Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff was born in Cincinnati to Alma Sophia (née Welz, a housewife) and William Kappelhoff (a music teacher and choir master) on April 3, 1922. All of her grandparents were German immigrants. In Doris Day: Her Own Story, the actress, who claims to have been born in 1924, asserted that she "was named by my mother in honor of her favorite actress, Doris Kenyon, a silent screen star of that year 1924." However, the 1940 US census (enumerated on April 10, 1940), correctly gave her age as 18.
The youngest of three siblings, she had two older brothers: Richard (who died before her birth) and Paul, several 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, damaged her legs and curtailed her prospects as a professional dancer.
While recovering, Day started to sing along with the radio and discovered a talent that she didn't 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 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 Doris had "tremendous potential", which led Alma to give her daughter 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 of singing lessons, Day had her first professional jobs as a vocalist in the WLW radio program, Carlin's Carnival and in a local restaurant, the Charlie Yee's Shanghai Inn. It was during her performances in the carnival that Day first caught the attention of Barney Rapp, who sought 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.
It was while working for Rapp in 1939 that she adopted the stage name "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." This was the origin of her stage name.
After working with Rapp, Day worked with a number of other band-leaders including Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown. It was while working with Brown that 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 re-recorded it on several occasions, including a version in her 1971 television special. Her recording of "Sentimental Journey" was the first song placed in the Grammy Hall of Fame. At one point in 1945–46, Doris (as vocalist with the Les Brown Band) had five Top Ten Hits on the Billboard Hall of Fame. These included: "My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time", "Till The End of Time", "Come To Baby Do", and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'".
While singing with the Les Brown band and briefly with Bob Hope, 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. Already in 1941 Day appeared as a singer with the Les Brown band in a soundie (a Cinemasters production). After her separation from her second husband, George Weidler, in 1948, Day reportedly intended to leave Los Angeles and return to her mother's home inCincinnati. Her agent Al Levy convinced her to attend a party at the home of composer Jule Styne. Her performance of the song "Embraceable You" impressed Styne and his partner, Sammy Cahn, and they recommended her for a role in Romance on the High Seas, which they were working on for Warner Brothers. The withdrawal of Betty Hutton due to pregnancy left the main role to be re-cast, and Day got the part. The film provided her with another hit recording "It's Magic".
In 1950, U.S. servicemen in Korea voted her their favorite star. She continued to make minor and frequently nostalgic period musicals such as Starlift, The West Point Story, On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea For Two for Warner Brothers. 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 U.S. No. 1 recording). After filming Lucky Me with Phil Silversand Young at Heart (both 1954) with Frank Sinatra, Day chose not to renew her contract with Warner Brothers. She elected to work under the advice and management of her third husband, Marty Melcher, whom she married in Burbank on April 3, 1951.
Day subsequently took on more dramatic roles, including her 1955 portrayal of singer Ruth Etting in the biographical film of Etting's life, Love Me or Leave Me, in which she co-starred with James Cagney. Day would later call it, in her autobiography, her best film. The film garnered critical and commercial success, becoming Day's biggest hit so far. She starred inAlfred Hitchcock's suspense film, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) with James Stewart. She sang only 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". During the filming, Day became concerned about Hitchcock's lack of direction. She is cited to have worried if she was pleasing him and confronted him on her performance. He told her, "If you weren't doing what I liked, you'd know". The film eventually became a moderate success. Day played the title role in the thriller/noir Julie (1956) with Louis Jordan. The film received poor press acclaim and was unpopular with audiences.
After the disappointment of a dramatic film career, 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 Mamie Van Doren. Day co-starred with Richard Widmark and Gig Young in the romantic comedy film, The Tunnel of Love in 1958. She found success opposite Jack Lemmon in It Happened to Jane, a comedy film released in 1959.
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). These two films are lesser known of their film pairings and weren't as successful critically or commercially. In 1962, Day appeared with Cary Grant in That Touch of Mink. During 1960 and the 1962 to 1964 period, Day ranked #1 at the box office.
Day teamed up with James Garner, starting with 1963's The Thrill of It All, followed by Move Over, Darling, later the same year. Move Over, Darling was originally titled Something's Got to Give, a 1962 comeback vehicle for Marilyn Monroe and featuring Dean Martin. Filming was suspended following Monroe's dismissal and her subsequent death. A year later, filming was resumed and Day was recast as the lead character. The film's theme song, "Move Over, Darling", was co-written by her son specifically for her. In between these comedic roles, Day co-starred with Rex Harrison in the movie thriller Midnight Lace, 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 1965 film, Do Not Disturb, was a box office failure and was unpopular with critics as well. 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 that she had rejected the part on moral grounds.
She starred in the western film The Ballad of Josie (1967). That same year, Day recorded The Love Album, though 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.
