Doris Day (1922-2019)

Doris Day
Doris Day
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Doris Day was a singer, movie actress, animal rights activist and living legend. Her career started with the big bands just after WWII, and she quickly became a show business phenomenon, with many hit records and becoming the number one movie box office draw in the country. To this day, she remains the biggest female box-office star in Hollywood history. At the same time she came to represent the sweet girl of the archetypical American dream - a symbol of hope and goodness, a symbol which she herself hated.


Doris Day was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 3, 1922, with the birth name Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. Her Christian name comes from her mother's favorite silent film star, Doris Kenyon. Both her mother and father's family were originally of German Catholic stock. Her father was a music teacher and church organist in Cincinnati and she had two elder brothers, Richard and Paul. Richard died before Doris was born.

Early Years

Doris's parents separated when she was very young and she was brought up by her mother. A bright, outgoing child, and a natural performer, her first love was dancing and her movie idol was Ginger Rogers. As a young teenager she teamed up with a local boy, Jerry Doherty, and performed locally, winning a talent contest in Cincinnati. Before she could fully explore a new career she was forced to give up dancing when her ankle was broken in a car accident and she had to spend almost a year with her ankle in plaster.

Whilst convalescing from her injuries Doris began listening intelligently to modern music on the radio, becoming an admirer, in particular, of the young Ella Fitzgerald. She took singing lessons from a local teacher and her great natural talent was discovered and allowed to develop Within a few months of starting her singing lessons Doris got her first paid work, singing in a local restaurant and on the Cincinnati WLW radio station.

Band Singer and new name

One of her radio broadcasts was heard by Barney Rapp, who led an orchestra and owned a nightclub in Cincinnati. He was looking for a singer to replace his wife, who was pregnant, and he hired the 15 year old Doris (who told him she was 18), after auditioning over 200 girls.

Doris had a strong, pure voice and she looked good. She had found her métier, fronting a big band. At Rapp's suggestion she changed her name from the over-long "Kappelhoff" to the snappier "Day", which he chose after hearing her perform the ballad "Day after Day". Her career was set to leap forward and she began to work with better known band leaders such as Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, (Bing's younger brother), and Les Brown.

First Marriage 1941

Doris met her first husband, Al Jorden, when they were both working for Barney Rapp. She was sixteen when they met and Jorden, a trombonist, was eight years older. They married in 1941 but he turned out to be jealous, possessive and violent. The couple had a son, Terry, in 1942 , and divorced the following year.

Doris rejoined the Les Brown orchestra, which meant touring with the band and leaving baby Terry with her mother. For three years she enjoyed tremendous success with Brown, both singing live in ballrooms and also in the recording studio. Her personal life was less happy. In 1946 she married another musician, saxophonist George Weidler, but the marriage ended in divorce after three years.

Recording Star 1944

In November, 1944, the Les Brown band released the song that was to make Doris a major recording star - 'Sentimental Journey' - which went to number one and stayed there for six weeks. World War II was ending and the beautiful song had a special meaning for many homecoming veterans. It was the start of a period of immense recording success for Doris. She and the Les Brown Orchestra continued to release hit songs such as "Till The End of Time", "The Whole World is Singing My Song", and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'". In 1946 when she left the band to pursue a solo career under contract to Columbia Records, she had become the highest paid female band singer in the world.

Early Movie Career 1948

In 1947, director Michael Curtiz was looking for a replacement for a pregnant Betty Hutton, for the female lead in his next movie, a musical called 'Romance on the High Seas'. Doris was persuaded by her agent to audition for Cutiz which led to a contract with Warner Brothers. She was already famous as a radio and recording star and her first movies naturally featured her singing as much as her acting. After 'Romance on the High Seas' in 1948 she made two more musical comedies, 'My Dream Is Yours' and 'It's a Great Feeling' in 1949.

Doris was an immediate success and she continued to give first class, professional performances in her following movies for Warner Bros. such as ' I'll See You in My Dreams' and 'Storm Warning' in 1951, her first non-musical, and 'April in Paris' in 1952. In addition several of these early movies contained memorable songs which became hits for Doris, such as "It's Magic" and "Someone like You".

