She was usually one of the top ten singers between 1951 and 1966. As an actress, she became the biggest female film star in the early 1960s, and ranked sixth among the box office performers by 2012. In 2011, she released her 29th studio album, My Heart, which became a UK Top 10 album featuring new material. Among her awards, Day has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Legend Award from the Society of Singers. In 1960, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and in 1989 was given the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in motion pictures. In 2004, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush followed in 2011 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's Career Achievement Award.
Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff was born on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of Alma Sophia (née Welz), a housewife, and William Joseph Kappelhoff, a music teacher and choir master. All of her grandparents were German immigrants. For most of her life, Day reportedly believed she had been born in 1924 and reported her age accordingly; it was not until her 95th birthday, when the Associated Press found her birth certificate, showing a 1922 date, that she learned otherwise.
The youngest of three siblings, she had two older brothers: Richard (who died before her birth) and Paul, 2–3 years older. Due to her father's alleged infidelity, her parents separated. She developed an early interest in dance, and in the mid-1930s formed a dance duo with Jerry Doherty that performed locally in Cincinnati. A car accident on October 13, 1937, injured her right leg and curtailed her prospects as a professional dancer.
While recovering, Day started to sing along with the radio and discovered a talent she did not know she had. Day said: "During this long, boring period, I used to while away a lot of time listening to the radio, sometimes singing along with the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller [...]. But the one radio voice I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I'd sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words."
Observing her daughter sing rekindled Alma's interest in show business, and she decided to give Doris singing lessons. She engaged a teacher, Grace Raine. After three lessons, Raine told Alma that young Doris had "tremendous potential"; Raine was so impressed that she gave Doris three lessons a week for the price of one. Years later, Day said that Raine had the biggest effect on her singing style and career.
During the eight months she was taking singing lessons, Day had her first professional jobs as a vocalist, on the WLW radio program Carlin's Carnival, and in a local restaurant, Charlie Yee's Shanghai Inn. During her radio performances, Day first caught the attention of Barney Rapp, who was looking for a girl vocalist and asked if Day would like to audition for the job. According to Rapp, he had auditioned about 200 singers when Day got the job.
While working for Rapp in 1939, she adopted the stage surname "Day", at Rapp's suggestion. Rapp felt that "Kappelhoff" was too long for marquees, and he admired her rendition of the song "Day After Day". After working with Rapp, Day worked with bandleaders Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown.
While working with Brown, Day scored her first hit recording, "Sentimental Journey", released in early 1945. It soon became an anthem of the desire of World War II demobilizing troops to return home. This song is still associated with Day, and she rerecorded it on several occasions, including a version in her 1971 television special. During 1945–46, Day (as vocalist with the Les Brown Band) had six other top ten hits on the Billboard chart: "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time", "'Tain't Me", "Till The End of Time", "You Won't Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)", "The Whole World is Singing My Song", and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'". In the 1950s she had become the most popular and one of the highest paid singers in America.
While singing with the Les Brown band and for nearly two years on Bob Hope's weekly radio program, she toured extensively across the United States. Her popularity as a radio performer and vocalist, which included a second hit record "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time", led directly to a career in films. In 1941, Day appeared as a singer in a short film with the Les Brown band.
Her performance of the song "Embraceable You" impressed songwriter Jule Styne and his partner, Sammy Cahn, and they recommended her for a role in Romance on the High Seas (1948). Day got the part after auditioning for Michael Curtiz. She was shocked at being offered the role in that film, and admitted to Curtiz that she was a singer without acting experience. But he said he liked that "she was honest," not afraid to admit it. And he wanted someone who "looked like the All-American Girl," which he felt she did. She was the discovery he was most proud of during his career.
The film provided her with a #2 hit recording as a soloist, "It's Magic", which followed by two months her first #1 hit ("Love Somebody" in 1948) recorded as a duet with Buddy Clark. Day recorded "Someone Like You," before the 1949 film My Dream Is Yours, which featured the song.
In 1950, U.S. servicemen in Korea voted her their favorite star. She continued to make minor and frequently nostalgic period musicals such as On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea For Two for Warner Brothers.
Her most commercially successful film for Warners was I'll See You in My Dreams (1951), which broke box-office records of 20 years. The film is a musical biography of lyricist Gus Kahn. It was Day's fourth film directed by Curtiz.
In 1953, Day appeared as the title character in the comedic western-themed musical, Calamity Jane, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Secret Love" (her recording of which became her fourth #1 hit single in the U.S.).
Between 1950 and 1953, the albums from six of her movie musicals charted in the Top 10, three of them at #1. After filming Lucky Me with Bob Cummings and Young at Heart (both 1954) with Frank Sinatra, Day chose not to renew her contract with Warner Brothers.
