Doris Day was an actress, singer, and animal welfare activist. She was born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Doris was named after silent movie actress Doris Kenyon, whom her mother admired.  Her parents came from German stock and the youngest of three, Doris had two brothers; Richard, who died before she was born and Paul, who was a few years older.

Growing up in the 1930’s Doris was attracted by music and dance; eventually forming part of a dance duo which performed locally until a car accident damaged her legs and curtailed ambitions to become a professional dancer. However, while recovering, Doris gained singing experience by listening to the radio and becoming a fan of the early records of upcoming star Ella Fitzgerald. This inspired Doris her to take up singing lessons.

At age 17 Doris began performing locally and whilst working with local bandleader Barney Rapp. When Rapp suggested Doris' surname was too long and cumbersome for marquee appeal, she adopted the stage name “Day” . After leaving Rapp, Doris worked with several other bandleaders including Bob Crosby and eventually Les Brown. Doris had two stints as Brown's lead vocalist with her marriage to trombonist Al Jordan, the birth of her son Terry and subsequent divorce sandwiched between. Co-written by Brown, her 1945 hit “Sentimental Journey” with the band was recorded at the ideal time, as it personified the sentiments of weary homecoming demobilised troops after war service in Europe and the Pacific conflict with Japan. Following her second hit record with Les Brown – “My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time” – Doris went solo in 1947 with a contract from Columbia Records and radio work (with Bob Hope and later Frank Sinatra) leading to separation (and eventually divorce) from second husband George Weidler.

An invitation to sing at a Hollywood party clinched her movie career when song-writer Jule Styne arranged a screen test with director, Michael Curtiz whom she impressed. Doris was subsequently signed to Warner Bros. Pictures. Her film debut was “Romance on the High Seas” (1948).Other popular musical-movies with Warner Bros. followed, Tea for Two”(1950), “Lullaby of Broadway”(1951), “On Moonlight Bay”(1951),“By the Light of the Silvery Moon”(1953) and “Calamity Jane”(1953). These hit films featured songs “It’s Magic” and “Secret Love” which helped Doris grow her popularity as a solo singing star.

The occasional dramatic role in the dark “Storm Warning”(1950) and musical melodrama “Young Man With a Horn”(1950) also proved Doris had a natural dramatic acting ability. On a personal level, Doris married her agent Marty Melcher in 1951 who subsequently handled her career as producer including the decision to not renew her contract with Warner Bros. after the completion of “Young At Heart” in 1954. As a freelance actress, her range of roles increased with the bio-pic based on Twenties singer, Ruth Etting “Love Me Or Leave Me”(1955) for MGM a triumph of both singing and acting, followed by Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) teaming her with James Stewart and location work in Morocco and London. Used as an innocuous plot device in Hitchcock's film, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will be, Will be”) ensured it won an Oscar for Best Song and when recorded by Doris for Columbia, became such a massive worldwide hit, it was henceforth perceived as her signature number although she admits to initially disliking the song.

Doris returned to Warner Bros. for “The Pajama Game” in 1957 – based on the Broadway hit which ideally cast her as a feisty union shop-steward, in a pajama factory with great songs to keep the action buoyant. After the histrionics of “Julie” (1956) at MGM, Doris successfully starred in comedies with Clark Gable, Jack Lemmon, Richard Widmark and David Niven.

In 1959, Doris starred in the immensely popular romantic comedy “Pillow Talk” (1959)  which gained her a “Best Actress” Oscar nomination. This romcom was the first of three that she made for Universal with Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson. A series of hit movies at the box-office followed in the sixties with Doris being paired alongside co-stars Cary Grant in “That Touch of Mink” (1962), James Garden in “The Thrill of It All” (1963) and Rex Harrison in the dramatic “Midnight Lace” (1960). As for musicals, the solitary “Jumbo” gave Doris the lovely Rodgers & Hart score to sing but the circus story based on a Thirties Broadway spectacle was frankly too old-fashioned to make any impression at the box office in 1962.

Doris was voted Top Box-Office female star for her screen efforts during the early 60’s, but fickle tastes eventually rejected such frothy fun for Hollywood’s more explicit sex and darker themes. By mid-decade her box-office appeal had slipped a few notches but Melcher continued to star Doris in light-weight fare with “Move Over Darling” (1963) and “The Glass Bottom Boat” (1966) the best of the bunch thanks to Doris’ personable appeal energising them well beyond their worth. Ironically, her final movie “With Six You Get Egg-Roll”(1968) gave an indication that roles nearer her actual age might be the way forward.

Fortunately, the title song from “Move Over Darling” gave Doris a major Top Twenty UK hit in 1964. Produced and co-written by her son Terry, the song encouraged an intended move to more contemporary numbers but when her Columbia Records contract ended, a 1967 independent album project entitled “The Love Album” not only concluded her recording career but was ironically unissued for over twenty-seven years with its belated 1994 UK issue preceding a much more recent US release.

