The Days of Doris: Mary Anne Barothy’s sentimental journey

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“I just had my dream and my vision, and I was determined to go after what I wanted no matter what.”

Mary Anne Barothy, private secretary to Doris Day

Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt on the set of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

If director Quentin Tarantino was in need of a consultant for his latest film, “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood,” he could’ve easily consulted with Mary Anne Barothy as a first-hand resource. Not only did the midwestern born Barothy meet her long time idol, international superstar Doris Day, for four years she lived in Day’s home as her private secretary, sharing Day’s tragedies, triumphs and intimate moments.

Barothy, author of “Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond,”  attributes her Doris Day fandom to the first time when at nine-years-old she saw the film Calamity Jane (1953). However, her deep admiration may have subconsciously begun much earlier. As an infant, Barothy heard Day’s “Sentimental Journey” through her nursery window, played on loop, from the bedroom of a teenage neighbor. It seems Day became a part of her physiology, that would, unbeknownst to her, lead her to an unbelievable, once in a lifetime adventure, resembling a classic Hollywood script that would not only include Day, but a bevy of icons including Carol Burnett, and the king himself, Elvis.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Barothy about her chance-of-a-lifetime encounter and subsequent experience. She was friends with Day during the Manson murders where Day’s son Terry Melcher was reportedly the alleged target. She stood by Melcher’s hospital bed when a horrific motorcycle accident threw him 75 feet, nursed Day through surgeries, comforted her through significant passings of Day’s friends and, of course, supervised a few of Day’s canine companions. Eleven to be exact. But, when Barothy first saw Day’s bubbly performance in Calamity Jane, she had no idea of the significant spark she launched into the cosmos, awakening connectivity,  singularly focused on its target, leaving little room for error.

On the occasion of what would have been Doris Day’s 98th birthday (born April 3, 1922) below is a Q&A with Mary Anne Barothy, who generously shared highlights of her story (and photographs) for a window into her world.

Meeting Doris, 1968.

CC: What happened to the first time you saw Doris Day in Calamity Jane?

MB: I was 9 years old when I saw the movie and I just loved the music and loved her. I thought she was bouncy and she was cute and she was kind of like a tomboy. The fact that she had a cowgirl outfit on — I liked Hopalong Cassidy at the time, and my parents bought me a hat, a vest, a skirt, and a shirt. I had my mom take me to see the movie three or four times. I think my mom felt like she knew the script, but it was just something that I kind of latched on too and it was positive.

CC: How many years did you work for Doris?

MB: I worked with her for four years —  the first two while she was filming her last two seasons of THE DORIS DAY SHOW at CBS-TV in Studio City, CA. When the show finished she invited me to move in with her since her housekeeper was going to be away for a family emergency. I’d been in touch with her from back in the late ’60s and I realized I was networking before I ever knew what networking was.

The movie magazines came out once a month and I’d go to the local Murphy’s five-and-dime store. They had Photoplay and movie star magazines and of course, I’d go when the new issue would come in. I would page through and I would read about Doris. One of the stories was if you want to get in touch with your favorite movie star fan club write to us so I wrote and, to my surprise, I got back a letter that said the only official fan club is in London, England. There were none here in the states and I thought, okay I’ll write to London, and this is when she was doing movies in the late ‘50s and no TV or anything. I wrote to them. There were these stories about the movie she was in and what she was working on at the time. Every once in a while some fans wrote and said they saw her at the Dodgers or Lakers game.

