“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
Winner of a Cecil B. DeMille Award (learn more about Cecil B. DeMille here), Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement/Hall of Fame inductee, labeled as one of the greatest performers of the 20th century, Doris Day was the No. 1 box office star four years running and the No. 1 female vocalist from 1949-1958. Universal’s 1962 release of “That Touch of Mink” generated $1million dollars in a single cinema when the average ticket pricing was between seventy and eight cents. An untrained actress, who worked alongside big-name movie stars such as Bing Crosby, Carey Grant, and Lauren Bacall, she once earned top billing over James Cagney. Doris Day was the all-American beauty girl next door, but her idealized movie roles were a sharp contrast to the marital and financial woes she would endure.
I was introduced to Doris Day as a child one relaxing Sunday afternoon by my mother who, as a child herself, took on twin brothers in a fight and won, earning her the nickname “Doris Day,” as the movie “Calamity Jane” was currently in theatres. In that film, Day plays a rough and tumble tomboy.
My first Doris Day movie was the 1963 20th Century Fox release, “Move Over Darling,” a revamped version of what was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe’s latest film, “Something’s Gotta Give.” a role she was eventually relieved of due to her ongoing absences on set. My mother assured me it would be an amusing experience as delightful nostalgia came over her, and she was right. I never forgot the film, sharing it with my Mom, and how much we both enjoyed it together.
Somewhat of a reluctant star, the Cincinnati, Ohio-born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff would step away from the spotlight multiple times during her career, however, a precarious string of adverse circumstances would draw her back, realigning her, each time, with her destined stardom. Originally, Day’s aspirations were to become a dancer, however, before her big break, a car she was traveling in, was broadsided by a locomotive. Miraculously, none of the passengers died. Day suffered a compound fracture that initially was thought not to be serious enough to end her dancing career. However, when she fractured the same leg in the same spot a second time, her dreams of dancing were destroyed. During her recuperation, she listened to the radio, studying the vocal phrasing of the iconic Ella Fitzgerald, and discovered her own voice.
Day began singing on the radio at age 14. Masquerading as 18 when she was actually 16, she moved on to performing in nightclubs, changing her name to Doris Day. She began singing for the up-and-coming Les Brown’s big band where she created lifelong friendships. Later in life, she would reflect on her years with the Les Brown Band as her happiest time. Her rendition of her most popular song, at that time, “Sentimental Journey,” for an America experiencing WWII, was nostalgically idealized.
She divorced her first husband due to physical abuse, returning to the Les Brown Band, after having given up her singing career to become a housewife. A few short years after her return, Day once again left the band for her second marriage. After finding themselves living in a trailer park, Day solidified a lucrative stint singing in a nightclub, where her popularity once again grew, straining her marriage as her husband was not fond of being known as “Mr. Day.” The union lasted eight months. Disheartened by yet another failed relationship, Day decided to move back home to Ohio.
By chance, a friend invited Day to a Hollywood party where her impromptu performance led to a screen test. While packing her bags to leave for home, Day received a phone call from the studio informing her that she would be replacing Betty Hutton, who was pregnant, in her first role, which also happened to be the lead in Warner Bros. 1948 “Romance On The High Seas,” where her expressive rendition of “It’s Magic” captivated audiences and kick-started her acting career. Recognizing the perfect timing as well as Day’s triple-threat status, studios churned out light-hearted comedies geared to showcase Day’s assets.
It was her somber role in “Love Me or Leave Me, (a biopic of Ruth Etting) of which her own personal experiences of marital abuse that more than likely opened the door for more serious roles — most notably Paramount 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” in which Day performed the song most associated with her, “Que Sera Sera.”
Toward the end of the 1950s Day’s established film style began to wane, due to movie roles which painted Day as the perpetual virgin. The 1959 film, “Pillow Talk,” began a successful pairing between Day and the 6-foot-4 dashing Rock Hudson. Used as a means to skirt the restraint of the current production code, the films dealt with female sexual repression by using compromising positions, double entendre, and the innovative split-screen format, mimicked in the 2003 movie “Down With Love,” starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Day was presented as the “new“ American female — a single self-sufficient career woman of the city and Hudson played the debonair, unaffected alpha playboy. Day and Hudson’s chemistry and comedic timing were unmistakable, and their series of films surprisingly keep their amusing patina, even in modern times. Hudson claimed that Day taught him how to play comedy, and their famous genuine life-long friendship lasted until Hudson’s high-profile death due to AIDS in 1985. In each other, both found kindred spirits that eluded them in their numerous personal intimate relationships.
“ If there is a heaven, I’m sure Rock Hudson is there because he was such a kind person.” -Doris Day
Day followed the Rock Hudson series with another successful pairing, with actor James Garner.
“No matter what happens, if I get pushed down, I’m going to come right back up.” -Doris Day
After the death of her third husband, Day’s son, Terry Melcher, uncovered that 20 years of her earnings had been squandered by her management team, which included her late husband. She was also unknowingly signed to a television contract, in an effort to create revenue to cover the negligence of her finances. Day did not want a TV series, yet, ever the conquerer, not only did she create a successful four-season show, but she also restored her fortune in the process. When the studio approached Day for the fifth season, she declined.
Day, received another shock to the system when Melcher, who was a record producer, and his longtime girlfriend Candice Bergen were the suspected objects of the infamous Charles Manson murders. Melcher — who turned Manson away after an audition — and Bergen had recently moved out of the Los Angeles home where the gruesome murders took place, further fueling the theory that Melcher was Manson’s true aim. Melcher passed at age 62 in 2004.
“I’m going to do as much as I can for the animal world, and I’ll never stop.”– Doris Day
Day continued her life in Carmel Valley, staunchly devoted to the welfare of animals, until her recent passing on May 13, 2019.
As acclaimed as her career was, perhaps one of the biggest confirmations is the recording where an 89-year-old Day, an octave lower, proves her voice. Her 2011 release, “My Heart,” reached the Top 10 on the Billboard charts upon release, affirming her admiration endured.
The next time you find yourself with a breezy afternoon with nothing in particular planned, and you are looking for some feel-good films, find your daughter, grab your iPad, pull up Daily Motion and spend the Day with Doris.
Doris Day films can be seen for free on Daily Motion.
Constance Cherise is a classic film columnist, disco-era junkie, nostalgia aficionado, travel-ready foodie, free-spirited freelancer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org