Doris Day - Biography

By J Poet

Doris Day was an all round entertainer from the Golden Age of American Pop Culture, an Academy Award nominated, Grammy Award winning singer, dancer, actress, and animal welfare advocate. She was a swing band singer and recording artist in the 30s and made 39 films in the 50s and early 60s. She recorded almost 100 albums ranging from swing to pop and her one son, Terry Melcher, became a producer and worked with the Byrds and Paul Revere & the Raiders. After her movie career ended, she starred in The Doris Day Show, a sitcom that ran between 1968 and 1973 and Doris Day's Best Friends a short lived chat show in 1985 notable for helping disclose Rock Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis on its first episode. She retired from show business in the 70s and lives in Carmel, CA, on a ranch she calls Casa Loco. In 1989 she won the Golden Globe’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in film. In 2004, she was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2008 received a Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy for her music.


Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff was born in Evanston, OH in 1924. Her parents loved classical music, opera and Country and Western. As a girl, she wanted to be a professional dancer, and attended ballet and tap dancing classes at the Hessler Dancing School. In 1936, with dancing partner Jerry Doherty, she won an amateur contest. The prize was a trip to Hollywood to audition for the famous Fanchon and Marco stage show. On the car trip to California there was an accident that shattered her right leg. While recuperating, she began singing along with the radio, emulating the tones of Ella Fitzgerald in hopes of developing her own style. When she could walk again, she won an audition to appear, unpaid, on Cincinnati’s WLW. A local swing bandleader, Barney Rapp hired her for 25 bucks a week to front his band. When he saw how people reacted to her rendition of “Day After Day”, he suggested Day as her stage name.


In 1939, Raine got Day an audition for Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, a popular swing band led by Bing’s brother. She got the job, but during a Crosby date in New York City, Les Brown hired her away from Crosby for his Band of Renown. She sang with Brown until 1946 and contributed to two number one recordings, “My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time” and “Sentimental Journey”.


In 1948 she moved to California to try and patch things up with her second husband, but they divorced in 1949. Meanwhile, Day auditioned for Waner Brothers and won a part in Romance On the High Seas (1948). In the film she sang “It's Magic”, another #1 hit. It went gold and got an Oscar nomination for Best Song in a Motion Picture. She continued making films like On Moonlight Bay, Tea For Two, Young Man with a Horn (1950) and the blockbuster Calamity Jane. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Secret Love”, another #1 hit for Day.


In 1949 Day signed with Columbia Records. Her first ten albums for the label (in multiple 78 RPM sets) were hits, all landing in the Top 10 of the album charts. There were no soundtrack albums in the 50s, but many of the albums were built around the songs she made popular in her films. Titles include You're My Thrill (1949 Columbia), Tea for Two (1949 Columbia), Lullaby of Broadway (1951 Columbia), On Moonlight Bay (1951 Columbia), I'll See You in My Dreams (1951 Columbia) which hit #1 on the charts, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953 Columbia), Young Man with a Horn (1954 Columbia) with Harry James and his band providing sizzling support, Day Dreams (1955 Columbia) another jazzy outing of standards, Day in Hollywood (1955 Columbia) and Love Me or Leave Me (1955 Columbia) Day’s first album out on the then new LP format.


She made Young at Heart (1954) with Frank Sinatra, then quit Warner to freelance; Martin Melcher her new husband, was her manager. In the 1950s she became one of the most recognizable and highest paid female movie stars appearing in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), with James Cagney, one of her best dramatic roles, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), in which she sang “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)”, which was a big hit and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. (It was widely reported that she hated the song and didn’t want to sing it.) “Que Sera, Sera” was used again in Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) and became the theme song of her 1968 sitcom. Other films include The Pajama Game (1957), Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961) Send Me No Flowers (1964), Caprice (1967) and With Six You Get Eggroll (1968).


Her albums continued to sell well into the early 60s, and included The Pajama Game (1957 Columbia, 2001 Collector’s Choice), both the original cast album and movie soundtrack album, Day by Day (1957 Columbia) a simmering collection of torch songs, Hooray for Hollywood, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (1959 Columbia) collections of movie tunes, Hot Canaries (1959 Columbia) a duet album with Peggy Lee, Bright and Shiny (1961 Columbia) a collection of upbeat pop and Broadway tunes and I Have Dreamed (1961 Columbia), her first album to dent the charts in five years.


The sexual revolution of the 60s made Day’s openhearted good girls seem old fashion and uptight, and the public distain for “the world’s oldest virgin” carried over to her musical career. Duet (1962 Columbia) a collection of standards given a singing delivery supported only by André Previn got raves from critics but sold poorly. Love Him! (1964 Columbia) produced by her son Terry Melcher, had up to date pop arrangements and included a couple of tunes associated with Elvis Presley, and while it did better, it was no best seller. Doris Day’s Sentimental Journey (1965 Columbia) revisited her early hits, showing off her more mature voice to good effect while on Latin for Lovers (1965 Columbia) she sang bossa nova hits with plenty of panache. Despite more critical raves, they sold poorly. After Latin for Lovers, she stopped recording.


When her husband Martin Melcher died in 1968, Day discovered she was bankrupt. Her business manager, Jerry Rosenthal, had spent the bulk of her money, with or without the knowledge of Melcher, who had hired him. She filed a civil suit, but it’s unclear that she ever recovered and of her money. She wanted to retire, but instead got to work on The Doris Day Show, which ran for six years on CBS. She also made two TV specials The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special (1971) and Doris Day Today (1975).


In the 1970s she became known as an animal rights activist. She co-founded Actors and Others for Animals in 1971, appeared in a series of anti-fur ads, actively supported Spay Day USA, and founded The Doris Day Animal League. Her bio Doris Day: Her Own Story, written with A. E. Hotchner appeared in 1975. In 1985 she hosted the short lived Doris Day's Best Friends chat show, notable for helping to disclose Rock Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis on its first episode. Today Day lives quietly on her ranch in Carmel, CA.

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