One girl who would write periodically, her name was Eileen Freshwater, at the time she lived in Canton, Ohio. I wrote to London to find out how to get in touch with her. She had mentioned she would go to L.A. They gave me her address and I wrote to her. I told her the next time she makes a trip out to L.A. from Ohio she could stay overnight with us, and she said she hadn’t planned anything right then but she would keep me in mind. Maybe a year or so later, she got in touch with me because she was making a trip out to Los Angeles and asked me if I still wanted her to stay with me. I said “Oh yeah!’  My parents said, “Who is this person?” I told them she was a Doris Day fan. “Do you know her,” they asked? “No, I don’t know her,” I said. Eileen came, and my parents were just on edge; they didn’t know what this person looked like or anything. We stayed up and talked all night and she left the next morning to go onto L.A. and I went to school. Mom and Dad realized things were safe. She did finally move out to L.A. permanently in 1964 and she had a roommate, another girl from the fan club, Hilda, who moved out there from Wales and she just happened to mention to me if you ever want to make a trip to Los Angeles you can stay with me and I thought that sounds great!

Meeting Sonny and Cher in 1968.

In August of ‘65 I decided I wanted to go to Los Angeles and make my maiden voyage, I wrote to Eileen she said that’ll be fine. The day that I was leaving was August 15 and the headline for the Indianapolis Star was they were shooting at planes landing at LAX! It was the height of the Watts riots and my parents were having a fit but I said, “I’m going to be fine.” I took a friend out with me. It was my first trip and I would have been 21. I went out there and we didn’t have any problems with the riots or anything. We rode by Doris’s house I don’t know how many times. We never saw anything. I had written to her secretary, Phyllis, who I’m still in touch with, she lives out in Palm Desert now, and I said, “I’m coming out, is there any possibility that I can meet Doris?” She wrote back and said she couldn’t promise anything but she’d make sure I had a private tour of MGM Studios where Doris was filming “Glass Bottom Boat” when we went there but Doris was in Catalina filming that day and then, of course, the day we went to Catalina Doris was back at MGM Studios so she made arrangements for us to meet with Ray Conniff because he did a lot of her music.

We were just kind of connected like a Doris Day family (her fellow California companions) so we kept in touch. I wanted to come out in ‘67.  During my trips in 1965 and ‘66, I didn’t see her, but in ‘67 with Phyllis, (a fellow Day fan) she said Doris would be glad to meet you but there was no specific time and of course, it would be at Bailey’s Bakery where we would meet. We went practically every day. I was only there for five days in October of 1967 and finally, on the last Saturday, I purposefully didn’t sit facing the door because I thought if she walked in I would pass out. The girls kept teasing me because they were sitting with us and they’d say “Oh here comes Doris!” I’d turn around and then here’s some old lady walking into the bakery and they did that enough times, finally, after we’d been there about a half an hour they said, “Here she comes!” I just took a bite of a sweet roll and I heard her voice and I am literally almost choking because, well… here she is. She was as nice as she could be. She said, “Mary Anne, I’m so glad to meet you! Let’s sit over here.” We wanted to chat, and I went into full reporter mode. She was so kind she answered all kinds of things and we just had a wonderful time. I said I’d really like to move out to LA and she said, “Well, just move,” and I said, “I have to have a job first, I can’t just pick up and move.” It wasn’t like, come work for me or anything at that point anyway, we just had a nice meeting and it was worth waiting for all this time to finally meet her.

Barbara Stanwyk signs Mary Anne’s cast in 1970.

I really wanted to move out to Los Angeles but I had to have a job so I started sending resumes and in ‘68 I went out in February. I had all these interviews with different places and I finally accepted a job with the May Company in public relations. My girlfriend Mary and I got an apartment within biking distance to the bakery in Beverly Hills,  which we did a lot, so that’s how I got out there and we’d see Doris of course. She wasn’t like, I’m a big star, who are you? She was very open and fun and very down to earth.

CC: What made you decide to write the book? 

MB: When I started working for Doris I just started writing things down because it was just so incredible to me that I actually got to do all this, I thought I better put it down before I moved from California. I had been a reporter for The Indianapolis NEWS prior to my move to Los Angeles and I was just in the habit of documenting things.  I had a manuscript and I had taken it to somebody I met in New York and I asked if they’d be interested in doing anything with it. At the time it was like ‘79 no one was interested so I had this big manuscript and then in like 2006, there were a few books being written about her (Doris). David Kaufman who wrote a book about her had gotten in touch with me to share a few things. I was reading from my manuscript to a mutual friend who had lived next to us in California and she said, “What are you reading from?” I said, “From my old manuscript I had written,” and she said, “Well you have a book with all that stuff.”