Having become primarily recognized as a musical-comedy actress, Day gradually took on more dramatic roles to broaden her range. Her dramatic star-turn as singer Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me (1955), co-starring James Cagney, received critical and commercial success, becoming Day's biggest hit thus far. Day said it was her best film performance. Producer Joe Pasternak said, "I was stunned that Doris did not get an Oscar nomination." The soundtrack album from that movie was a No. 1 hit.
Day starred in Alfred Hitchcock's suspense film, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) with James Stewart. She sang two songs in the film, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and "We'll Love Again". The film was Day's 10th movie to be in the Top 10 at the box office. In 1956, Day played the title role in the thriller/noir Julie with Louis Jourdan.
After three successive dramatic films, Day returned to her musical/comedic roots in 1957's The Pajama Game with John Raitt. The film was based on the Broadway play of the same name. She worked with Paramount Pictures for the comedy Teacher's Pet (1958), alongside Clark Gable and Gig Young. She co-starred with Richard Widmark and Gig Young in the romantic comedy film, The Tunnel of Love (1958), but found scant success opposite Jack Lemmon in It Happened to Jane (1959).
Billboard's annual nationwide poll of disc jockeys had ranked Day as the No. 1 female vocalist nine times in ten years (1949 through 1958), but her success and popularity as a singer was now being overshadowed by her box-office appeal.
In 1959, Day entered her most successful phase as a film actress with a series of romantic comedies. This success began with Pillow Talk (1959), co-starring Rock Hudson, who became a lifelong friend, and Tony Randall. Day received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Day, Hudson, and Randall made two more films together, Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964).
She starred with David Niven and Janis Paige in the hit Please Don't Eat the Daisies. In 1962, Day appeared with Cary Grant in the comedy That Touch of Mink, the first film in history ever to gross $1 million in one theatre (Radio City Music Hall). During 1960 and the 1962 to 1964 period, she ranked number one at the box office, the second woman to be number one four times. She set an unprecedented record that has yet to be equaled, receiving seven consecutive Laurel Awards as the top female box office star.
Day teamed up with James Garner, starting with The Thrill of It All, followed by Move Over, Darling (both 1963). The film's theme song, "Move Over Darling", co-written by her son, reached #8 in the U.K. In between these comedic roles, Day co-starred with Rex Harrison in the movie thriller Midnight Lace (1960), an updating of the classic stage thriller, Gaslight.
By the late 1960s, the sexual revolution of the baby boomer generation had refocused public attitudes about sex. Times changed, but Day's films did not. Day's next film, Do Not Disturb (1965), was popular with audiences, but her popularity soon waned. Critics and comics dubbed Day "The World's Oldest Virgin", and audiences began to shy away from her films. As a result, she slipped from the list of top box-office stars, last appearing in the top ten in 1966 with the hit film The Glass Bottom Boat. One of the roles she turned down was that of "Mrs. Robinson" in The Graduate, a role that eventually went to Anne Bancroft. In her published memoirs, Day said she had rejected the part on moral grounds: she found the script "vulgar and offensive".
She starred in the western film The Ballad of Josie (1967). That same year, Day recorded The Love Album, although it was not released until 1994. The following year (1968), she starred in the comedy film Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? which centers on the Northeast blackout of November 9, 1965. Her final feature, the comedy With Six You Get Eggroll, was released in 1968.
From 1959-70, Day received nine Laurel Award nominations (and won four times) for best female performance in eight comedies and one drama. From 1959 through 1969, she received six Golden Globe nominations for best female performance in three comedies, one drama (Midnight Lace), one musical (Jumbo), and her television series.
When her third husband Martin Melcher died on April 20, 1968, a shocked Day discovered that Melcher and his business partner Jerome Bernard Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Rosenthal had been her attorney since 1949, when he represented her in her uncontested divorce action against her second husband, saxophonist George W. Weidler. Day filed suit against Rosenthal in February 1969, won a successful decision in 1974, but did not receive compensation until a settlement in 1979.
Day also learned to her displeasure that Melcher had committed her to a television series, which became The Doris Day Show.
"It was awful", Day told OK! Magazine in 1996. "I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he'd signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry [Melcher] took me walking in Beverly Hills and explained that it wasn't nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me."
Day hated the idea of performing on television, but felt obliged to it. The first episode of The Doris Day Show aired on September 24, 1968, and, from 1968 to 1973, employed "Que Sera, Sera" as its theme song. Day grudgingly persevered (she needed the work to help pay off her debts), but only after CBS ceded creative control to her and her son. The successful show enjoyed a five-year run, and functioned as a curtain raiser for the popular Carol Burnett Show. It is remembered today for its abrupt season-to-season changes in casting and premise.
