She was one of the most notable names of her time, arriving in the back end of the classical Hollywood era and building a career over 20 years in the industry spanning nearly 40 feature films not to mention a highly respected singing career. Doris Day was an icon in every sense of the word and the world shed tears of heartbreak with the news of her passing from pneumonia on May 13, 2019 at the age of 97. Day was not only influential, she paved the way for women to become some of the biggest stars in the world in the decades following her own success and her name has become synonymous with Hollywood starlets and crossover success between music and film. Today we look back at her illustrious career and legacy. This is “In Memoriam: Doris Day”.
Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in April of 1922, Day grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio with her parents Alma Sophia, a housewife, and Joseph Kappelhoff, a music teacher who introduced the future songstress to the art. She was the youngest of three children in the family (although her older brother died young) and endured the separation of her parents at an early age due to Joseph’s reported infidelity. During this time she gained and interest in dance but her career was cut short after a car accident in 1937 left her with a right leg injury. It was then that Day started to truly embrace singing as she discovered her natural vocal ability while listening to the radio during her recovery. With support from her mother, Doris began working with vocal teacher Grace Raine who saw her potential and took her on at a discount to help groom her to follow a music career path. After eight months Day had begun working in radio where she connected with Barney Rapp leading her to be selected from around 200 singers to work with the famous jazz musician. Doris adopted “Day” as her stage name and went on to work with the likes of Les Brown and Bob Crosby eventually having her own first big hit with “Sentimental Journey” in 1945, a tune that would become an anthem of the demobilization push in World War II.
Over the next five years Day continued to tour and succeed as a vocalist and in 1948 she gained the attention of songwriter Jule Styne and his partner Sammy Cahn who connected her with director Michael Curtiz. Day made her big screen debut in Curtiz’s 1948 film “Romance on the High Seas”. Her all-American girl looks were credited for her selection for the role and this became a part of her image in the years that followed. She contributed a song, “It’s Magic”, to the soundtrack of the film which earned an Oscar nomination. That same year she earned her first number one song with “Love Somebody” and in 1949 she continued her film career with a role in “My Dream Is Yours”.
By 1950 she was voted the favorite star by servicemen in Korea and she continued to perform in minor films roles with parts in “On Moonlight Bay”, “By the Lights of the Silvery Moon”, and “Tea for Two”, all for Warner Bros. The next year she had her most successful W.B. picture with “I’ll See You in My Dreams” which became a record-breaking feature for the time. In 1953 she took on one of her most famous roles in pop culture as the titular character in “Calamity Jane” and sang the Academy Award winning song from the film, “Secret Love”, her fourth tune to top the charts in the United States. All the while throughout the early 50s Day continued her work on radio with her own program, “The Doris Day Show” which earned a television broadcast for a year from 1952 through 1953. With all this to her credit Day’s star was still yet to shine its brightest and in 1955 she would finally break through to superstardom.
By 1955 Day was well known for her parts in comedy-musicals but she decided to try and take a more serious turn and embrace more dramatic roles. This all began with “Love Me or Leave Me”, a 1955 drama where Day starred as Ruth Etting. The biographical picture was both a critical and commercial success and became Day’s biggest cinematic hit to that point. She earned the respect of critics as her co-star James Cagney with the movie’s soundtrack, featuring music from Day, becoming a hit as well. Day continued to meld her acting and musical talents in future films. Throughout the back half of the 50s Day starred in numerous hit films including Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, the thriller “Julie”, and “The Tunnel of Love” which earned her the first Golden Globe nomination of her career. In 1959 she starred in “Pillow Talk” which earned her a second Globe nomination and her first and only career nomination for an Academy Award.
The 1960s would be the final decade for Day’s film career and it would be a huge one that saw her become one of the biggest box office stars of her time. She started the 60s off with “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” and “Midnight Lace”, the later earning her another Golden Globe nomination. In total 14 of her 39 films were released during this decade earning her numerous Laurel Award wins, two more Globe Nominations and other accolades. During this time she appeared in two more films with her “Pillow Talk” co-star Rock Hudson and was consistently among the top ten most popular stars in Hollywood. She was named the most popular star in the United States in 1960 and from 1962 through 1964. She placed third in 1961 and 1965. Her final film, “With Six You Get Eggroll”, was released in 1968 and earned her the final Laurel Award nomination of her career.
After her final film in 1968 Day endured a tumultuous period in her career with the loss of her husband Martin Melcher who had squandered her earnings and left her in significant debt. She went on to sue her husband’s business partner and her former attorney Jerome Bernard Rosenthal in 1969 and finally won the case in 1974 but did not receive payment until 1979. This made the decade a tough one for Day especially after learning her late husband had also committed her to a television deal which became a TV version of “The Doris Day Show”. Day saw the deal as an obligation and made the transition to the small screen making the program a success for five years. Day found it difficult to continue as a popular star in the 70s however with the changing tastes of audiences turning on her established persona. The controversy concerning her late husband Martin and attorney Rosenthal continued to follow her into the 80s and 90s as well. Even then Day managed to remain relevant as both an established name in Hollywood and a singer earning numerous honors for her career achievements. She was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1989, was inducted in the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, saw the release of a greatest hits album, and saw the building of her own foundation (originally founded in 1978) called the Doris Day Pet Foundation and the creation of the complimentary organization the Doris Day Animal League in 1987. She became active on the political stage as a spokesperson for animal welfare which eventually led to the christening of the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center in Texas in 2011 and was also a noted vegetarian keeping in line with her animal welfare principles.
Doris Day’s legacy is one many women, and men, in the industry can only dream of leaving behind. During her career she amassed ten Laurel Award wins, five film-based and one television-based Golden Globe nominations, a Cecil B. DeMille Award, an Academy Award nomination, was awarded lifetime achievement honors by the American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and Grammys and saw three songs, “Sentimental Journey”, “Secret Love’ and “Que Sera, Sera”, enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Four times she was named the biggest star in the United States establishing her as nothing short of a cinema legend. Her philanthropy as an advocate for animal wellness has earned her respect beyond her craft and her natural ability to embrace multiple entertainment mediums made her a star beyond the screen. She was a true great and remains a fine example of versatility in the world of music and film. She will be greatly missed.