Doris Day was born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff in Evanston,
Ohio to German immigrants. The second of two children, she was
named "Doris" after silent movie actress Doris Kenyon, whom her
mother liked. Her family was Roman Catholic, despite her
parents' divorce. She later embraced Christian Science.
Doris Day started out as a dancer, winning a contract that enabled her, only twelve years old, to travel to Hollywood, California with her partner, Jerry Doherty, in 1936, but turned to singing when she injured her leg in an auto accident in 1937. She sang with the big bands of Barney Rapp, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown, before setting out on her own in the late 1940s. It was Barney Rapp who convinced her that "Kappelhoff" was too awkward a name and suggested "Day" after the song "Day after Day" that was part of her repertoire. She never really liked the name Doris Day, thinking it sounded too much like a stripper; this was ironic, since she eventually became associated with a nearly opposite image of wholesomeness and innocence.
With Brown, Doris Day charted twelve popular music hits, among them her first two # 1's: "Sentimental Journey" and "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time". "Sentimental Journey" earned her a flood of letters from World War II GIs. She admitted coming to hate singing "Journey", but never tired of reading the letters. On her own, she had more # 1's, including "Secret Love".
Day acted in many films, in most of which she sang. Day began her film career in musicals, starting in 1948 as a peppy, Betty Huttonesque persona. Her first film was Romance on the High Seas; in her audition she beat out over one hundred actresses, some of whom were established figures. Early publicity saddled her with such unflattering nicknames as "The Tomboy with a Voice" and "The Golden Tonsil". She continued to make saccharine and somewhat low-level musicals such as Starlift, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea for Two for Warner Brothers until the cycle exhausted itself. 1953 found Doris as pistol packin' Calamity Jane in what has become one of Hollywood's most enduring musicals, winning the Oscar for Best Song for "Secret Love". In 1955, she received some of the best notices of her career for her portrayal of singer Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me, co-starring James Cagney. She continued to be paired with some of Hollywood's biggest male stars, including James Stewart, Cary Grant, David Niven, and Clark Gable.
In Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, she sang "Whatever Will Be (Que Será, Será)", which won an Oscar. 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 Será, Será". When the studio pushed her, she relented, but after recording the number in one take she reportedly told a friend of Livingston's, "That's the last time you'll ever hear that song." "Que Será, Será" (Spanish for "what will be, will be") became her signature song, used in her later film Please Don't Eat the Daisies and as the theme song for her television show, and was covered by Sly & the Family Stone in 1973.
In 1959, Doris Day entered her most successful phase as a film actress with the hugely popular Pillow Talk co-starring Rock Hudson, who became a lifelong friend. The film received positive reviews and was a box office favourite. It also brought a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Day. She and Hudson made two more films together. Many of her 1960s films ignored her singing abilities and painted her as a good-hearted woman with a strong will, a hint of naďveté, and the purest virtue this side of a nun. Times as well as attitudes changed, but Day's films did not. Critics, comics and pundits attacked Day as "the world's oldest virgin" and audiences began to shy away from her repetitive, gimmicky roles. Day herself found many of her mid-late 1960s films to be of very poor quality (her least favorite was Caprice, co-starring Richard Harris) and did them only at the insistence of her third husband, Marty Melcher. One of the roles he turned down for her was Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (a role that went to Anne Bancroft). Later, in her published memoirs co-authored by A.E. Hotchener, Doris says that she herself rejected the part on moral grounds.
Doris Day, and the showbiz community, were shocked to discover when Melcher died that he had either squandered Doris's hard-earned fortune, or hid it with his business partner Jerry Rosenthal. To this day, no one is completely sure which is the case. Either way, Doris was left penniless. Doris sued Rosenthal and won the largest civil judgment up until that time in California, over $20,000,000 (USD). How much Doris actually collected is not certain. According to Doris's as-told-to autobiography by A.E. Hotchener, the usually athletic, healthy Melcher had an enlarged heart, but possibly willed himself to die rather than face Doris with the truth. Another factor is that Melcher converted to Christian Science during his relationship with Day, and his beliefs led him to put off going to the doctor for some time.
Upon Melcher's death she learned that he had committed her to a TV series. From 1968 to 1973, she therefore starred in her own situation comedy, The Doris Day Show, which had "Que Será, Será" as its theme song. Day continued with the show only as long as she needed the work to help pay down her debts.
Though generally presenting a happy, carefree image to the public, she had four difficult marriages:
To Al Jordan, a trombonist whom she had met when he was in Barney Rapp's band, from March 1941 to 1943. She was not yet 17 when she married Jordan, and her only child, Terry Melcher, was born from this marriage, when Day was 17, but Jordan was physically and emotionally abusive. He committed suicide after their divorce.
To George Weidler, (a saxophonist), from March 30, 1946 to May 31, 1949. Weidler never could accept the fact that his wife would become a bigger star than he, and they broke up after eight months. Weidler and Day met again several years later and during a brief reconciliation he helped her become involved in Christian Science.
To Marty Melcher, whom she married on her 27th birthday, April 3, 1951. This looked like a happy marriage, and lasted much longer than her first two. Melcher adopted Terry (thus becoming Terry Melcher), and also produced many of Day's movies. However, when he died in 1968 it turned out he had been spending her money without restraint, leaving her bankrupt, and owing thousands. Her money difficulties continued for a number of years after his death, she ultimately returned to financial security. Day also later revealed that Melcher had physically abused Terry.
To Barry Comden, from April 14, 1976 to 1981. Comden was her only husband outside show business. Comden was the maitre d' at one of Doris's favorite restaurants. Knowing of her great love of dogs, Comden began the practice of giving Doris a bag of meat scraps and bones on her way out. This is how he got to meet and endear himself to her.
In 1972 the name of Doris Day was included in one of the songs of the famous musical Grease side by side with Sandra Dee as an example of overly sentimental and righteous person.
In 1985 Doris Day hosted her own talk show, Doris Day's Best Friends. The show generated unexpected press when her old friend Rock Hudson appeared in the first episode. Day was taken aback by Hudson's emaciated and wizened frame, as he had always been in top physical condition. Soon after, she and the world learned that he was dying of AIDS. Day stood by his side, but refused to accept that his illness was the result of his s--ual proclivities.
In 1987, she founded the "Doris Day animal League", and she currently devotes much of her time towards the cause of helping animals.
Doris Day wrote a best-selling autobiography, Doris Day: My Own Story.
In 2004 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom but refused to attend the ceremony because of a fear of flying. She has turned down an honorary Academy Award and a Kennedy's Center Honor for similar reasons.
In November of 2004, her son Terry died from complications of melanoma, aged 62.
Doris Day is part-owner of the Cypress Inn in Carmel, California.
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