By the end of its run in 1973, public tastes had changed and her firmly established persona was regarded as passé. She largely retired from acting after The Doris Day Show, but did complete two television specials, The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special (1971) and Doris Day to Day (1975). She appeared in a John Denver TV special in 1974.
In the 1985–86 season, Day hosted her own television talk show, Doris Day's Best Friends, on CBN. The network canceled the show after 26 episodes, despite the worldwide publicity it received.
In October 1985, the California Supreme Court rejected Rosenthal's appeal of the multimillion-dollar judgment against him for legal malpractice, and upheld conclusions of a trial court and a Court of Appeal that Rosenthal acted improperly. In April 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the lower court's judgment. In June 1987, Rosenthal filed a $30 million lawsuit against lawyers he claimed cheated him out of millions of dollars in real estate investments. He named Day as a co-defendant, describing her as an "unwilling, involuntary plaintiff whose consent cannot be obtained". Rosenthal claimed that millions of dollars Day lost were in real estate sold after Melcher died in 1968, in which Rosenthal asserted that the attorneys gave Day bad advice, telling her to sell, at a loss, three hotels, in Palo Alto, California, Dallas, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia and some oil leases in Kentucky and Ohio.
Rosenthal claimed he had made the investments under a long-term plan, and did not intend to sell them until they appreciated in value. Two of the hotels sold in 1970 for about $7 million, and their estimated worth in 1986 was $50 million. In July 1984, after a hearing panel of the State Bar Court, after 80 days of testimony and consideration of documentary evidence, the panel accused Rosenthal of 13 separate acts of misconduct and urged his disbarment in a 34-page unsigned opinion. The State Bar Court's review department upheld the panel's findings, which asked the justices to order Rosenthal's disbarment. He continued representing clients in federal courts until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him on March 21, 1988. Disbarment by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals followed on August 19, 1988. The Supreme Court of California, in affirming the disbarment, held that Rosenthal had engaged in transactions involving undisclosed conflicts of interest, took positions adverse to his former clients, overstated expenses, double-billed for legal fees, failed to return client files, failed to provide access to records, failed to give adequate legal advice, failed to provide clients with an opportunity to obtain independent counsel, filed fraudulent claims, gave false testimony, engaged in conduct designed to harass his clients, delayed court proceedings, obstructed justice and abused legal process. Rosenthal died August 15, 2007, at the age of 96.
Terry Melcher stated that his adoptive father's premature death saved Day from financial ruin. It remains unresolved whether Marty Melcher had himself also been duped. Day stated publicly that she believed her husband innocent of any deliberate wrongdoing, stating that he "simply trusted the wrong person".
According to Day's autobiography, as told to A. E. Hotchner, the usually athletic and healthy Martin Melcher had an enlarged heart. Most of the interviews on the subject given to Hotchner (and included in Day's autobiography) paint an unflattering portrait of Melcher. Author David Kaufman asserts that one of Day's costars, actor Louis Jourdan, maintained that Day herself disliked her husband, but Day's public statements regarding Melcher appear to contradict that assertion.
Day was scheduled to present, along with Patrick Swayze and Marvin Hamlisch, the Best Original Score Oscar at the 61st Annual Academy Awards (March 1989) but she suffered a deep leg cut and was unable to attend. She had been walking through the gardens of her hotel when she cut her leg on a sprinkler. The cut required stitches.
Day was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame in 1981 and received the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement in 1989. In 1994, Day's Greatest Hits album became another entry into the British charts. The song "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" was included in the soundtrack of the Australian film Strictly Ballroom, the theme song for the British TV show Coupling, with Mari Wilson performing the song for the title sequence.
Day has participated in interviews and celebrations of her birthday with an annual Doris Day music marathon. In July 2008, she appeared on the Southern California radio show of longtime friend, newscaster George Putnam.
Day turned down a tribute offer from the American Film Institute and from the Kennedy Center Honors because they require attendance in person. In 2004, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for her achievements in the entertainment industry and for her work on behalf of animals. President Bush stated:
In the years since, she has kept her fans and shown the breadth of her talent in television and the movies. She starred on screen with leading men from Jimmy Stewart to Ronald Reagan, from Rock Hudson to James Garner. It was a good day for America when Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio decided to become an entertainer. It was a good day for our fellow creatures when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare. Doris Day is one of the greats, and America will always love its sweetheart.
