Remembering actress, singer, dancer, animal lover and the girl next door: Doris Day

20 May 2019

On Monday 13 May, Doris Day died at her home aged 97, after a successful career as an actress, singer and dancer.

She was born Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff on April 3 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second child to music teacher William Kappelhoff and Alma nee Welz (who split when she was eight).

Doris Day the Dancer and Singer

Aged 15, Doris Day won $500 as the first prize in an amateur dance contest which her mother used to take her to Los Angeles for professional lessons.

When she was 15, she broke her leg in a car accident. Day’s mother encouraged her to take up singing as a distraction during the year-long recovery process from the injury. She was a born natural.

She took up the performance name ‘Doris Day’ after encouragement from Barney Rapp, whose band she began a career as a vocalist with in 1939.

One of her first records, Sentimental Journey (1945) sold more than a million copies.

In 2011 she released My Heart, a compilation of previously unreleased recordings that became a bestseller, proving her enduring popularity.

Doris Day the Actress

Day would also become one of the top box-office stars throughout the 60s in the US, as well as one of the highest paid.

In the 1950s, Day starred and sang in films such as the melodrama Young Man with a Horn (1950), the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), the musicals The Pajama Game (1957) and April in Paris (1952), as well as the comedies Teacher’s Pet (1958) and The Tunnel of Love (1958).

As an actress, she is best known for her role as the wild west heroine in the musical Calamity Jane (1953), as well as her on-screen chemistry with Rock Hudson, who she starred alongside in Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964). Her role in Pillow Talk earned her the only Oscar nomination of her career for Best Actress.

Carl Copeland, Digital Film Production Programme Coordinator at SAE Liverpool said:

“Doris Day was a pioneering actress in her day and her contributions to cinema are there to see. Her turn in Calamity Jane demonstrates her range as not only a singer and dancer but as an actor too. Her chemistry with Rock Hudson is perfect in Pillow Talk, personifying her comedic wit and pin point timing.”  

Although Hudson was discrete regarding his sexual orientation, Hudson’s homosexuality became public knowledge following his death from AIDS-related complications in 1985, making him the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness. After his death, Day spoke publicly about their closeness - which was significant given the fact that at the time many people thought you could catch Aids by through proximity with gay people.

Later in her career as an actress, Day turned down the part of Mrs. Robinson, the middle-aged temptress in the Oscar-winning film The Graduate (1967) because she said the notion of an older woman seducing a young man “offended [her] sense of values.”

Doris Day the Person

Doris Day’s personal life was not at all like the romantic comedies she starred in. Her first marriage was to the abusive trombone player, Al Jorden. Day married Jorden at 19, but was divorced and a mother by 20. Terry Melcher, her only child, became a successful record producer, who died in 2004.

Her second husband, the saxophonist George Weidler, left her because he didn’t want to be known as Mr Doris Day.

Her third marriage to Marty Melcher led to a nervous breakdown, when after his death, she discovered that he had squandered $20 million of her hard earned savings, left her with $500,000 debt and signed her up to various TV deals without her knowledge. One of these, The Doris Day Show, had an extremely successful five-year run.

Doris Day the Animal Lover

In 1976 Day married Barry Comden, a restaurant manager who was 11 years her junior. They were divorced in 1981, with Comden claiming Day cared more for her pets than him.

After retiring she devoted herself to animal welfare, founding organisations including the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She lived in California, where she kept lots of dogs and cats, including lots of former strays.

Dancer, singer, actress and animal lover: she will be sorely missed by many.