She recorded more than 650 songs from 1947 to 1967, which made her one of the most popular and acclaimed singers of the 20th century in addition to 39 feature films released between 1948 and 1968.
Romance on the High Seas
My Dream Is Yours
It’s a Great Feeling
Young Man with a Horn
Tea for Two
The West Point Story
Lullaby of Broadway
I’ll See You in My Dreams
The Winning Team
April in Paris
Young at Heart
Love Me or Leave Me
The Pajama Game
The Tunnel of Love
It Happened to Jane
Please Don’t Eat the Daisies
Billy Rose’s Jumbo
The Thrill of It All
Move Over, Darling
Do Not Disturb
The Glass Bottom Boat
The Ballad of Josie
Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?
With Six You Get Eggroll
Learning a part was like acting out the lyrics of a song. ~ Doris Day
Doris Day, was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of Alma Sophia (née Welz), a housewife, and William Joseph Kappelhoff, a music teacher and choir master.
The youngest of three siblings, she had two older brothers: Richard (who died before her birth) and Paul, 2–3 years older. Due to her father’s alleged infidelity, her parents separated. She developed an early interest in dance, and in the mid-1930s formed a dance duo with Jerry Doherty that performed locally in Cincinnati. A car accident on October 13, 1937, injured her right leg and curtailed her prospects as a professional dancer.
While recovering from an auto accident, Day started to sing along with the radio and discovered a talent she did not know she had.
Observing her daughter sing rekindled Alma’s interest in show business, and she decided to give Doris singing lessons. She engaged a teacher, Grace Raine. After three lessons, Raine told Alma that young Doris had “tremendous potential”; Raine was so impressed that she gave Doris three lessons a week for the price of one. Years later, Day said that Raine had the biggest effect on her singing style and career.
During the eight months she was taking singing lessons, Day had her first professional jobs as a vocalist, on the WLW radio program Carlin’s Carnival, and in a local restaurant, Charlie Yee’s Shanghai Inn. During her radio performances, Day first caught the attention of Barney Rapp, who was looking for a girl vocalist and asked if Day would like to audition for the job. According to Rapp, he had auditioned about 200 singers when Day got the job.
While working for Rapp in 1939, she adopted the stage surname “Day”, at Rapp’s suggestion. Rapp felt that “Kappelhoff” was too long for marquees, and he admired her rendition of the song “Day After Day”. After working with Rapp, Day worked with bandleaders Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown.
While working with Brown, Day scored her first hit recording, “Sentimental Journey“, released in early 1945. It soon became an anthem of the desire of World War II demobilizing troops to return home. This song is still associated with Day, and she rerecorded it on several occasions, including a version in her 1971 television special. During 1945–46, Day (as vocalist with the Les Brown Band) had six other top ten hits on the Billboard chart: “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time“, “‘Tain’t Me”, “Till The End of Time“, “You Won’t Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)“, “The Whole World is Singing My Song“, and “I Got the Sun in the Mornin’“. In the 1950s she became the most popular and one of the highest paid singers in America.
While singing with the Les Brown band and for nearly two years on Bob Hope’s weekly radio program, she toured extensively across the United States. Her popularity as a radio performer and vocalist led directly to a career in films. In 1941, Day appeared as a singer in three Soundies with the Les Brown band.
Her performance of the song “Embraceable You” impressed songwriter Jule Styne and his partner, Sammy Cahn, and they recommended her for a role in Romance on the High Seas (1948). Day got the part after auditioning for director Michael Curtiz. She was shocked at being offered the role in that film, and admitted to Curtiz that she was a singer without acting experience. But he said he liked that “she was honest,” not afraid to admit it, and he wanted someone who “looked like the All-American Girl,” which he felt she did. She was the discovery he was most proud of during his career.
The film provided her with a #2 hit recording as a soloist, “It’s Magic“, which followed by two months her first #1 hit (“Love Somebody” in 1948) recorded as a duet with Buddy Clark. Day recorded “Someone Like You“, before the 1949 film My Dream Is Yours, which featured the song.
In 1950, U.S. servicemen in Korea voted her their favorite star. She continued to make minor and frequently nostalgic period musicals such as On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea For Two for Warner Brothers.
Her most commercially successful film for Warner was I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951), which broke box-office records of 20 years. The film is a musical biography of lyricist Gus Kahn. It was Day’s fourth film directed by Curtiz.
