Doris Day

America’s Eternal Sweetheart

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Doris Day was America’s sweetheart – but before she became a shining star in Hollywood, she was a successful touring singer with several bands as well as solo and would continue to record songs and put out albums for most of her life – even after retiring from movie and TV screens. 



Doris Day was actually born Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her parents were of German origin and she had an older brother, a second older brother had died before Doris was born. Her parents separated when she was 10 years old due to her father’s infidelity.

Dance and Song

Dance was Doris’s first love and she formed a dance duo with Jerry Doherty as a teenager in the mid-30s – they even performed in nationwide competitions. But this career was cut short by a car accident with a freight train in 1937 that left Day with a broken leg. 

But during her recovery from the accident, Day found a new passion of hers: Music and singing. As there wasn’t much to do but lying around and listening to the radio, she would start singing along with the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey. Glenn Miller and Ella Fitzgerald. Her mother took the initiative and arranged for singing lessons for her daughter with Grace Raine, who recognized the „tremendous potential“ in Doris Day and gave her three lessons per week for the price of one for about eight months. She would have a greater influence on Doris Day’s singing style and career than anybody else. 

Doris Day got her first job as a professional singer on the WLW radio program Carlin’s Carnival as well as in a local restaurant. The radio performance led to an engagement as a female vocalist with Barney Rapp, an Orchestra leader and jazz musician. Rapp was also the one who advised her to change her name from Kappellhoff to Day. Apparently because her rendition of the song „Day After Day“ was so lovely. After her job with Rapp, Doris Day would go on to work with bandleaders Jimmy James, Bob Crosby and Les Brown. Actually, Doris Day starred in three of the Sounds of the Les Brown band in 1941. Soundies were basically the precursors to music videos – they were three-minute musical films displaying a performance. While singing with the Les Brown band, Doris Day would have seven top ten hits. Her first hit was „Sentimental Journey“, which also became an anthem for WW II servicemen and would be associated with Doris Day for the remainder of her life. Les Brown said about his hit-singing vocalist: “As a singer Doris belongs in the company of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.“

Additionally to working as a vocalist with the Les Brown band, she also appeared for almost two years on Bob Hope’s weekly radio program and toured extensively across the US. She was one busy woman. Songwriters July Style and Sammy Cahn were so impressed with Day that they suggested her for a role in the upcoming movie Romance on the High Seas. When director Michael Curtiz offered her the role, Day was quite shocked as she had no acting experience whatsoever. But he liked her and her honesty an remarked that „her freckles made her look like the All-American Girl“. 

Start in the Movies & Continued success as a vocalist

So, in 1948, Romance on the High Seas was 26 year old Doris Day’s film debut and provided her with a No. 2 hit recording as a soloist – „It’s Magic“. She reached her first No. 1 hit months earlier in a duet with Buddy Clark – „Love Somebody“. The next years would be marked by her successful double career as a singer and an actress. Between 1952 and 1953, Doris Day even had her own radio program, The Doris Day Show on CBS. She would mainly appear in musical movies, which combined her two strengths. One of her songs. „Secret Love“, for Calamity Jane in 1953, in which she played the heroine, even won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became her fourth No. 1 hit single in the US. About Calamity Jane Doris Day would later say that it was her favorite movie of all the films that she made: “I was such a tomboy growing up, and she was such a fun character to play. Of course, the music was wonderful, too—’Secret Love,’ especially, is such a beautiful song.“ Six albums of the movies she starred and sang in reached the Top 10, three of them even No.1. In 1955, Day did not renew her contract with Warner Bros, for which she had worked until then. Doris Day had made quite a name for herself as an actress in musical comedies. 

Road to Hollywood Stardom

But, Doris Day had been bitten by the acting bug and wanted to broaden her acting range. So, she accepted more dramatic roles. The first of which was Love Me or Leave Me in 1955, which she starred as the main character, real life singer Ruth Etting. The film’s producer Joe Pasternak said about her performance: “I was stunned that Doris did not get an Oscar nomination.“ And, of course, the soundtrack would become a No. Hit album. 

Next came solid performance by Day in movies like The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she famously sang Academy-Award wininng song „The Sera, Sera“, Julie, The Pajama Game, Teacher’s Pet opposite Clark Gable,  The Tunnel of Love and It Happened to Jane opposite Jack Lemmon. 

