Hand color tinted photo of Doris Day with Easter Bunny and Basket
Doris Day (born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff; April 3, 1922), is an American actress, singer, and animal rights activist. In the 1970s, she co-founded the “Actors and Others for Animals” society, and in newspaper advertisements that were paid for by that society, she spoke out boldly against the wearing of real animal fur. She also organized and promoted the annual Spay Day USA, and lobbied the United States Congress in support of legislation designed to safeguard animal rights. In 2006, The Humane Society of the United States merged with the Doris Day Animal League, and The HSUS now manages Spay Day USA.
Day’s entertainment career began in her late teens as a big band singer. In 1945 she had her first hit recording , “Sentimental Journey”, and, in 1948, appeared in her first film, Romance on the High Seas. During her entertainment career, she had appeared in thirty-nine films, recorded more than six-hundred-fifty songs, received an Academy Award nomination, won a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award, and, in 1989, received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures. In the 1980-90s, the pundits began the process of assessing her place in cultural history when CDs and DVDs of her work became widely available.
Day was married four times. First, to Al Jorden, a trombonist, who became the father of her only child, a son Terry, and, then, following their divorce, to George Weidler. When their marriage ended in divorce, she wed Martin Melcher and remained with him for seventeen years until his death in 1968. He adopted her son as Terry Melcher. Her fourth and last marriage to Barry Comden was brief and ended in divorce. She lives today in Carmel, California. As of 2009, Day is the top-ranking female box office star of all time, ranks sixth in the top ten of mostly male stars and shares their company with the only other female on the list, Shirley Temple.
Doris Day was born in the Cincinnati, Ohio, neighborhood of Evanston to Alma Sophia Welz (a housewife) and Wilhelm (later William) von Kappelhoff (a music teacher). All of her grandparents were German immigrants. Her parents’ marriage failed due to her father’s reported infidelity. Although the family was Roman Catholic, her parents divorced. After her second marriage, Day herself would become a Christian Scientist. Day has been married four times.
The youngest of three children, she had two brothers: Richard, who died before she was born, and Paul, a few years older. She was named after silent movie actress Doris Kenyon, whom her mother admired.
Day developed an early interest in dance, and in the mid-1930s formed a dance duo that performed locally in Cincinnati. A car accident on October 13, 1937 damaged her legs and curtailed her prospects as a professional dancer. While recovering, Day took singing lessons, and at 17 she began performing locally.
It was while working for local bandleader Barney Rapp in 1939 or 1940 that she adopted the stage name “Day” as an alternative to “Kappelhoff,” at his suggestion. Rapp felt her surname was too long for marquees. The first song she had performed for him was Day After Day, and her stage name was taken from that. After working with Rapp, Day worked with a number of other bandleaders including Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown. It was while working with Brown that Day scored her first hit recording, “Sentimental Journey”, which was 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 was rerecorded by her on several occasions, as well as being included in her 1971 television special.
While singing with the Les Brown band and briefly with Bob Hope, Day toured extensively across the United States. Her popularity as a radio performer and vocalist, which included a second hit record My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time, led directly to a career in films. After her separation from her second husband, George Weidler, in 1948, Day reportedly intended to leave Los Angeles and return to her mother’s home in Cincinnati. Her agent Al Levy convinced her to attend a party at the home of composer Jule Styne. Her personal circumstances at the time and her reluctance to perform contributed to an emotive performance of Embraceable You, which greatly impressed Styne and his partner, Sammy Cahn. They then recommended her for a role in Romance on the High Seas which they were working on for Warner Brothers. The withdrawal of Betty Hutton due to pregnancy left the main role to be re-cast. Thus, Day began her film career, in 1948, in a “peppy” Hutton-esque role. (The film was digitally remastered and released on DVD in May 2007.)
The success of this film established her as a popular film personality and provided her with another hit recording It’s Magic. In 1950 U.S. servicemen in Korea voted her their favorite star. She continued to make minor and frequently nostalgic period musicals such as Starlift, On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea For Two for Warner Brothers, but 1953 found Day as pistol-packin’ Calamity Jane, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Secret Love (her recording of which became her fourth U.S. No. 1 recording).
After filming Young at Heart (1954) with Frank Sinatra, Day chose not to renew her contract with Warner Brothers. She elected to work under the advice and management of her third husband, Marty Melcher, whom she married in Burbank on her 29th birthday (April 3, 1951). Day had divorced saxophonist-songwriter George W. Weidler (born September 11, 1917, died July 26, 1995) on May 31, 1949 in Los Angeles in an uncontested divorce action after marrying him on March 30, 1946 in Mount Vernon, New York, separating in April 1947 and filing for divorce in June 1948.