Columnist Liz Smith and film critic Rex Reed have mounted vigorous campaigns to gather support for an honorary Academy Award for Day to herald her film career and her status as the top female box-office star of all time. Day received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in Music in 2008, albeit again in absentia.
She received three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards, in 1998, 1999 and 2012 for her recordings of "Sentimental Journey", "Secret Love", and "Que Sera, Sera", respectively. Day was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007, and in 2010 received the first Legend Award ever presented by the Society of Singers.
Day, aged 89, released My Heart in the United Kingdom on September 5, 2011, her first new album in nearly two decades, since the release of The Love Album, which, although recorded in 1967, was not released until 1994. The album is a compilation of previously unreleased recordings produced by Day's son, Terry Melcher, before his death in 2004. Tracks include the 1970s Joe Cocker hit "You Are So Beautiful", The Beach Boys' "Disney Girls" and jazz standards such as "My Buddy", which Day originally sang in her 1951 film I'll See You in My Dreams.
After the disc was released in the US it soon climbed to No. 12 on Amazon's bestseller list, and helped raise funds for the Doris Day Animal League. Day became the oldest artist to score a UK Top 10 with an album featuring new material.
In January 2012, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association presented Day with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Since her retirement from films, Day has lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She has many pets and adopts stray animals. She granted an ABC telephone interview on her birthday in 2016, which was accompanied by photos of her life and career.
Day is a lifelong Republican, and supported George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000. Her only child, music producer and songwriter Terry Melcher, who had a hit in the 1960s with "Hey Little Cobra" under the name The Rip Chords, died of melanoma in 2004, about five months after Day had received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She owns a hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Cypress Inn, which Melcher had co-owned with Day.
In 1975, Day published her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, an "as-told-to" work with A. E. Hotchner. The book detailed her first three marriages:To Al Jorden, a trombonist whom she first met in Barney Rapp's Band, from March 1941 to 1943. Her only child, son Terrence Paul Jorden (later known as Terry Melcher), resulted from this marriage. Husband Jorden, who was reportedly physically abusive to Day, committed suicide in 1967 by gunshot.
To George Weidler (a saxophonist), from March 30, 1946 to May 31, 1949. Weidler, the brother of actress Virginia Weidler, and Day met again several years later. During a brief reconciliation, he helped introduce her to Christian Science.
To Martin Melcher, whom she married on April 3, 1951. This marriage lasted until Melcher's death in 1968. Melcher adopted Day's son Terry, who, with the name Terry Melcher, became a successful musician and record producer. Martin Melcher produced many of Day's movies. She and Melcher were both practicing Christian Scientists, resulting in her not seeing a doctor for some time after symptoms that suggested cancer. This distressing period ended when, finally consulting a physician, and thereby finding the lump was benign, she fully recovered.
After publishing her autobiography, Day remarried:Her fourth marriage, from April 14, 1976 until 1981, was to Barry Comden (March 30, 1935 – May 25, 2009), who was roughly a decade younger. Comden was the maître d'hôtel at one of Day's favorite restaurants. Knowing of her great love of dogs, Comden endeared himself to Day by giving her a bag of meat scraps and bones on her way out of the restaurant. When this marriage unraveled, Comden complained that Day cared more for her "animal friends" than she did for him.
Day's interest in animal welfare and related issues apparently dates to her teen years. While recovering from an automobile accident, she took her dog Tiny for a walk without a leash. Tiny ran into the street and was killed by a passing car. Day later confessed guilt and loneliness about Tiny's untimely death. In 1971, she co-founded Actors and Others for Animals, and appeared in a series of newspaper advertisements denouncing the wearing of fur, alongside Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickinson, and Jayne Meadows. Day's friend, Cleveland Amory, wrote about these events in Man Kind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife (1974).
In 1978, Day founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation, now the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF). A non-profit 501(c)(3) grant-giving public charity, DDAF funds other non-profit causes throughout the US that share DDAF's mission of helping animals and the people who love them. The DDAF continues to operate independently under Day's personal supervision.
To complement the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Day formed the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) in 1987, a national non-profit citizen's lobbying organization whose mission is to reduce pain and suffering and protect animals through legislative initiatives. Day actively lobbied the United States Congress in support of legislation designed to safeguard animal welfare on a number of occasions and in 1995 she originated the annual Spay Day USA. The DDAL merged into The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in 2006. The HSUS now manages World Spay Day, the annual one-day spay/neuter event that Day originated.
A facility to help abused and neglected horses opened in 2011 and bears her name—the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center, located in Murchison, Texas, on the grounds of an animal sanctuary started by her late friend, author Cleveland Amory. Day contributed $250,000 towards the founding of the center.