Hollywood Star 1953

Doris became a fully fledged Hollywood star with the release in 1953 of the musical comedy 'Calamity Jane'. The western themed movie co-starred Howard Keel and contained some memorable songs including "The Deadwood Stage", "The Black Hills of Dakota" and "Secret Love", which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and which became Doris's fourth number one hit single. It marked the end of a golden period for Doris. Between 1950 and 1953, the albums from six of her movie musicals charted in the Top 10, three of them at number one.

Movie Career

After marrying her agent, Marty Melcher, in 1951 Doris decided to not renew her contract with Warners when it ended in 1954. Her final films for the studio were 'Lucky Me' and 'Young at Heart', both in 1954. Henceforth she would freelance as an actress under the management of her new husband.

As a freelance actress, the range and quality of her roles improved. Her first film was for MGM, 'Love Me Or Leave Me' in 1955, based on the life of Ruth Etting, and she received critical praise, not just for her singing but for her acting also. She repeated this success in 1956 when she co-starred with James Stewart in 'The Man Who Knew Too Much'. She was highly praised for her acting by director Alfred Hitchcock and she had another massive worldwide hit for the film's Oscar-winning song, "Que Sera Sera".

The remaining years of the decade saw a succession of hits for Doris with 'The Pajama Game' in 1957, 'Teacher's Pet' and 'The Tunnel of Love' in 1958 and 'It Happened to Jane' in 1959. Later in 1959 she was teamed with Rock Hudson in 'Pillow Talk' for Universal. The role gained her a nomination for the Best Actress Oscar and began a run during the 1960's of similar movies with romantic and comedic themes.

She made two more movies with Hudson, 'Lover Come Back' in 1961 and 'Send Me No Flowers' in 1964, and she also co-starred with Cary Grant in 'That Touch of Mink' in 1962 and with James Garner in 'The Thrill of It All' and 'Move Over Darling' in 1963. Doris had another major hit with 'The Glass Bottom Boat' in 1966, co-starring Rod Taylor, but an attempt to repeat the scenario the following year with 'Caprice', was a failure. It was a sign of the times. Tastes were changing and Doris's innocent sophistication was beginning to look passé. She made her last feature film, 'With Six You Get Eggroll', in 1968.

Nevertheless, her huge movie success during the early part of the decade was remarkable and has never been surpassed. She was voted Top Box-Office Female Star for four straight years, and she was in the top Ten for ten years in succession.

Marty Melcher

Doris's third husband, film producer Marty Melcher, died suddenly from a ruptured appendix in April, 1968. It subsequently emerged that the millions of dollars that Doris had earned during their marriage had been lost because of poor investments and that Melcher's business partner, Jerome B. Rosenthal had been embezzling her for over 15 years. Doris was awarded over $22 million although she finally received only a fraction of the sum due to her.

Television Career

Another consequence of Melcher's death was a commitment made by him for Doris to make a television series. Doris had an initial mistrust of the new medium but she went ahead and made "The Doris Day Show" between 1968 and 1973. In 1969 the show gained for her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series. Doris also made two special shows for television, "The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special" in 1971 and "Doris Day Today" in 1975.


Doris's fourth marriage was in 1976 to Barry Comden, the maitre d' at the Beverly Hills Old World Restaurant. The couple separated after two years and divorced three years later.

After retiring from movies and live performing, Doris devoted her life to her greatest love, animals. Until her death she ran the Doris Day Animal League in Carmel, California. Her son, Terry Melcher, died of melanoma in 2004 aged 62.

In 2004 Doris was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. She was not able to attend the White House award ceremony in person because of her acute fear of flying. She spent the rest of her life not a recluse, as sometimes portrayed, but living quietly, caring for her animals, in Carmel, California.

Doris Day died on May 13, 2019 from pneumonia. She was 97 years old.

Doris Day Academy Awards

No Wins:
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Actress ... Pillow Talk (1959)

Doris Day Filmography

Romance on the High Seas
My Dream Is Yours
It's a Great Feeling
Young Man of Music
Tea for Two
Fine and Dandy
Storm Warning
Lullaby of Broadway
On Moonlight Bay
I'll See You in My Dreams
The Winning Team
April in Paris
By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Calamity Jane
Lucky Me
Young at Heart