In 2006 I was introduced to Art and Nancy Baxter of Hawthorne Publishing.  We met at this lovely restaurant for lunch. Nancy said, “Bring your manuscript and I will look at it and bring pictures for Art because he’s a huge Doris fan.” They looked at all of it and she said, “We want to do it.” It took seven months going through all this. It came out around November of 2007 and I was just thrilled that somebody wanted to publish it. It just kind of took off.

CC:You were with Doris during some very critical times. Why did Doris choose you to work with?

MB: She knew I was a big fan but I think she knew that I was professional. I was a reporter. I had to have certain credibility to be there and I guess she just saw somebody that she trusted, thank God. I’m just very grateful that she did choose me.

CC: You stated that being with Doris was an all-consuming situation. What happened to the people around you that were friends with you that were also friends with Doris?

MB: When I moved in with her, obviously I didn’t have much contact with them but I still kept my apartment with Mary. I knew they knew I didn’t have the time like I did before. We kept in touch. Eileen and Hilda the original ones. (original friends-before meeting Mary)  I was planning to go out to Los Angeles (April 5 – 6) for the big event — sponsored by Julien’s Auctions —  the sale of the property from the Estate of Doris Day in Beverly Hills, Ca. After  this historic event, on my way home I was going to go through Las Vegas because that’s where Eileen and Hilda are living now.

Superfan: Mary Anne’s teenage bedroom filled with Doris Day photos

CC: You had a young man that wanted to propose to you that you turned down. What made you not accept the stereotypical ideal life at the time of a midwestern woman? The marriage, the kids, motherhood, what compelled you to not take the traditional route?

MB: I had a dream and I just figured as long as things are falling into place I’m going after it because you tell people to follow your dream and they say, I should have, I could have. No. I have my eye on the prize and I’m going after it and that’s what I wanted. Other people, they have wonderful families and I didn’t but I can’t say I missed it, I never had it and I’m thrilled that they have their families. I think it’s wonderful, but I just wasn’t compelled that way. If you really believe in what you want and you really want it to happen no matter what, go for it and that’s what I tell young people if you have a dream go for it don’t let people say oh you shouldn’t do that don’t let people talk you out of it. As long as it’s legal, go after it. You’ll always regret it if you didn’t at least try. Maybe you can’t always get everything that you want but if you don’t try, don’t complain.

CC: Some people go to L.A. and start off with a good head on their shoulders but do not end that way. When you went to California you seemed to keep your head straight. How did you accomplish that?

MB: Well first, it was like an instant family with my roommates and these two girls it wasn’t like I was out there by myself and I kept in touch with my family, friends here (in Indianapolis) and I had a good job with Doris and I just kept my faith and doing what I felt was the right thing and the best thing to do.

CC: Your dreams didn’t come true; they basically exploded past your expectations. When you came back home what were the reactions?

MB: People were happy for me that knew me well because I was determined and always wanted to get to meet certain people. People would ask what it’s like especially if something comes up on TV they’ll say, “Is that true, did that really happen?” When I wrote my book people were able to see that I really did all that I wanted to do. I’m not a dull person really.

1973 – Doris & Mary Anne Barothy

CC: You mentioned meeting different celebrities with Doris in your book but you did not mention meeting Rock Hudson, did you meet Rock Hudson?