Up until 1958, Doris Day’s success and popularity was mainly based on her singing, she actually had been voted the No. 1 female vocalist nine times in ten years by Billboard’s annual nationwide poll of disc jockeys. But now her box-office success and appeal started to outshine her career as an accomplished singer. 

Hollywood Success

Her breakthrough as a box-office success came in 1956, when Doris Day was 34 years old. It was her successful series of romantic comedies opposite Rock Hudson and Tony Randall – Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. She followed these smash hits up with other romantic comedies opposite notable star talent: Please Don’t Eat the Daisies opposite David Niven, That Touch of Mink opposite Cary Grant, The Thrill of It All and Move Over, Darling apposite James Garner.Doris Day was the only actress ever together with Shirley Temple to rank No. 1 at the box office four times in a row. She also is the only actress to receive seven Laurel Awards as the top female box-office star in a row. 

She also starred in the thriller Midnight Lace opposite Rex Harrison before getting back to romantic comedies with Do Not Disturb and The Glass Bottom Boat. It was then, during the late 1960s that Doris Day slowly slipped from the box office Top 10 – the sexual revolution was underway and she was sometimes nicknamed „The World’s Oldest Virgin“ during these years, because of her portrayal of very moral young ladies. She starred in three more movies: The Ballad of Josie, a western, Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? about the Northeast blackout of 1965 and With Six you Get Eggroll in 1968.


In 1968, Doris Day was hit with a number of devastating blows: First, her husband Martin Melcher died. Second, Doris Day discovered that her late husband and his advisor Bernard Rosenthal had mismanaged her money badly and that she basically was deeply in debt. Third, Day learned that her husband had signed her to appear in a number of Television specials as well as a television series – which would become The Doris Day Show. She had known of none to it and and dreaded her TV appearances. But she felt obliged because the contract had been signed by her then-manager. So, she went ahead, but only when CBS gave her and her son all creative control. The Doris Day Show ran for a successful five years between 1968 and 1973 and Doris did two more TV specials, The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special in 1971 and Doris Day Today in 1975. She also appeared on various shows as a guest throughout the 1970s. 

In 1985, Doris Day also hosted her own talk show on TV, which was called Doris Day’s Best Friends. Although the show was well received, CBN, The Christian Broadcasting Network, cancelled it after 26 episodes. It is best remembered for the appearance of Rock Hudson in one episode. Hudson was showing first signs of his AIDS infection and would die from the disease that very year. Doris Day did no show any signs of fear, but instead wrapped her arms around him and said „Am I glad to see you.“


Doris Day received numerous awards throughout her career – both as a singer and as an actress. Amongst them: Seven consecutive Laurel Awards, a Golden Globe, the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement in Motion Pictures, three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards for „Sentimental Journey“,„Secret Love“and „Que Sera, Sera“, Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the first Legend Award by the Society of Singers as well as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

Debts & Court Case

The case of Doris Day’s mismanaged fortune and investments even went to the Supreme Court of California. In 1969, she filed a lawsuit against Jerome Bernard Rosenthal for legal malpractice. Rosenthal had been her lawyer since her divorce from husband #2 and had been the financial advisor to her husband Martin Melcher. She won the case in 1974 but had to wait until 1979 to receive a multi-million dollar compensation. In 1985, Rosenthal appealed the judgement, which was refused by the Supreme Court. 

Martin Melcher’s sudden death actually saved Doris Day from financial ruin, as would say Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son. Only through this unfortunate event had it been possible for Day to see the full consequences of the financial mismanagement. Doris Day would uphold the opinion publicly that she did not believe her husband to be responsible but that he had been misguided, hadn’t known about the losses and the mismanagement and „simply trusted the wrong person“. Although some speculated that Day did not like her husband very much, these statements do paint a different picture. 


Al Jorden (husband #1) – 19 year-old Doris day married trombonist Al Jorden in 1941, when they were both working in Barney Rapp’s band. Jorden was violent, schizophrenic and eventually committed suicide later in life. The marriage lasted only two years and produced one son, Terrence Paul Jorden in 1941 – he would later be adopted by Martin Melcher and take on his surname. So that is Terry Melcher. The sad story: When Day found out that she was pregnant and refused to get an abortion, Jordan beat her in order to force a miscarriage. Thankfully they divorced in 1943. 

George William Weidler (husband 2) – Three years later, when Day was 24 years old, she married saxophonist George William Weidler, but divorced three years later. 