Day’s acting range broadened to include more dramatic roles. In 1954, she received excellent notices for her portrayal of singer Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me, co-starring James Cagney. Doris would later call it, in her autobiography, her best film. She was also paired with such top stars as Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Cary Grant, David Niven, and Clark Gable.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Day sang “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and became her signature song. According to Jay Livingston, who wrote the song with Ray Evans, Day preferred another song used briefly in the film, “We’ll Love Again” and skipped the recording for Que Sera, Sera. At the studio’s insistence she relented. After recording the number, she reportedly told a friend of Livingston, “That’s the last time you’ll ever hear that song”, an assertion that would be proved wrong. The song was used again in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), and was reprised as a brief duet with Arthur Godfrey in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). Que Sera, Sera also became the theme song for her CBS television show (1968-1973). The Man Who Knew Too Much was her only film for Hitchcock and, as she admitted in her 1975 autobiography, she was initially concerned at his lack of direction. She finally asked if anything was wrong and Hitchcock said everything was fine — if she weren’t doing what he wanted, he would have said something.
After the critical and popular success of Teacher’s Pet (1958), Day’s popularity at the box office waned. Some critical attention focused on perceived elements of “blandness” in her on-screen persona, although in some foreign markets (Germany, UK and the British Commonwealth), she remained a top box-office draw. A dynamic performance in The Pajama Game received warm critical notices, but box office returns were disappointing. From 1957 to 1959, she was no longer regarded a “Top Ten Box Office Draw” by U.S. film exhibitors. This development may have been linked to a marked decline in popularity of musical films during the late 1950s, as well as to some poor choices in material made by Melcher on his wife’s behalf. Day’s popularity as a recording artist began to diminish due to the growing popularity of rock and roll. Que Sera, Sera, for instance, was never a No. 1 hit, being kept from the top by Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog. However, she never had a bigger hit, once the so-called “rock era” began. She had one more Top Ten hit with “Everybody Loves a Lover” in 1958, which was successfully covered by The Shirelles in 1963. Her rendition of the Van Heusen/Cahn song, High Hopes had special lyrics fashioned into an endorsement of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.
Box office queen
In 1959, Day entered her most successful phase as a film actress with a series of romantic comedies, starting with Pillow Talk, co-starring Rock Hudson, who became a lifelong friend. The film received positive reviews and was a box office favorite. It also brought a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Day and Hudson made two more films together, Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). Day also teamed up with James Garner, starting with 1963’s The Thrill of It All, followed later that year by Move Over, Darling. Move Over, Darling had originally been entitled Something’s Got To Give, a 1962 comeback vehicle for Marilyn Monroe and featuring Dean Martin. The film was suspended following the firing of Monroe and her subsequent death. A year later, it was renamed and recast with Day as the lead character.
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. Critics and comics dubbed Day “the world’s oldest virgin” (although she played married or widowed women in half her movies) and audiences began to shy away from her repetitive roles. As a result, she slipped from the list of top box-office stars, last appearing in the Top 10 in 1967 with The Glass Bottom Boat, her final hit film.
Day herself found many of her later films to be of very poor quality (her least favorite was Caprice, co-starring Richard Harris), and did them only at Melcher’s insistence. One of the roles she turned down was that of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, a role that went to Anne Bancroft. In her published memoirs, Day said that she had rejected the part on moral grounds. Her final feature film, With Six You Get Eggroll, was released in 1968.
Day’s popularity as a recording artist also declined with the changing public tastes. Albums like Duet and Latin for Lovers garnered critical praise, but little commercial success in the U.S., although sales remained strong in some overseas markets like the United Kingdom. Day’s last major hit single came in the UK in 1964 with “Move Over, Darling”, co-written by her son specifically for her. The recording was a notable departure for Day, with its distinctly contemporary-sounding arrangement and her breathy and suggestive delivery. It was perhaps for this reason that it was banned by the BBC, and was labelled “distasteful” by senior management. In 1967, Day recorded her last album, The Love Album, essentially concluding her recording career, though this album was not released until 1995.
Bankruptcy and television career
Melcher died April 20, 1968. After nearly two decades as a top star, Day was shocked to discover that her husband of 17 years and his business partner Jerome Bernard Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Rosenthal had been her attorney since the late 1940s, and he represented her in May 31, 1949, in her uncontested divorce action against her second husband, songwriter, George W. Weidler. In February 1969, Day filed suit against Rosenthal and won the then-largest civil judgment (over $20 million) until that time in the state of California.