MB: I did meet him one time I was living with Doris at the time and she got a call from Tony Randall and he wanted Doris to meet with him and Rock at the Beverly Hills Hotel which was just a block and a half up the street from Doris’s house. So I dropped her off and she said I’ll call you when we’re finished. Tony had an idea for a sequel because of those three movies they did together. After about three hours, Doris called me and she was laughing and she said,  “I’m ready.” I drove up there and Tony wasn’t there but Doris and Rock are standing there and she said, come out and meet him. Talk about a handsome man! She introduced me to Rock so we had a little chit-chat. He couldn’t have been nicer. She got in the car and she was still kind of laughing the whole time and I said, “What is so funny and she said, Tony’s idea for the sequel to the movies was that Doris would be with Rock and Tony would be the one who would lure her away from him, and she said,  “Nobody’s going to believe that!” She said she had to be careful as she said that, but she and Rock were like, that’s not going to work, and Tony was dead set. She was anxious to see what he was coming up with, why not check it out? But it was funny! That was the one time I got to meet Rock —oh my God … gorgeous!

Hoosier Hello: Mary Anne meets Carol Burnett, Aug 6, 1962.

CC: Which other stars did you meet?

MB: I had gotten to know Carol Burnett. I met her in Indianapolis when she came in ‘62. She and Doris are my two idols. When I read that Carol Burnett was coming, I called one of the reporters from the Indianapolis Times, Jan Moore and because she would send me pictures of Doris after they were done with them in the paper. I would say if you’re going to throw them away, just send them my way. I got to know Jan by phone and when I saw Carol was coming to Indianapolis, I called and I asked, “Do you think there’s any possible way I could meet Carol Burnett?” and she said,  “Well are you going to the show?” She was going to be there for seven nights at Starlight Musicals, an open-air theater during the summer, and I said, “I have tickets for each show.”

Jan called me back in an hour and she said, “How would you like to go with me to meet Carol at the airport?” We went in this limousine out to the airport and, sure enough, here comes Carol off the plane, and the headline for the Indianapolis Times that night, “Hoosier Hello Stuns Carol Burnett” was a picture of me with my scrapbook and Carol.  After each show, I saw Carol because she would sign autographs for at least 45 minutes to an hour and we got to talking.

In ‘64 they were having the World’s Fair in New York and Carol was doing a show called “Fade Out, Fade In.” We went to the matinee, and I had gotten in touch with Carol’s secretary ahead of time saying, I’m coming out. Is it possible to meet? I’ll never forget, we [Barothy and her parents] went to the matinee on that Wednesday because that night we were going to see Hello Dolly, with Carol Channing. I told my parents, Carol is going to see me and they thought — yeah sure. So after the show, the secretary said, “Go around to the side stage door.”

Carol Burnett and Mary Anne at CBS

There was a long line, they thought, you’re going to get in all right! They were standing under a shade tree and I’m trying to get near the stairs and all these people were there. I thought, how am I going to get in there? Then the door opened and it was a woman, she said, “The only person allowed backstage is Mary Anne Barothy.” I ran up the steps and everyone’s looking at me like, who’s this? She takes me behind the stage and to this dressing room door with Carol Burnett’s name on it. The lady opens the door and Carol says, “Oh hi Mary Anne! Where are your parents?” I said,  “Oh, they are outside!” So I ran outside and I’m standing at the top of the stairs saying, “Mom! Dad! Carol wants to meet you!” I think they were quite impressed.

We were in her dressing room for about an hour at least and I brought my scrapbook and she was looking through pictures of when I met her two years before. My folks really got a kick out of it all. They saw that I had made a connection with her and then I kept in touch with her. I  had a car accident when I was in CA, and that was really interesting because I have pictures of Carol Burnett signing my cast.

CC: What was it like encountering Elvis?

MB: This is before I was working for Doris, but my girlfriends already introduced me to Doris. Eileen, Hilda, Mary and I went out to dinner on a Friday night and after dinner, we thought we would just cruise by Doris’s house. We did that every once in a while. We just happened to see her station wagon in front of the house and saw Terry, her son, and he was going with Candy (Candice) Bergen at the time and they were putting suitcases in the car, so we thought let’s just follow them for a little while.

