Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff was born on 3 April, 1924, in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a staunch Roman Catholic family. She had one surviving older brother, Paul. Richard, the other brother, died before she was born. Her father's affair with her best friend's mother, culminating in her parents' divorce, brought early heartbreak to the eight-year-old. At the age of 13, Doris was involved in an accident and broke her right leg. This put an end to her budding dancing career, but while she was recuperating, she listened to the radio and began singing along. In 1940, pretending to be 18, she was offered a job singing in a club. Her German surname was difficult to pronounce and she chose the stage name 'Day' after the popular hit song Day After Day.
Singer and Movie Star
Her first, short-lived, marriage (to Al Jorden in 1941) produced a son, Terry, in February, 1942. This happy event did not put an end to the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband, so she left him and went back to singing. Her band played at military camps during WW2 and in the autumn of 1944, her recording of Sentimental Journey went to the top of the chart.
In 1946, she married fellow-band member George Weidler, but this second marriage ended after just eight months, when George announced he wanted a divorce. He said he could no longer cope with being 'Mr Doris Day'.
Romance on the High Seas (1948) was Doris's first film. She sang five of the eight numbers in the musical and displayed a natural talent for acting. She dated co-star Jack Carson and fellow actor Ronald Reagan, but eventually married Marty Melcher, her agent and fellow Christian Scientist, on her 27th birthday. Her new husband adopted her son Terry.
Secret Love from the musical western Calamity Jane won the Academy Award for best song in 1953. It sold over a million copies. Exhausted after completing 16 pictures by 1954, Doris had to take several months off as she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After her complete recovery, she returned to acting, but on her terms. She became very selective, choosing to act in films like The Man Who Knew Too Much directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The score included 'Que Sera, Sera (Whatever will be, will be)', the song with which she became synonymous.
At the age of 32, she underwent a complete hysterectomy to remove a large tumour. Unable to have any more children, a devastated Doris concentrated on her film career and was nominated for an Oscar for Pillow Talk in 1960. Co-star Rock Hudson would later become her close friend and confidante.
Doris earned more than $3 million in 1962 alone, which was all 'invested' by her husband. After a violent argument she asked him to leave, but they reconciled when their professional and financial future was at stake. In 1963 she was voted 'Star of the year' for the fourth successive year in Motion Picture Exhibitor magazine. She had found the perfect balance between suggestive sexuality, while maintaining her innocent quality. Her co-stars, including James Garner, spoke highly of her.
Television and Semi-Retirement
By the late '60s her popularity was waning, along with her 'girl next door' image, probably due to starring in some dubious films contracted by her husband, who was desperate to keep the cash rolling in to cover the losses from his bad investments. In 1968, Marty became seriously ill and Doris nursed him until he died.
When her son Terry attempted to sort out his step-father's estate, he found that not only had Marty squandered all his wife's earnings from the last 20 years, but had put them half a million dollars in debt. Doris had no choice but to go back to work, but she never returned to the silver screen. Teaming up with her son as executive producer, their joint television production 'The Doris Day Show' was a huge hit. Doris used to bring some of her many dogs onto the set, sitting them in director's chairs.
The security of being a popular star once again was short-lived. In 1969, at a house her son Terry and his then-girlfriend Candice Bergen had recently moved out of, followers of Charles Manson murdered the occupants, including the pregnant Sharon Tate. Doris and Terry were given round-the-clock police protection until Manson's arrest. Terry, by now a record producer, had earlier rejected Manson, a budding musician and singer.
Doris moved to Carmel and in 1976 she married Barry Comden, but the couple divorced in 1981. She told a friend: 'I sure do pick 'em'.
Her return to television, Doris Day's Best Friends, aired for two years and her first guest was Rock Hudson. Just after taping the show Hudson collapsed, and he died of an AIDS-related illness two months later. He was the first celebrity to die after contracting HIV.
In 1989 Doris was honoured with the Cecil B DeMille award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment at the Golden Globes, adding to her numerous awards and nominations, and in 1991 she won the Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy at the American Comedy Awards.
Away From the Spotlight
Doris never became addicted to the spotlight, but successfully made the transition from public star to private citizen, refusing all offers to sing or make films. She spent time running the Doris Day Animal League in Carmel, California, which works to promote humane treatment of animals. She co-founded and actively supported the charity Actors and Others for Animals. Her only public appearances were to promote animal welfare.
What They Said About Her
She was the best mother I could have had.
- Her son Terry
Doris was wonderful to work with. I wish I could have made 50 more films with her.
- Rock Hudson
I hugged her so hard (during filming of Move Over, Darling) that I broke her ribs. She never complained. She turned up for work the next day, all strapped up. She was a trooper and every man in the world was a little in love with her.
- James Garner
Doris' son Terry Melcher passed away on 19 February, 2004, aged 62. His publicist Linda Dozoretze said he died at his Beverly Hills home after a long battle with cancer. He left behind wife Terese and one son, Ryan. His mother outlived him by 15 years. Doris succumbed to pneumonia and died on 13 May, 2019, aged 97 years. She had requested no funeral or memorial service, but asked for donations to her animal charity instead.