Martin Melcher (husband #3) – In 1951, when she was only 29 years old, Doris Day married Martin Melcher, the producer of many of her movies. The marriage would last 17 years until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1968. Melcher adopted her son Terry who would become a producer as well – both for Doris Day’s TV career as well as her albums. 

Barry Comden (husband #4) – Finally, in 1976, when Doris Day was already 54 years old, she married Barry Comden, who was working at Doris Day’s favorite restaurant as a head waiter. He got close to her by always giving her a bag of leftover scraps and bones for her dogs whenever she was at the restaurant. But the marriage was not fulfilling as Day cared more about her animals and they divorced after six years of marriage in 1982. 


Doris Day was friends with many of her co-stars and fellow singers, but one person in particular stands out when it comes to her friendships: Rock Hudson. They truly liked each other and had a special bond. At the 60th anniversary of Pillow Talk Doris Day would say in one of her rare interviews the following: „I had such fun working with my pal, Rock. We laughed our way through three films we made together and remained great friends. I miss him.“ Their on-screen chemistry sure was the result of their great off-screen relationship as Day said as well: “I think the reason people liked our movies is because they could tell how much we liked each other. It came across that way on screen. He was a good friend.” About their last time seeing each other she would say: “They had a small plane to get him to the airport. We kissed goodbye and he gave me a big hug and he held onto me. I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him – but he’s in heaven now.”

Animal Welfare & AIDS

Her long and deep friendship with Rock Hudson made Doris Day want to create more awareness for the disease and she would do fundraising for HIV/AIDS research. This led the Canadian magazine Gay Globe pay tribute to her efforts by putting her on the cover of their 79th edition in 2011. 

When Doris Day was filming The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956, she was shocked to see how the animals who acted in a marketplace scene were treated on set. She was so appalled that she refused to continue working if they were not fed enough and care for in a more suitable manner. And so they did – and Doris Day’s love for animals and fight for their rights was ignited. 

She co-founded Actors and Others for Animals in 1972 and in 1978 the Doris Day Pet Foundation, which is now the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF), which gives funds to other non-profit causes to enhance animal welfare. In 1987, she founded the Doris Day Animal League, which was a national non-profit animal advocacy group based in Washington, which merged with the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2006. It is best known for originating  the annual World Spay Day in 1995. 

In 2011, the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center opened in Murchison, Texas. All of the money that she earned from those fundraisers as well as auctions of her personal belongings or her late album releases went towards the good of animals via her NGOs. 

In the 1980s, Doris Day had also become a professional guesthouse with the hotel „Cypress Inn“, formerly „La Ribera“ at Carmel-by-the-Sea. It was an early pet-friendly hotel which was even featured in Architectural Digest on March 15, 1999. So her love for animals even influenced her business decisions. 

Late success

In 1994, when Doris Day was 72 years old, her album The Love Album was released, which originally had been recorded in 1967, but never released. 

In 2011, when Doris Day was already 89 years old, she released the album My Heart in the UK. By doing this, she actually became the oldest artist to get a UK Top 10 ranking with an album that featured new material. The material consisted of recordings that had not been previously published. Her son Terry Melcher produced the album, which featured tracks like the Joe Cocker hit „You Are So Beautiful“ or „Disney Girls“ by the Beach Boys. 

She died of pneumonia on May 13, 2019 at the age of 97 at her home in Carmel Valley, California. As per her requests, there was no funeral service, no grave marker, no public memorials. 


Doris Day’s style is unique and wonderful. It even inspired a book, it’s called „The Thing about Jane Spring“ and I loved reading it. It basically sets the premise that if you dress, style, act and think like Doris Day, you can get any man you want. If you are into romantic novels, do yourself a favor and read it. Highly recommended. 

But on to Doris Day’s style – what is it? There is actually no real barrier between Doris Day on-screen and off-screen. It all blends together as her movie persona came about so natural that this WAS Doris Day. She embodied the essential Girl Next Door, the good wife, housewife and daughter-in-law. Her style was always elegant in the best sense – nothing too much, always clean and proper with a touch of youthfulness in it. Her sheath dresses and Dior suits from her Rock Hudson movies are as memorable as her furs, diamonds and mornings robes. There is no particular style attached to her as a person. She wore what was en vogue during the decade and made it work for her body and personality. And that was a smash hit!

With all my love!




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