Bankruptcy and television career
When third husband Marty 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, songwriter George W. Weidler. In February 1969, Day filed suit against Rosenthal and won the then-largest civil judgment (over $20 million) in the state of California.
Day also learned 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 doing television, but felt obliged to it. "There was a contract. I didn't know about it. I never wanted to do TV, but I gave it 100 percent anyway. That's the only way I know how to do 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 Carol Burnett Show, remembered today for its abrupt season-to-season changes in casting and premise. It was not widely syndicated as many of its contemporaries, and re-broadcast very little outside the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. By the end of its run in 1973, public tastes had changed and her firmly established persona 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 1985, Day briefly hosted her own talk show, Doris Day's Best Friends on CBN. The network canceled the show after 26 episodes, despite the worldwide publicity it received.
On September 18, 1974, courts awarded Day $22,835,646 for fraud and malpractice in an hour-long oral decision by Superior Judge Lester E. Olson, ending a 99-day trial that involved 18 consolidated lawsuits and countersuits filed by Day and Rosenthal that involved Rosenthal's handling of her finances after she terminated him in July 1968. The civil trial included 14,451 pages of transcript from 67 witnesses. Represented by attorney Robert Winslow and the law firm of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp LLP, courts awarded Day $1 million punitive damages, $5.6 million plus $2 million interest for losses incurred in a sham oil venture; $3.4 million plus $1.2 million interest over a hotel venture; $2.2 million plus $793,800 interest for duplicate or unnecessary fees paid to Rosenthal; more than $2 million to recoup loans to Rosenthal; $3.9 million plus $1 million interest for fraud, and $850,000 attorney fees for Day. Olson also enjoined Rosenthal from prosecuting any more lawsuits against Day or her business operations. (Rosenthal had filed more than 20 suits from 1969 to 1974). Olson, an expert in complex financial marital settlements, read every page of 3,275 individual exhibits and 68 boxes of miscellaneous financial records. In October 1979, Rosenthal's liability insurer settled with Day for about $6 million payable in 23 annual installments. Rosenthal continued to file an appeal in the 2nd District Court of Appeal. He also filed another half-dozen suits related to the case. Two were libel suits, one against Day and her publishers over comments she made about Rosenthal in her book in which he sought damages. The other suits sought court determinations that insurance companies and individual lawyers failed to defend Rosenthal properly before Olson and in appellate stages. In April 1979, he filed a suit to set aside the $6 million settlement with Day and recover damages from everybody involved in agreeing to the payment supposedly without his permission.
1980s and 1990s
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 also 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, Dallas and Atlanta 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 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 it was only Martin Melcher's premature death that saved Day from financial ruin. It remains unresolved whether Martin Melcher was himself 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.
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 filmStrictly Ballroom, and became a theme song for the British TV show Coupling, with Mari Wilson performing the song for the title sequence.
Day was scheduled to attend the 66th Academy Awards in 1994; however, she tripped on a sprinkler, injuring herself, and had to withdraw from appearing.
In 2006, Day recorded a commentary for the DVD release of the fifth (and final) season of her television show. Day has participated in telephone interviews with a radio station that celebrates 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 (newsman), reported in the Los Angeles Times. While Day turned down a tribute offer from the American Film Institute, she received and accepted the Golden Globe's Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in 1989. In 2004, Day was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for her work on behalf of animals. President Bush stated, "It was a good day for our fellow creatures when she gave her good heart to the cause of animal welfare." Day declined to attend the ceremony because of her fear of flying. She did not accept an invitation to be a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors for the same reason.
Both 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.
Day 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, prior to 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. Day dedicates this song to her son. The disc was released in the US via City Hall Records on December 6, and within two weeks had climbed to #12 on Amazon's best-seller list in spite of being priced over 25% higher than most CDs in order to raise funds for the Doris Day Animal League. It debuted at 135 on the Billboard 200, Day's first entry on that chart since 1963's Love Him.
Day became the oldest artist to score a UK Top 10 with an album featuring new material, according to the Official Charts Company, entering at Number 9. (British singer Vera Lynn reached the top of the chart in August 2009 at age 92, but with the greatest hits album, We'll Meet Again – The Very Best of Vera Lynn.)
In October 2011, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced that Day would be the recipient of the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.
Since her retirement from films, Day has lived in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. She lives with her many pets and also adopts stray animals.
In 1975, Day released 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 when he was in Barney Rapp's Band, from March 1941 to 1943. Her only child, son Terrence "Terry" P. Jorden, resulted from this marriage. Husband Jorden, who was reportedly physically abusive to Day, committed suicide in 1967 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
- 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, finding the lump was benign, she fully recovered. After publishing her autobiography, Day married one last time.
- Her fourth and latest marriage was to Barry Comden (born March 30, 1935 – died May 25, 2009), who was roughly a decade younger, from April 14, 1976 until 1981. Comden was the maitre d’ 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.