On September 18, 1974, Day was awarded $22,835,646 for fraud and malpractice in an hour long oral decision by Superior Judge Lester E. Olson, ending a 99-day trial that involved 18 consolidated lawsuits and countersuits filed by Day and Rosenthal that involved Rosenthal’s handling of her finances after she terminated him in July 1968. The civil trial included 14,451 pages of transcript from 67 witnesses. Represented by attorney Robert Winslow and the law firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp LLP, Day was awarded $1 million punitive damages, $5.6 million plus $2 million interest for losses incurred in a sham oil venture; $3.4 million plus $1.2 million interest over a hotel venture; $2.2 million plus $793,800 interest for duplicate or unnecessary fees paid to Rosenthal; more than $2 million to recoup loans to Rosenthal; $2.9 million plus $1 million interest for fraud, and $850,000 attorney fees for Day. Olson also enjoined Rosenthal from prosecuting any more lawsuits against Day or her business operations. (Rosenthal had filed more than 20 suits from 1969 to 1974). Olson, an expert in complex financial marital settlements, read every page of 3,275 individual exhibits and 68 boxes of miscellaneous financial records.
In October 1979, Rosenthal’s liability insurer settled with Day for about $6 million payable in 23 annual installments. Rosenthal continued to file an appeal in the 2nd District Court of Appeal, and also filed another half-dozen suits related to the case. Two were libel suits, one against Day and her publishers over comments she made about Rosenthal in her book in which he sought damages. The other suits sought court determinations that insurance companies and individual lawyers failed to defend Rosenthal properly before Olson and in appellate stages. In April 1979, he filed a suit to set aside the $6 million settlement with Day and recover damages from everybody involved in agreeing to the payment supposedly without his permission.
In October 1985, the state Supreme Court rejected Rosenthal’s appeal of the multimillion-dollar judgment against him for legal malpractice, and upheld conclusions of a trial court and a Court of Appeal that Rosenthal acted improperly. In April 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the lower court’s judgment. In June 1987, Rosenthal filed a $30-million lawsuit against lawyers he claimed cheated him out of millions of dollars in real estate investments. He also named Day as a co-defendant, describing her as an “unwilling, involuntary plaintiff whose consent cannot be obtained”. Rosenthal claimed that millions of dollars Day lost were in real estate sold after Melcher died in 1968, in which Rosenthal asserted that the attorneys gave Day bad advice, telling her to sell, at a loss, three hotels, in Palo Alto, Dallas and Atlanta and some oil leases in Kentucky and Ohio. Rosenthal claimed he had made the investments under a long-term plan, and did not intend to sell them until they appreciated in value. Two of the hotels sold in 1970 for about $7 million, and their estimated worth in 1986 was $50 million. In July 1984, after a hearing panel of the State Bar Court, after 80 days of testimony and consideration of documentary evidence, the panel accused Rosenthal of 13 separate acts of misconduct and urged his disbarment in a 34-page unsigned opinion. The panel’s findings were upheld by the State Bar Court’s review department, which asked the justices to order Rosenthal’s disbarment. He continued representing clients in federal courts until the U.S. Supreme Court disbarred him on March 21, 1988. Disbarment by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals followed on August 19, 1988.
The Supreme Court of California, in affirming the disbarment, held that Rosenthal engaged in transactions involving undisclosed conflicts of interest, took positions adverse to his former clients, overstated expenses, double-billed for legal fees, failed to return client files, failed to provide access to records, failed to give adequate legal advice, failed to provide clients with an opportunity to obtain independent counsel, filed fraudulent claims, gave false testimony, engaged in conduct designed to harass his clients, delayed court proceedings, obstructed justice and abused legal process. Terry Melcher commented that it was only Melcher’s premature death that saved Day from financial ruin. It remains unresolved whether Melcher worked in collusion with Rosenthal to pillage her vast earnings, or was himself duped. Day stated publicly that she believes Melcher innocent of any deliberate wrongdoing, stating that Melcher “simply trusted the wrong person” until it was too late. According to Day’s autobiography, as told to A. E. Hotchner, the usually athletic and healthy Melcher had an enlarged heart. Most of the interviews on the subject given to Hotchner (and included in Day’s autobiography) paint an unflattering portrait of Melcher. Author David Kaufman asserts that one of Day’s costars, actor Louis Jourdan, maintained that Day herself disliked her husband, but Day’s statements regarding her relationship with Melcher contradict that assertion.
The Doris Day Show
Upon her husband’s death on April 20, 1968, Day learned that he had committed her to a television series, which became The Doris Day Show.
“It was awful”, Day told OK! Magazine in 1996. “I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he’d signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry [Melcher] took me walking in Beverly Hills and explained that it wasn’t nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me.”
Day hated the idea of doing television, but felt obligated. “There was a contract. I didn’t know about it. I never wanted to do TV, but I gave it 100 percent anyway. That’s the only way I know how to do 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 show was successful, enjoyed a five year run, and functioned as a curtain-raiser for The Carol Burnett Show. By the end of the 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. The show is remembered today for its abrupt season to season changes in casting and premise, has not been widely syndicated like many of its contemporaries, and has been little seen outside the U.S. and the U.K..
