On May 13, the Doris Day Animal Foundation released a statement confirming that Day had died early that morning in her home in Carmel Valley, California. On April 3 this year, the actress celebrated her 97th birthday and her foundation said that Day was in “excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death.” The statement continued: “She was surrounded by a few close friends as she passed.” After the reports of her passing became public on Monday, #RIPDorisDay was trending on twitter worldwide. This outpouring of love and condolences from her fans proves that her legacy and her work as an actress, as a singer and as an advocate for animal rights will be remembered.
Becoming an Icon of Classic Hollywood
Day’s road to becoming one of the most memorable Hollywood performers began in the mid-1930s, when she developed an early interest in dancing. Unfortunately, when she was 15 years old, a car accident injured her right knee and shattered her prospects at becoming a professional dancer. Since then, she started focusing on her singing career, which ended up encompassing 29 studio albums.
Her first mainstream success came with the release of Sentimental Journey which came out in 1945, during the final months of World War II. The record quickly became an anthem for the G.I.’s desire to return home and by 1946, Day was the highest paid female singer in the world. In the following two years, Day continued working as a vocalist with the Les Brown Band and had six other songs on the Billboard Top 10 chart. During that time, she also toured across the United States and it didn’t take long for her charm and expressive vocals to make to it to the big screen. At one of her performances, she was noticed by film producers who offered her, her first movie role in Romance on the High Seas , premiering in 1948.
“A good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio, decided to become an entertainer.” – President George W. Bush
In the upcoming years, she had roles in multiple musical comedies, including My Dream is Yours, Tea for Two and I’ll See You in My Dreams. In 1953, she starred in the hit film Calamity Jane, which was later turned into both a stage musical and a TV show. Her breakthrough role came in 1955, when she played the real-life singer Ruth Etting in the biographical romantic musical drama Love Me or Leave Me. By the time she starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Day had established herself as a box-office hit and a fan favourite. Her perhaps most memorable role was in the movie Pillow Talk, which earned her an Oscar nomination in the best actress category.
All in all, she made 39 movies and every year from 1948 until 1964, Day’s films were in the box office top ten which is the longest running of any female star in big screen history. Day was arguably also the top female box-office star in Hollywood history, ranking No. 1 in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1964. Other honours she has received include a star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2008 as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. Although her fear of flying prevented her to personally attend the ceremony, George W. Bush declared it “a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio, decided to become an entertainer.”
Not the all-American Girl Next Door
Day’s sunny disposition on screen also earned her a wholesome all-American image which resulted in a goody-two-shoes reputation. Nevertheless, the chaste screen persona seemed at odds with her private life. As Day put it in her memoir Doris Day: Her Own Story: “My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness. An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played.”
Day’s personal life was not nearly as cheery as her public image would suggest. She married four times, was divorced three times and was widowed once. Her first husband was physically abusive and after their divorce, Day described him as a “psychopathic sadist”. Her third husband had squandered all her money before he died, leaving her in severe financial trouble. In 2004, her son Terry Melcher was diagnosed with cancer and died later that year at the age of 62.
Despite or perhaps because of her troubled personal life, Day became a vocal advocate for animal rights. After she decided to retire from the entertainment industry in the 1970s, she focused all her energy on building her animal foundation, today known as the Doris Day Animal Foundation. She also formed the the Doris Day Animal League, a non-profit lobbying organisation whose main focus is ensuring animal welfare through legislative initiatives.
Cover: Skeeze /Final Editor: Erica Boyce