Despite numerous hit singles throughout her career, Doris’ recording achievements are best celebrated by sixteen superb concept albums; amongst them “Duet” recorded in 1962 with the Andre Previn Trio which embodied all that’s great to the Day vocal style, with minimised jazzy accompaniment in simpatico mood for her close-up-and-personal approach to the lyrics, and personified by her melodic vocal strength. “I Have Dreamed” (1961) dedicated to softly reflective numbers, naturally displayed an intimate dream appeal, shot through with sensitivity, whilst “Cuttin’ Capers” (1959) proved to be a knock-out-up-and-at-‘em swinger which hit its mark via a mixture of brilliantly orchestrated standards and newer numbers, kicked by Doris into touch with high spirits and infectious shifting layers of vocal vigour. These are but examples as none of her themed albums disappoint and additionally the extended chart success of the “Love Me or Leave Me” album soundtrack was joined by similar souvenirs from “The Pajama Game” and “Billy Rose’s Jumbo”. Thankfully all these albums are currently available, together with various compilations which feature her many singles.

“When I recorded for Columbia, I could usually do anything in one take…I would invariably want to use the first take because that would be the one that was spontaneous and fresh.” – Doris Day

The sudden death of Marty Melcher in 1968 was the catalyst to Doris discovering he and business partner Jerry Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Years were taken up suing Rosenthal in the courts with a large civil judgment up awarding Doris $20,000,000 but whether she ever received such an amount is unknown. Doris also discovered Melcher had committed her to a televison sitcom series. Nevertheless, despite grave misgivings, dislike of television, and the ultimate need to clear her debts, Doris went ahead with “The Doris Day Show”, (winning Doris a Golden Globe (1969) for Best Actress in a Television Series) and with annual changes in formula, successfully steered the series for five years from 1968-1973 as executive producer with son Terry – only leaving the gruelling schedule on her own terms. Additionally, two US television Specials “ The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special” (1971) and “Doris Day Today” (1975) gave Doris a chance to sing once more with Perry Como and John Denver as guests. A cable television series “Doris Day and Friends” had limited coverage during 1985/86 and with a talk-show basis with guests, the emphasis was mainly dedicated to animal welfare.

Publication of her biography – “Doris Day – her Own Story” in 1976 was a surprisingly honest autobiograhy as related to A. E. Hotchner and revealed much painful trauma in her private life and three marriages which belied the sunny image portrayed on the screen and through her records. Some television interviews ensured the book became a best seller in the USA.

In 1976, Doris and then-husband Barry Comden purchased acreage overlooking the Quail Lodge and Golf Course in picturesque Carmel. She built her dream house over a three-year period and moved from Beverly Hills to Carmel in 1981. She was single again and had in effect retired from acting when she moved there. Doris claimed there was no conscious decision to retire yet had no regrets about leaving fame behind. She instead dedicated the rest of her life to animal welfare and lobbied tirelessly for the sake of suffering animals, defending their rights to the hilt. This is something she did out of sheer passion and sincere conviction through her two animal charities, the “Doris Day Animal League” and the “Doris Day Animal Foundation”.

“I just love that I can make it better for the animals. I know I have – so far – with my Pet Foundation. That is thrilling for me…We really are doing everything that we can and it’s a labour of love because they are the loveliest things on this earth, as far as I am concerned.” – Doris Day

Although tabloid newspapers labelled Doris as a recluse this was far from the truth as she often invited special admirers to her home or would chat with fans on the phone and answering the piles of mail still received from those who still equally appreciated her enormous contribution to the world of entertainment and animal charities. Additionally, as co-owner of the pet-friendly Cypress Hotel in Carmel, Doris kept an eye on how things were running and would often be seen there.

“I always felt that making a living wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, and I decided I was going straight ahead and try to be as uncomplicated as possible. The important thing in life is just living and loving” – Doris Day

Unfortunately, the death of Doris' beloved son, Terry, in 2004 was a major blow. During the same year, Doris was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Doris declined to attend the ceremony due to her phobia about flying and for this reason was reported to have turned down an honorary Academy Award and Kennedy Center Honors Award.

“I am deeply grateful to the President and to my country…to come from Cincinnati, Ohio for God’s sake, then to go to Hollywood, and to get this kind of tribute from my country…I love this country so much…” – Doris Day

 A Grammy for Lifetime Achievement was awarded Doris in February 2008 and in her absence, Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole were on hand for the tribute. In fact, her last appearance at such public events was to pick up her Golden Globe in 1989 when it was presented by Carmel neighbour Clint Eastwood.

Doris' birthdays during her twilight years was always marked by her fans coming to celebrate her special day in Carmel hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood icon. Doris would often phone in to her local Carmel radio station sounding chirpy as she reflected on her  films and records. She would always send her love to all her fans and was truly astounded that she was so well remembered after all these years. Doris Day died of pneumonia on May 13, 2019, at her home in Carmel Valley aged 97. Her estate and home was subsequently sold with proceeds benefiting her beloved Doris Day Animal Foundation.

“…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

Written by
Allen Pollock