In 1953, Day appeared as the title character in the comedic western-themed musical, Calamity Jane. A song from the film, “Secret Love“, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Day’s fourth No. 1 hit single in the U.S.
Between 1950 and 1953, the albums from six of her movie musicals charted in the Top 10, three of them at No. 1. After filming Lucky Me with Bob Cummings and Young at Heart (both 1954) with Frank Sinatra, Day chose not to renew her contract with Warner Brothers.
During this period, Day also had her own radio program, The Doris Day Show. It was broadcast on CBS in 1952-1953.
Having become primarily recognized as a musical-comedy actress, Day gradually took on more dramatic roles to broaden her range. Her dramatic star-turn as singer Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), co-starring James Cagney, received critical and commercial success, becoming Day’s biggest hit thus far. Day said it was her best film performance. The soundtrack album from that movie was a No. 1 hit.
Day starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense film, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) with James Stewart. She sang two songs in the film, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)“, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and “We’ll Love Again“. The film was Day’s 10th movie to be in the Top 10 at the box office. In 1956, Day played the title role in the thriller/noir Julie with Louis Jourdan.
After three successive dramatic films, Day returned to her musical/comedic roots in 1957’s The Pajama Game with John Raitt. The film was based on the Broadway play of the same name. She worked with Paramount Pictures for the comedy Teacher’s Pet (1958), alongside Clark Gable and Gig Young. She co-starred with Richard Widmark and Gig Young in the romantic comedy film, The Tunnel of Love (1958), but found scant success opposite Jack Lemmon in It Happened to Jane (1959).
Billboard’s annual nationwide poll of disc jockeys had ranked Day as the No. 1 female vocalist nine times in ten years (1949 through 1958), but her success and popularity as a singer was now being overshadowed by her box-office appeal.
In 1959, Day entered her most successful phase as a film actress with a series of romantic comedies. This success began with Pillow Talk (1959), co-starring Rock Hudson, who became a lifelong friend, and Tony Randall. Day received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Day, Hudson, and Randall made two more films together, Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964).
She starred with David Niven and Janis Paige in the hit Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. In 1962, Day appeared with Cary Grant in the comedy That Touch of Mink, the first film in history ever to gross $1 million in one theatre (Radio City Music Hall). During 1960 and the 1962 to 1964 period, she ranked number one at the box office, the second woman to be number one four times. She set an unprecedented record that has yet to be equaled, receiving seven consecutive Laurel Awards as the top female box office star.
Day teamed up with James Garner, starting with The Thrill of It All, followed by Move Over, Darling (both 1963). The film’s theme song, “Move Over Darling“, co-written by her son, reached #8 in the U.K. In between these comedic roles, Day co-starred with Rex Harrison in the movie thriller Midnight Lace (1960), an updating of the classic stage thriller, Gaslight.
By the late 1960s, the sexual revolution of the baby boomer generation had refocused public attitudes about sex. Times changed, but Day’s films did not. Day’s next film, Do Not Disturb (1965), was popular with audiences, but her popularity soon waned. Critics and comics dubbed Day “The World’s Oldest Virgin”, and audiences began to shy away from her films. As a result, she slipped from the list of top box-office stars, last appearing in the top ten in 1966 with the hit film The Glass Bottom Boat. One of the roles she turned down was that of “Mrs. Robinson” in The Graduate, a role that eventually went to Anne Bancroft. In her published memoirs, Day said she had rejected the part on moral grounds: she found the script “vulgar and offensive”.
She starred in the western film The Ballad of Josie (1967). That same year, Day recorded The Love Album, although it was not released until 1994. The following year (1968), she starred in the comedy film Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? which centers on the Northeast blackout of November 9, 1965. Her final feature, the comedy With Six You Get Eggroll, was released in 1968.
From 1959 to 1970, Day received nine Laurel Award nominations (and won four times) for best female performance in eight comedies and one drama. From 1959 through 1969, she received six Golden Globe nominations for best female performance in three comedies, one drama (Midnight Lace), one musical (Jumbo), and her television series.
When her third husband Martin Melcher died on April 20, 1968, a shocked Day discovered that Melcher and his business partner Jerome Bernard Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Rosenthal had been her attorney since 1949, when he represented her in her uncontested divorce action against her second husband, saxophonist George W. Weidler. Day filed suit against Rosenthal in February 1969, won a successful decision in 1974, but did not receive compensation until a settlement in 1979.
