Doris Day, 1922–2019

In 1975, Doris Day went on The Mike Douglas Show to promote her new book, the best-selling “Her Own Story”. She’s a little annoyed about being called the girl next door (obviously, not the first time she’s heard it) and questions what exactly that means. There was a sweetness to Day, which was a huge reason why she became one of the biggest movie stars in the 1960s. Perhaps she grew tired of being seen not as a complex human being. But her life was not the same as we saw in the movies. Yesterday, we lost her at the age of 97.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Doris Day’s actual last name was Kappelhoff; her grandparents originally came from Germany. Weirdly, she spent most of her life believing that she was born in 1924 and it wasn’t until she turned 93 that she learned her real age – 95 – thanks to AP that found her birth records. Her original plan was to become a dancer, but an accident put an end to that. She learned how to sing and started working as a vocalist in the late 1930s, taking the surname “Day”. She had her first hit in 1945 with the song “Sentimental Journey” (watch her sing it, reluctantly, in the clip above).

As her career as an artist took off, she landed her first part in a movie in 1948, Romance on the High Seas. Director Michael Curtiz told her that she reminded him of an “all-American girl”, and that’s the persona she came to have throughout her career. You know, the girl next door…

In the 1950s, Doris Day’s songs and movies seemed to be equally successful. One of them was Calamity Jane (1953); in the clip above she sings “Windy City” in that movie. She made mostly musicals, but in 1955 she had a big commercial and critical hit with Love Me or Leave Me, where she delivered a dramatic performance. Next, she worked for Alfred Hitchcock in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), a thriller where she sang one of her most famous songs ever, the Oscar-winning “Que Sera, Sera”.

Doris Day received an Oscar nomination for her work in the romantic comedy Pillow Talk (1959) and she went on to make several more similar movies; this was when she had her biggest box-office hits. Her innocent appearance was a trait Doris Day employed to great satisfaction in sexy comedies… but as the times changed near the end of the decade, she was labeled “the world’s oldest virgin” and her box-office status waned.

Day turned to television, not because she wanted to but because her third husband Martin Melcher had committed her to it. Since he and his business partner had bankrupted Day, she had no choice but to do The Doris Day Show in 1968 – which was successful enough to last five years.

Day didn’t act much after that, but she did have her own talkshow in 1985-1986, Doris Day’s Best Friends. It didn’t last long, but the most memorable part of it was her reunion with a dying Rock Hudson (watch the clip above). Her private life was sometimes tumultuous, with four marriages and that bankruptcy that left her almost broke at the time. 

Doris Day was reportedly offered an honorary Oscar several times, but declined. Late in her life she preferred not to make personal appearances at various social occasions, but President George W. Bush did give her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, citing her work in showbiz and for animal rights. 

Several Hollywood celebrities reacted to the news of Day’s death yesterday, like Goldie Hawn: 

Carl Reiner:

And Seth MacFarlane:

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