was born, Julie, but Doris’s birth year has been controversial for years. Today the Atlanta paper gave her age as 89, with the source being Associated Press. Many Internet sources also now give her birth year as 1923. Her biographer says she was born in 1922, which I think is probably correct. That would make her 90 today, whereas she and her fans will say that she is 88. Take your pick. :-)

  23. Laurie says:

    Happy Birthday I have been watching all of your movies for the last two weeks and I never get sick of watching them. I love them. I love your voice and I love your movies. You will always be remembered and your movies will always be watched and your songs always will be listen to by me. Thanks for so many years of enjoyment. Laurie

  24. Gayle says:

    You are one of my very favorites. I grew up with you on the screen and would never miss one of your shows. I visited Carmel not long ago and wanted to see you riding your bike but didn’t. You are so sweet to care about our sweet little animals. I have 5 dogs and 1 cat and they are my family.

    I also want to add.. I get so tired of people saying all these stars (who are now dead) were gay. I am glad you can set them straight about you.

    Love you!

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