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Sunny Star of Movies, Music and TV

By David Wolfe

With her bubbly personality, a lilting voice and blonde beauty, Doris Day became America’s singing sweetheart of the silver screen during the 1950’s and 1960’s. She was truly a triple threat. She could sing, dance and act, both in dramas and comedies. But it was her wholesome, happy persona that endeared her to audiences. Doris Day’s phenomenally successful career had three clear-cut chapters. She was a tremendously popular big band vocalist and recording artist. That segued into movies where she was typecast as the girl next door. Then her greatest success followed with a series of chic, sophisticated comedies and dramas.

Mary Ann von Kappelhoff was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1924. She set her sights on show business early and intended to become a dancer. Injuries in an automobile accident ended that dream and she switched tactics, determined to become a singer. It wasn’t long before she was touring with Les Brown and his Band of Renown where she became known as Doris Day. Her vocal style, sweetly caressing each note, was perfect to turn “Sentimental Journey” into her first hit record, selling an incredible five million disks. Throughout the rest of her long career, she chalked up an astonishing number of hit singles and albums. “Secret Love,” from her 1953 smash hit, “Calamity Jane,” won the Academy Award. “Que Sera, Sera,” the tune Doris warbled in the Alfred Hitchcock 1955 film, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” was a huge hit and was reprised years later as the theme song for her TV series which ran from 1968 to 1973.

Doris Day became a movie star overnight in 1948 when Betty Hutton became unable to film “Romance on the High Seas” and a radio singer with no movie experience replaced her. Her fresh-faced beauty, likeable personality and her inimitable way with a tune (“It’s Magic”) gave Hollywood the perfect star for the 1950s, a decade in recovery from World War II and best described as conservative. Most of Doris Day’s early hit movies cast her as a pretty, peppy, perky girl apt to burst into song at a moment’s notice.

“By The Light of the Silvery Moon,” “On Moonlight Bay,” “Tea for Two,” “April in Paris,” “Young at Heart,” “Lucky Me” and “Lullaby of Broadway” were lighthearted romps and the public loved them. Not every movie was fluff. She starred as an heroic air stewardess in the thriller, “Julie” and in 1955, she triumphed dramatically portraying singer Ruth Etting and co-starring with James Cagney in “Love Me or Leave Me.” Hit soundtrack albums added to her popularity and the studio publicity machine pumped out fan magazine stories to underscore her happy, healthy image. Of course, she was the perfect personality to be presented as a paper doll and Doris Day was the subject of several books, including this 19?? reprint.

Doris Day book

Even though she never appeared on Broadway, Doris Day’s portrayal of Babe in the movie version of “The Pajama Game” is a classic performance. But by the end of the ‘50s, public taste was changing and Doris Day was reinvented to appeal to a more sophisticated audience. “Pillow Talk” with Rock Hudson in 1959 showcased Doris Day with a new look, super chic in glamorous fashions designed by Jean-Louis. She was nominated for the Oscar for her delightfully comic performance. “Lover Come Back” was the sequel and then she co-starred with Hollywood’s sexiest leading men including Cary Grant, James Garner and Rex Harrison in a series of frothy comedies and a few dramas during the 1960s. “The Thrill of It All,” “That Touch of Mink,” “Send Me No Flowers” and “Midnight Lace” cemented her popularity and a place in Hollywood history. For many years Doris Day was often ranked as the number one female box office star in the world.

Doris Day’s personal life did not echo the happy endings in her movies. She was married five times and her third husband, Martin Melcher also managed her career. His sudden death in 1968 revealed gross mismanagement and Doris Day won a twenty million dollar lawsuit against Melcher’s business partner but found he had committed her to a TV series. “The Doris Day Show” ran for five years and when it finished, she opted to virtually end her career and devote herself to helping animals. She owns and operates an animal-welcoming hotel in Carmel, California. She successfully campaigned and lobbied for the spay/neuter cause and occasionally appeared on TV to promote public interest. In 2004 Doris Day was presented with the Presidential Medal of Honor.

Doris Day is remembered not only as a major talent in movies and music, but as an effervescent personality who delighted audiences the world over.

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