Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


DAY, Doris

(b Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff, 3 April 1922, Cincinnati OH; d 13 May 2019, Carmel Valley CA) Singer, actress; one of the most successful box office stars of all time. She won an amateur contest and studied dancing in Hollywood, but a car crash shattered her leg at age 14. It took a year to mend and she never went back to school; during that year her mother bought her singing lessons, and she was a natural. On WLW in Cincinnati bandleader Barney Rapp changed her name to Day. She worked wiith Bob Crosby '40 in Chicago, later that year went to the Les Brown band and sang on big hits 'My Dreams Are Getting Better' and 'Sentimental Journey', the last especially forever her song. She duetted with Buddy Clark on another gold disc 'Confess'/'Love Somebody' '47. A date at Billy Reed's Little Club led to a screen test '48; her first film Romance On The High Seas that year with a Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne score gave her her first big solo hit 'It's Magic'. (Judy Garland had turned down the role and Betty Hutton became pregnant; the studio was getting desperate and it was Cahn and Styne who demanded an audition for Day.)

There was a series of mostly backstage musicals for WB (co-stars Ronald Reagan, Gene Nelson, Jack Carson, Gordon McRae); she co-starred with Kirk Douglas in Young Man With A Horn '50, with comic Danny Thomas '52 in biopic of lyricist Gus Kahn. She had hit singles '52 with 'A Guy Is A Guy' and a duet with Frankie Laine on '42 South African song 'Sugarbush'; duets with Johnnie Ray included 'Let's Walk Thata-way' (no. 4 UK). Calamity Jane '53 was a hit film in a role similar to that of Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun: she co-starred with Howard Keel including and exhilarating opener 'The Deadwood Stage' and an Oscar-winning ballad 'Secret Love' (her first no. 1 in the USA '54). Her last WB film was Young At Heart '55 with Frank Sinatra (a musical remake of Four Daughters '38). A biopic of Ruth Etting Love Me Or Leave Me '55 for MGM (co-star Jimmy Cagney) gave her a good dramatic as well as singing role and a chart hit 'I'll Never Stop Loving You'; the soundtrack was a no. 1 LP. 'Que Sera, Sera' ('Whatever Will Be, Will Be') was a no. 2 hit and won an Oscar, from Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. The Pajama Game '57 was probably her best musical film and a big commercial hit; Billy Rose's Jumbo '62, her last musical, did not do well at the box office (Busby Berkeley's last film, but the wooden leading man Stephen Boyd didn't help).

In the late '50s she began a series of light comedy films with Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, James Garner, Jack Lemmon; the best-known was Pillow Talk '59 with Hudson, a film considered risqué at the time. She had minor hits with some title songs 'Tunnel Of Love' '58, 'Anyway The Wind Blows' '60 (from Please Don't Eat The Daisies); her last top 40 hit was 'Everybody Loves A Lover' '58 (no. 6). Eight 10-inch LPs charted '49-55; 12-inch Day By Day '57 was no. 11. Show Time with Axel Stordahl was also highly rated, Cole Porter much taken by her version of 'I Love Paris'.

As the films tapered off she did the The Doris Day Show on TV '68-72, then retired except for the occasional TV special. Crazy about dogs all her life, she formed her Pet Foundation in Los Angeles. Her girl-next-door image was famously sent up by Oscar Levant: 'I knew her before she was a virgin'; but 39 films in 20 years, nearly all hits, made her a top box office star and hid her sometimes turbulent private life, her first two marriages to musicians (the first violent and a heavy drinker, the father of her only child) the third to Marty Melcher ending in his death '68: he wasted $20m of her money on harebrained investments and left her owing half a million, but she had been loyal to him for 17 years. She sued his lawyer partner and won a settlement, but that's when she turned to TV, because Melcher had signed her to contracts, and because she needed the money. She was back on TV '85 in Doris Day's Best Friends, with an accent on animal welfare, her son Terry Melcher the executive producer (he died in 2004 of cancer). She had been married once more 1976-81 to a restaurant manager, but in the end said that she got unconditional affection only from the dogs. A. E. Hotchner's Doris Day: Her Own Story '75 was better than most such books.

As the years went by, feminists hadn't liked Day's girl-next-door image, but in retrospect there was much more to her than that. The women she played in films were mostly professional women with good jobs, not doormats; their perkiness arose from their confidence. In By The Light Of The Silvery Moon '53 she is first seen repairing her boyfriend's car; in Calamity Jane she packed a pistol on her honeymoon. On records, apart from compilations and film soundtracks, Duet '62 wih André Previn is widely regarded as her best album. Day Dreams '92 was an off-Broadway show starring Patty Carver and concentrating on her private life, a mistake; a rewrite, Definitely Doris, transferred to London '96, still with Carver. The German record label Bear Family issued her complete Columbia recordings in boxed sets with big booklets: six-CD It's Magic, five-CD Secret Love, five-CD Que Sera, Sera, eight-CD Move Over Darling (including '68 recordings for Arwin), plus a two-CD Pillow Talk soundtrack with dialogue segments. In radio interviews at the time she was charmingly modest, apparently astonished that anyone would reissue all that stuff.

She was highly praised for her acting by her co-stars; Cagney said that she 'had the ability to project the simple, direct statement of a simple, direct idea without cluttering it.' Paul Weston, who arranged and conducted two of her best albums, Day By Day and Day By Night, when asked if he thought she was underrated, replied, 'She underrated herself. I don't think Doris ever knew what a good singer she was.'