Day, Doris (1924—)

views updated

Day, Doris (1924—)

American singer-actress whose warm and outgoing persona made her one of the most popular film stars of the 1950s. Born Doris von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 3, 1924; second of three children and only daughter of Frederick Wilhelm (a music teacher) and Alma Sophia (Welz) von Kappelhoff; attended Our Lady of Angels High School through sophomore year; married Al Jorden (a trombone player in Gene Krupa's band), in March 1941 (divorced 1943); married George Weidler (a saxophone player and brother of the child movie actress Virginia Weidler ), in 1946 (divorced 1949); married Marty Melcher (a producermanager), on April 3, 1951 (died 1968); married restaurateur Barry Comden (divorced 1981); children: (first marriage) son, Terry Melcher (b. 1942).


Romance on the High Seas (1948); My Dream is Yours (1949); It's a Great Feeling (1949); Young Man with a Horn (1950); Tea for Two (1950); The West Point Story (1950); Storm Warning(1951); Lullaby of Broadway (1951); On Moonlight Bay (1951); I'll See You in My Dreams (1951); (cameo) Starlift (1951); The Winning Team (1952); April in Paris (1952); By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953); Calamity Jane (1953); Lucky Me (1954); Young at Heart (1955); Love Me or Leave Me (1955); The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956); Julie (1956); The Pajama Game (1957); Teacher's Pet (1958); Tunnel of Love (1958); It Happened to Jane (1959); Pillow Talk (1959); Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960); Midnight Lace (1960); Lover Come Back (1962); That Touch of Mink (1962); Jumbo (1962); The Thrill of It All (1963); Move Over, Darling (1963); Send Me No Flowers (1964); Do Not Disturb (1965); The Glass-Bottom Boat (1966); Caprice (1967); The Ballad of Josie (1968); Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968); With Six You Get Eggroll (1968).

When singer-actress Doris Day engaged A.E. Hotchner to help write her autobiography in 1973, she longed to dispel the golden-girl image that had followed her throughout her career. "I'm tired of being thought of as Miss Goody Two-Shoes … the girl next door, Miss Happy-Go-Lucky," she told him. "I'm not the All-American Virgin Queen and I'd like to deal with the true, honest story of who I really am." Whether it was simply because of her blonde, freckle-faced good looks, the winsome appeal of her singing voice, or the romantic nature of many of her films, Doris Day had an aura of good will surrounding her that nothing could shake. Occasional departures into darker movie roles did little but confuse her fans. (After her portrayal of Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me, she was deluged with mail castigating her for drinking and playing a lewd woman.) Off-screen, Doris Day's life was an on-going challenge, with every professional success seemingly countered by a personal tragedy.

There must be something about me, about whatever it is that I give off, that accounts for this disparity between who I am and who I appear to be.

—Doris Day

She was born Doris von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 3, 1924, and named for her mother's favorite silent-screen star, Doris Kenyon . Her parents were opposites: her mother Alma was warm and outgoing; her father Frederick was an introverted music teacher, who paid more attention to his piano and other women than his family. Doris was 11 when her father became involved with her mother's best friend, and the resulting separation and divorce of her parents created a scandal that confused and humiliated her. She and her older brother Paul (another brother Richard died before she was born) remained with her mother, who took them to live in suburban Evanston where she went to work in the family bakery.

While still in kindergarten, Day made her stage debut at the local Masonic hall, after which she pestered her mother for dancing lessons. Following several years of tap, ballet, and acrobatics, as well as performances at local clubs and city events, she met another 12-year-old hoofer, Jerry Doherty. Teaming up, they won the $500 grand prize as the best dance team in Cincinnati in a contest run by one of the local department stores. Their mothers, buoyed by prospects of show-biz careers for their children, used the money to finance a four-week trip to Hollywood, where the young hopefuls studied briefly with Louis DaPron at the famous Fanchon & Marco dancing school. At the end of four weeks, prospects looked so favorable that the two mothers decided to move to California permanently, and the foursome wound their way back to Cincinnati to convince Doherty's father to move his dairy business west. At a party given by hometown friends on October 13, 1937, Day bid farewell to her life in Ohio, then went out for a final hamburger with her boyfriend Larry Doherty (Jerry's brother) and several friends. On the way home, while crossing railroad tracks in rainy weather, their car was struck by a locomotive. Day suffered a compound fracture of her right leg, ending her promising dancing career and nearly crippling her for life.

To help ease the boredom of her 14-month convalescence (during which she fell and rebroke the partially healed bone a second time), Day convinced her mother to allow her voice lessons. She made her first radio appearance on the Saturday morning amateur program "Carlin's Carnival," with the help of her singing teacher, and subsequently landed a weekend gig singing at Charlie Yee's Shanghai Inn, a local Chinese restaurant. Later, Day was hired to sing for Barney Rapp, a small-town bandleader who had a club opening in Cincinnati. It was Rapp who convinced her to change her name from Kappelhoff to Day, after the song Day after Day, one of her most frequently requested numbers. Day then toured with Bob Crosby's band out of Chicago and later joined Les Brown for a three-month tour of one-nighters. Although she could not read music, Day relied on memory and ear, much like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. "She

was every band leader's dream," said Les Brown, "a vocalist who had natural talent, a keen regard for the lyrics, and an attractive appearance."

At age 17, just as her career was hitting its stride, Day left the Brown band to marry Al Jorden, a trombone player she had met while singing with Rapp. Although both her mother and Les Brown urged her not to destroy her promising career by marrying so young, Day refused to listen. "Singing was just something to do until that time came," she said later. "Home and marriage was the only career I wanted. And the only career I have ever really wanted." But Jorden turned out to be a batterer during jealous rages, even through her pregnancy with their son Terry, who was born in February 1942. After enduring repeated assaults, followed by scenes of contrition, Day left him and returned to Cincinnati with her son.