Day also learned to her displeasure that Melcher had committed her to a television series, which became The Doris Day Show
Day hated the idea of performing on television but felt obliged to it. The first episode of The Doris Day Show aired on September 24, 1968, and, from 1968 to 1973, employed “Que Sera, Sera” as its theme song. Day grudgingly persevered (she needed the work to help pay off her debts), but only after CBS ceded creative control to her and her son. The successful show enjoyed a five-year run and functioned as a curtain raiser for the popular Carol Burnett Show. It is remembered today for its abrupt season-to-season changes in casting and premise.
By the end of its run in 1973, public tastes had changed and her firmly established persona was regarded as passé. She largely retired from acting after The Doris Day Show, but did complete two television specials, The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special (1971) and Doris Day to Day (1975). She appeared in a John Denver TV special in 1974.
In the 1985–86 season, Day hosted her own television talk show, Doris Day’s Best Friends, on CBN. The network canceled the show after 26 episodes, despite the worldwide publicity it received.
Since her retirement from films, Day has lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She has many pets and adopts stray animals. She granted an ABC telephone interview on her birthday in 2016, which was accompanied by photos of her life and career
In 1975, Day published her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, an “as-told-to” work with A. E. Hotchner. The book detailed her first three marriages:
To Al Jorden, a trombonist whom she first met in Barney Rapp’s Band, from March 1941 to 1943. Her only child, son Terrence Paul Jorden (later known as Terry Melcher), resulted from this marriage. Husband Jorden, who was reportedly physically abusive to Day, committed suicide in 1967 by gunshot.
To George William Weidler (a saxophonist), from March 30, 1946 to May 31, 1949. Weidler, the brother of actress Virginia Weidler, and Day met again several years later. During a brief reconciliation, he helped introduce her to Christian Science.
To Martin Melcher, whom she married on April 3, 1951, her 29th birthday. This marriage lasted until Melcher’s death in 1968. Melcher adopted Day’s son Terry, who, with the name Terry Melcher, became a successful musician and record producer. Martin Melcher produced many of Day’s movies. She and Melcher were both practicing Christian Scientists, resulting in her not seeing a doctor for some time after symptoms that suggested cancer. This distressing period ended when, finally consulting a physician, and thereby finding the lump was benign, she fully recovered.
After publishing her autobiography, Day remarried:
Her fourth marriage, from April 14, 1976 until 1981, was to Barry Comden (March 30, 1935 – May 25, 2009), who was roughly a decade younger. Comden was the maître d’hôtel at one of Day’s favorite restaurants. Knowing of her great love of dogs, Comden endeared himself to Day by giving her a bag of meat scraps and bones on her way out of the restaurant. When this marriage unraveled, Comden complained that Day cared more for her “animal friends” than she did for him.
Day’s interest in animal welfare and related issues apparently dates to her teen years. While recovering from an automobile accident, she took her dog Tiny for a walk without a leash. Tiny ran into the street and was killed by a passing car. Day later expressed guilt and loneliness about Tiny’s untimely death. In 1971, she co-founded Actors and Others for Animals, and appeared in a series of newspaper advertisements denouncing the wearing of fur, alongside Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickinson, and Jayne Meadows. Day’s friend, Cleveland Amory, wrote about these events in Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife (1974).
In 1978, Day founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation, now the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF). A non-profit 501(c)(3) grant-giving public charity, DDAF funds other non-profit causes throughout the US that share DDAF’s mission of helping animals and the people who love them. The DDAF continues to operate independently under Day’s personal supervision.
To complement the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Day formed the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) in 1987, a national non-profit citizen’s lobbying organization whose mission is to reduce pain and suffering and protect animals through legislative initiatives. Day actively lobbied the United States Congress in support of legislation designed to safeguard animal welfare on a number of occasions and in 1995 she originated the annual Spay Day USA. The DDAL merged into The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in 2006. The HSUS now manages World Spay Day, the annual one-day spay/neuter event that Day originated.
A facility to help abused and neglected horses opened in 2011 and bears her name—the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center, located in Murchison, Texas, on the grounds of an animal sanctuary started by her late friend, author Cleveland Amory. Day contributed $250,000 towards the founding of the center.
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