We go up Crescent Drive to Sunset Boulevard,  it’s like eight at night, and they get on the freeway and we don’t know where we’re going but we followed them for like two hours. We ended up in Palm Springs and we figured they went to a home and this was shortly after Marty, her husband had passed away (April 20, 1968) and before she was going to start the TV series at CBS in June. So anyway it turned out that Terry wanted to get her away just to chill out before she can start the TV show.

Doris and Mary Anne.

We had to find a place to stay and we didn’t have that much money because we weren’t planning on staying overnight in Palm Springs. Then we saw a lot of these rental bikes and thought we’ll just come back on Sunday and ride bikes and pass by so the next day we drove back home to L.A., and Sunday morning we went back  to Palm Springs. The streets were real wide in this particular neighborhood, They were like four lanes across and all of a sudden we saw a tandem bike coming towards us. Here were Terry, Doris and Candy coming toward us. Terry and Candy were side by side peddling in front and Doris was seated behind. Doris would have recognized the other girls so they ducked into a bush and I just rode as fast as I could, but she had her head down — she was sad. We didn’t want to get arrested, so we decided to drive around the area.

Around four, we decided we better get back to L.A. We got on the freeway and it was just jam-packed on a Sunday afternoon. Eileen, who was driving, said “There’s a custom-made Lincoln with Tennessee license plates, it’s got to be Elvis. We were able to maneuver and get right next to him on the front passenger seat, and — this is crazy — he rolled down the window. He had this red v-neck like sweater and a big cigar. He was blowing smoke rings out the window.  We were driving slow enough that we could carry on a conversation with him and we were asking him different things and in the middle of a conversation, he said, “Had I known you girls were down here I would have had you over,” and I’m thinking, you just married Priscilla! This was ‘68 but he was just very friendly and wanted to talk so we had our movie cameras out. We were filming him and just couldn’t believe we were talking to Elvis for almost two hours. 

CC: There seems to be an abnormal skewing in her choice of men. When you go into her biography you don’t hear anything about her father and usually, there’s always a correlation between a father and the men their daughters choose. Could that possibly be why she connected with men that were unavailable or abusive towards her?

MB: I don’t know when he died. From what I understand from her — she never talked about him, neither did her mom. I think he just did his thing and moved on but there was never any discussion about her father. I think she was in her early teens when he left. You look at it now in a broader sense you begin to wonder some things, but that’s an interesting take on it.

Mary Anne with Brenda Lee.

CC: Why do you think Doris didn’t want a grave marker?

MB:T hat’s a good question. I really don’t know. She didn’t like notoriety. When I was working with her she appreciated fans and all that, but she didn’t want to be called out in a crowd. She just wanted to live and I think as she got older in Carmel, she devoted her life to the dogs. She was an animal lover when I was with her before, but I think up there for many years no one ever saw her after she moved. She was just a recluse.

CC: Do you believe in coincidence or destiny?

MB: I think it’s a combination of both. I wonder what I would have done if I didn’t have the contacts and determination and all that along the way. 

Doris and Mary Anne.

CC: Looking back, there’s a reason for everything. Why do you think Mary Anne Barothy had the life that she did? What was the purpose? Why you?

MB: Oh my! I never thought of it that way.  I guess because I was determined, but I knew what I wanted and I went after it and I’m just grateful that everything fell in place, and for the people who helped me. I just got very lucky.  I’m grateful to all who helped me along the way!

CC: What are your plans for the future, what do you want to say to the world?

MB: I want to continue going around the country giving my talks “A DAY TO REMEMBER – DORIS DAY” in sharing these special memories with young and old and especially when I do talk to young people I tell them to follow your dreams. People would tell me years ago you wouldn’t be able to do this … that’s crazy … that only happens in the movies.

So how did Barothy end up working and living with Day? Well…we can’t tell you everything! Pick up the book here and read about it for yourself.

Constance Cherise is a classic film aficionado. Reach her at Review her portfolio here.

About this Author


Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.