Following her divorce in 1943, Day went back on the road with Les Brown, leaving her son with her mother in Cincinnati. During the tour, she introduced the song "Sentimental Journey." "I always feel a rise in my scalp or on the backs of my wrists when something is special," she said, "whether it be song or man. I stepped to the microphone, and on the second run-through I sang the lyrics. I loved the song. I loved singing it, and we all thought it was going to be a big hit." Recorded on the Okey label, "Sentimental Journey" became a million-seller, a song that would forever be associated with Doris Day.

During that second stint with Les Brown, Day met and married George Weidler, a saxophone player, and became a trailer-housewife while Weidler worked in Hollywood. The couple parted after only eight months, possibly because Weidler feared Day's career might surpass his. (Their relationship continued after the divorce, and it was Weidler who would introduce Day to the Christian Science religion, which she would then embrace as her own.)

In 1946, Day's agent secured an interview for her with Michael Curtiz, who was looking for a singer to replace a pregnant Betty Hutton as the lead in his movie Romance on the High Seas. Still shaky from her recent breakup with Weidler, Day was distracted and teary-eyed during most of the interview but still managed to secure a screentest. Convinced that she had blown the test, she booked a ticket back to Cincinnati before receiving the news that the part was hers. Although the finished picture was considered banal, Day received good reviews. Acting came as naturally to her as singing. "From the first take onward," she said, "I never had any trepidation about what I was called on to do. Movie acting came to me with greater ease and naturalness than anything else I had ever done." She then embarked on a series of 14 pictures for Warner Bros., managing to squeeze in a tour of duty with Bob Hope's concert and radio troupe between her first and second film.

After a few romantic musicals, Day was labeled Hollywood's girl-next-door, even though she would occasionally take on dramatic roles in such movies as Young Man with a Horn (1950), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), which also produced the Oscar-winning song "Que Sera, Sera." In 1951, she received the Laurel Award as "the leading new female personality in the motion picture industry" and was named by Motion Picture Herald as one of the top ten bankable film stars of 1952. Her singing career kept pace with her burgeoning film career. Day was a leading moneymaker for Columbia Records for over four years, producing about 12 records yearly with annual sales of around 5 million.

But success and constant work came at a price. In 1954, after the release of Calamity Jane (in which she sang the Academy Award-winning song "Secret Love"), Day began to suffer shortness of breath and heart palpitations, which culminated in nervous collapse. Still recovering, she scarcely remembered making her next picture, Lucky Me (1954). Her film career hit its peak in the 1960s when she starred in a series of sophisticated bedroom farces opposite romantic costars such as Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and James Garner. She was nominated for an Academy Award for the first of these films, Pillow Talk, in 1959.

In 1951, after romances with several of her co-stars, including Jack Carson and Ronald Reagan, Day had married her agent Marty Melcher, who at one time had been married to Patti Andrews of the Andrews Sisters. Melcher seemed to provide the serene, steady relationship Day needed, as well as some stability for her son Terry, whom he adopted. He converted to Christian Science, becoming almost fanatical in his observances. But Melcher had a reputation in show-business circles as a hustler who worshipped money over people, and some believed his marriage to Day had been monetarily motivated. Over the course of their up-and-down marriage (during which his relationship with Terry disintegrated), Melcher and his lawyer Jerry Rosenthal managed and invested all of Day's earnings. When Melcher died in 1968, it was discovered that $20 million of her earnings had been squandered, leaving her heavily in debt. In the midst of her grief and attempts to ascertain whether her husband had been a thief or a dupe because of his association with Rosenthal, Day discovered that one of Melcher's final acts before his death was to commit her to a television series. "The Doris Day Show," based on the premise of a widow with two children living on a farm, had just started production when

Day's son Terry became tangentially involved in the notorious Charles Manson case; the brutal murders took place at a house he had once owned. A music producer, Terry had at one time auditioned Manson, who was interested in recording his own music, and had turned him down. Some believed that Manson had sent his followers to the house looking for Terry rather than the house's new occupant Sharon Tate .

Thus Day was thrust into one of the most frightening periods of her life. For the next year, a guard patrolled her house day and night. Her son Terry, also under heavy security, became reclusive and increasingly dependent on drugs and alcohol, an addiction that culminated in a near fatal motorcycle accident that shattered both his legs. Through his long and torturous recovery, Day established a mother-son relationship with him that had been impossible when he was a child. "Although he was thirty years old," she said, "it was the first time I had really taken care of him." Terry battled his way back, resumed his job, and subsequently married and had a son.

Day also bounced back. She hired a new producer for her floundering television show, which ran, with a new format, from 1968 to 1973. In 1974, after a long and costly court trial, she was awarded more than $22 million in damages from Rosenthal. There was also a fourth marriage to restaurateur Barry Comden, which ended in divorce in 1981. Day then left show business. Moving to Carmel, California, she devoted herself to the animal-rights movement and the Doris Day Animal League, a national organization she established in 1987. After an absence of a decade, she returned briefly to the spotlight as the host of a cable television show, "Doris Day and Friends" (1985–86).


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1954.

Clarke, Donald, ed. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. NY: Viking, 1989.

Hartigan, Patti. "The Mysterious Adoration of Doris Day," in The Boston Globe. October 4, 1996. Section E, p. 10.

Hotchner, A.E. Doris Day: Her Own Story. NY: William Morrow, 1976.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts