She was our ‘secret love’, the all-American girl with a big heart and an even bigger talent who lit up the screen in some of the most iconic pictures of the age, from Calamity Jane to Pillow Talk. She dedicated her life at first to caring for the nation’s souls with her uplifting songs and movies, and later, to caring for animals in need. So it’s with a hugely heavy heart that we learn that Doris Day has sadly passed away at the age of 97.
Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in 1922, she was named after the silent movie actress Doris Kenyon, perhaps setting a precedent for the life in entertainment that would follow. Like many little girls, she found joy in music and dancing but it would take a tragic car accident that injured her leg and curtailed her chances of being a professional dancer for her to discover her greatest asset. For it was while she was in recovery from this accident, crooning along to the radio and especially her favourite artist – Ella Fitzgerald - that she learned she could sing.
Immediately, her mother carted her off to singing lessons where she was told she had incredible potential- the singing teacher was so impressed she offered three lessons of the price of one! A tour with the Les Brown band followed where she met trombonist Al Jorden whom she’d go on to marry and have her only child, Terry, who died at just 62 in 2004. With the Les Brown band, Doris recorded the 1945 song Sentimental Journey which became an instant hit and almost an anthem for the war-weary troops coming home.
More singing followed as she made her mark globally. But it was while giving a tearful rendition of Embraceable You at a Hollywood party that she was spotted and asked to take a screen test which led to her first movie, Romance on the High Seas.
Some of her most famous film musicals followed including Tea for Two, Lullaby of Broadway, On Moonlight Bay and By The Light of the Silvery Moon. But it was Calamity Jane in 1953 that truly sealed her place in the history books, as she played the Wild West heroine who just blew in from the Windy City.
With the musicals came more hit records for Doris but she also turned her hand to non-musical roles too, including Storm Warning and Move Over Darling where she more than proved her metal as a talented actress, too.
She worked with so many great leading men from David Niven to Cary Grant, James Cagney to Rex Harrison. But the co-star that made the biggest impact on her has to be Rock Hudson whom she played alongside in Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. The pair apparently had a hoot onset, sometimes even accidentally delaying the film schedule because they couldn’t stop laughing. They became lifelong friends and she was heartbroken by his death from an AIDS-related illness.
As the Sixties wore on and times changed, Doris stayed true to her principles, turning down the role of Mrs Robinson in The Graduate on moral grounds. While her family-friendly image wasn’t in such demand on the silver screen anymore, she found an outlet in a new medium – television – on The Doris Day Show. However, it later transpired this wasn’t such a happy opportunity when it came to light she had been booked into doing the show, without her knowledge, by her late third husband Martin Melcher, who had also left her in serious debt. Nevertheless, the show, which featured her song Que Sera Sera on its opening credits, ran for five years.
After Martin’s death, Doris would go on to wed once more to Barry Comden, the maitre d’hotel of one of her favourite restaurants. Knowing how much she loved dogs, the story goes that he endeared himself to her by giving her a bag of meat scraps and bones on her way out of the restaurant. While the marriage didn’t last, her affection for the animal world grew stronger and stronger the older she got.
In fact, leaving behind the world of Hollywood at the age of 49, she instead devoted her time to her love of animals, saying later “I enjoyed my career and had a great time working in Hollywood. But after decades of non-stop films, recordings and television, the time seemed right to start a new chapter – concentrating on my animal welfare work.”
So in 1971 Doris co-founded the charity Actors and Others for Animals and created what is now called the Doris Day Animal Foundation which helps fund other smaller charities that care for animals. She also formed the Doris Day Animal League which lobbies to reduce pain and suffering to protect animals through legislation.
Finally, a facility to help abused and neglected horses opened bearing her name in 2011 and in the later years of her life this animal work became her sole focus as she shunned the public spotlight in favour of a quieter life surrounded by the animals she loved so much.
Despite preferring to keep away from it all in her home in Carmel Valley, California, Doris did release a new top ten album, My Heart, in 2011 and continued to maintain a close relationship with her fans, diligently answering fan mail. Reports claim she was offered a part in a Clint Eastwood film in 2015 but she eventually declined.
Whatever she did, Doris Day approached life with such passion, charisma and heart. She epitomised what the golden age of Hollywood flicks meant to us and as a true one-off, we know for sure there’ll never be another quite like the wonderful Doris Day.