Renewal of interest
During the 1990s, interest in Day grew. The release of a greatest hits CD in 1992 garnered her another entry onto the British charts, while the inclusion of the song “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” in the soundtrack of the Australian film Strictly Ballroom gained her new fans.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the release of her films, TV series and specials on DVD further revived interest in her work, resulting in new websites devoted to Day and a growing number of academic texts analyzing various aspects of her career. In 2006, Day recorded a commentary for the DVD release of the fifth (and final) season of her TV show. Recently Day has participated in telephone interviews with a radio station that celebrates her birthday with an annual Doris Day music marathon. These interviews are available as downloadable podcasts.
While Day turned down a tribute offer from the American Film Institute, she received and accepted the Golden Globe’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in 1989. In 2004, Day was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom but declined to attend the ceremony because of a fear of flying. Day did not accept an invitation to be a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors for undisclosed reasons. Both columnist Liz Smith and film critic Rex Reed have mounted vigorous campaigns to gather support for an honorary Academy Award for Day to herald her spectacular film career and her status as the top female box-office star of all time. Day was honored in absentia with a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in Music in February 2008.
Two new biographies, coincidentally bearing the same cover photograph, were published in June 2008. Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door (Virgin Books) by David Kaufman, and Doris Day: Reluctant Star (JR Books) are “reputed” to tell about Day’s “incredible, previously untold story”.
In 1975, Day released her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, an “as-told-to” work with A. E. Hotchner. It revealed to the general public many of the painful events in her private life that belied her sunny public image. In particular, the book detailed her first three difficult marriages:
1.To Al Jorden, a trombonist whom she had met when he was in Barney Rapp’s Band, from March 1941 to 1943. Her only child, son Terry Melcher, was born from this marriage. Jorden, who was reportedly physically abusive to Day, committed suicide in 1967 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
2.To George 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 her become involved in Christian Science.
3.To Martin Melcher, whom she married on April 3, 1951. This marriage lasted far longer than her first two. Melcher adopted Terry (thus renaming the boy Terry Melcher), and also produced many of Day’s movies. Day later claimed Melcher had physically abused Terry.
After her autobiography was published, Day was married one more time; this marriage also ended in divorce.
4.Her fourth marriage was to Barry Comden, from April 14, 1976 until 1981. Comden was her first husband from outside of show business. Comden was the maitre d’ 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. Comden died on May 25, 2009, aged 74.
The book was a best seller, thanks to its revelations about Day’s private life, many contributed by her friends who were particularly scathing towards her third husband, Marty Melcher. While promoting the book, Day caused a stir by rejecting the “girl next door” and “virgin” labels so often attached to her. As she remarked in her book, “The succession of cheerful, period musicals I made, plus Oscar Levant’s highly publicized comment about my virginity (‘I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin.’) contributed to what has been called my ‘image’, which is a word that baffles me. There never was any intent on my part either in my acting or in my private life to create any such thing as an image.” In an interview with Barbara Walters, she commented, “I don’t know where that label came from. Maybe it’s the way I look. Do I look like a virgin?” In later interviews, Day said she believed people should live together prior to marriage, something that she herself would do if the opportunity arose. Her candor won her admiration among reviewers and possibly contributed to the book’s success. At the conclusion of this book tour, Day seemed content to focus on her charity and pet work and her business interests. (In 1985, she became part-owner with her son of the Cypress Inn in Carmel, California.)
The mid-1980s saw a renewed period of activity. In May 1983, she became a grandmother, and in 1985 briefly hosted her own talk show, Doris Day’s Best Friends on CBN. The show generated unexpected press when her old friend Rock Hudson appeared in the first episode. Day was taken aback by Hudson’s emaciated frame, as he had always been in top physical condition. Soon after, she and the world learned that he was dying of AIDS. Day and Hudson were good friends off-screen, but would not publicly acknowledge that he was gay. Despite the worldwide publicity her show received, it was canceled after 26 episodes.
Terry Melcher first made a brief attempt to become a surf music singing star, then became a staff producer for Columbia Records in the 1960s, and was famous for producing some latter-day recordings by The Beach Boys and The Byrds. In November 2004, after a long period of illness, he died from complications of melanoma, aged 62.
Animal welfare activism
Although the press had occasionally noted Day’s interest in animal welfare, it was not until the early 1970s that her interest in animal rights was widely publicized. 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).
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Day actively promoted the annual Spay Day USA, and on a number of occasions, actively lobbied the United States Congress – and, it has been suggested, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton – in support of legislation designed to safeguard animal rights. www.ddal.org The Doris Day Animal League is a cause close to her heart. She was long known to stop her car on the Los Angeles freeways if and when she saw an abandoned, stray or injured animal. In 2006, The Humane Society of the United States merged with the Doris Day Animal League. Staff members of the Doris Day League took positions within The HSUS, and Day recorded public service announcements for the organization. The HSUS now manages Spay Day USA, the one-day spay/neuter event she originated.