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
Allen Pollock (May 2008)