April 3, 1922– Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff:
“I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.”
She began her career as a big band singer in 1939, achieving commercial success in 1945 with two Number One recordings, Sentimental Journey and My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time with Les Brown & His Band of Renown. She left Brown for a solo career and recorded more than 650 songs from 1947 to 1967. In 2011, she released her 29th studio album My Heart which was a collection of unreleased material. Tracks include the Joe Cocker hit You Are So Beautiful, The Beach Boys‘ Disney Girls, and My Buddy, which Day originally sang in the film I’ll See You In My Dreams (1951), but never released on an album. It became a Top 10 Album. She became one of eight recording artists to have been a top box-office earner in the USA four times, and she became the oldest artist to have a Top 10 album featuring new material.
Day was also one of the biggest film stars in the 1950s and1960s. She starred in many genres: Musicals, Comedies, Melodramas, and Thrillers; she could do it all. When most of us think about her, we go right to the movies where she co-starred with Rock Hudson, especially Pillow Talk (1959), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She had terrific chemistry with James Garner in Move Over, Darling (1963) and The Thrill Of It All (1963). She worked with the top leading men of the era: Clark Gable, Cary Grant, James Cagney, David Niven, Jack Lemmon, Frank Sinatra, and Kirk Douglas. After she retired from films in 1968, she starred in her own sitcom The Doris Day Show (1968–1973).
In a rare interview with The Hollywood Reporter on the day after her 97th birthday, when asked what her favorite film was, she answered Calamity Jane:
“I was such a tomboy growing up, and she was such a fun character to play. Of course, the music was wonderful, too— Secret Love, especially, is such a beautiful song.”
Once I had a secret love
That lived within the heart of me
All too soon my secret love
Became impatient to be free
So, I told a friendly star
The way that dreamers often do
Just how wonderful you are
And why I’m so in love with you
Now I shout it from the highest hills
Even told the golden daffodils
At last my heart’s an open door
And my secret love’s no secret anymore
Paul Francis Webster, Sammy Fain (music)
Photo from The Doris Day Show CBS via YouTube
Lucky in her career, Doris Day was unlucky in marriage. When she was 17-years-old Day married a trombone-player, who beat her and demanded that she have an abortion. She left that marriage, but kept the baby, her only child, a son. Next, she married another big band musician. She had a big hit record with Les Brown, which led to a contract with Warner Bros. It was the studio that changed her name to Doris Day. Her second husband begrudged her success and split, leaving her nothing but his Christian Science faith.
In 1968, Day’s third husband and manager Marty Melcher dropped dead. Everyone in her life said “I told you so” when it was revealed that he had spent or embezzled $20 million of her money. Day never faltered. She did The Doris Day Show, that Melcher had signed her to without her knowledge, and then she sued Melcher’s lawyers for his share of the profits.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Warner Bros. paired her with rather bland leading men in films with such bolstering titles as: My Dream Is Yours (1948), I’ll See You In My Dreams (1951), Lucky Me (1954). These interchangeable, uncomplicated musicals always featured a friendship that eventually blossomed into love. She sang the songs with talent and verve, and she more than held her own with Gordon McCrae, Dennis Morgan, or Jack Carson. But there were tougher films also: Young Man With A Horn (1950) where she is the long-suffering girlfriend of alcoholic jazz trumpeter Kirk Douglas, and Storm Warning (1951), where her husband turns out to be a member of the KKK. In life and in films, Day excelled at being the sweetheart with the jerk of a husband.
Day was hugely popular at the box-office, but her material was old fashioned, even for the era. Warner Bros. knew they had good thing and started to find better projects for Day. She did three films that used her considerable talents to best advantage, especially Calamity Jane (1953), a musical about Wild Bill Hickock and his tomboy sidekick, with the song Secret Love, a huge hit record and the basis of her status as a Gay Icon.
The day of the recording session for Secret Love, Day had done vocal warm-ups at home and then rode her bicycle to the studio. Musical Director Ray Heindorf had already rehearsed the studio orchestra; upon her arrival, Heindorf suggested Day do a practice run-through with the orchestra, but Day requested that her first performance with the orchestra be recorded. It was the first and only take.
The song went to Number One and stayed there for three weeks. It was still ranked at Number Four the week of the 26th Academy Awards broadcast in March 1954. Day had declined to perform the Oscar nominated song at the ceremony, stating:
When they asked me to sing Secret Love on Academy Awards night, I told them I couldn’t – not in front of those people.
Ann Blyth performed it at the Academy Awards ceremony and the song won that night. Day’s refusal to do the song on the broadcast, brought an honor by the Hollywood Women’s Press Club: their Sour Apple Award as “the most uncooperative celebrity of the year”. This left Day so depressed that she refused to leave her house for several weeks.
Day first heard Secret Love when Fain visited her home and played it for her. Day was moved by the song, and later wrote: “I just about fell apart“.
Day recorded the song in an August 1953 session at the Warner Bros. Recording Studio in Burbank. The single of Secret Love was released in October by her longtime record label, Columbia Records, three weeks prior to the premiere Calamity Jane.
Calamity Jane, 1953, Warner Bros., TCM via YouTube
Day wrote a rather good memoir, Doris Day: Her Own Story (1976). Writer John Updike penned the introduction admitting affection without ever having met her:
“I’m always looking for insights into the real Doris Day because I’m stuck with this infatuation and need to explain it to myself.“
When she gave a rare interview, Day refused to discuss her films. She claims that they are all dreadful. She had a fourth marriage that lasted a brief time. Her husband claimed that she loved the dogs more than him.
When I listen to her recordings or catch her films, I am left to wonder why Day was so cool and unreachable in her later life.
I love Doris Day so much and even more because of her devoted work in defense of animals through her Doris Day Animal Foundation.
In 2017, on her birthday, World of Wonder’s own Trey Speegle wrote about the discovery of Day’s true birth date. Her biography had long read that she was born in 1924. Speegle:
“When I have written about her before, I have noted that no one was certain how old she actually is, but a copy of Day’s birth certificate, obtained by The Associated Press from Ohio’s Office Of Vital Statistics, has settled the issue: Doris Mary Kappelhoff was born on April 3, 1922.“
“I’ve always said that age is just a number and I have never paid much attention to birthdays, but it’s great to finally know how old I really am.“
Day’s final credits rolled in spring, 2019, taken by pneumonia at 97 years old. The Doris Day Animal Foundation announced that there would be no funeral or memorial services, grave marker, or public memorials. She was cremated.