Whatever happened to Doris Day?
in 1968, after nine years as a band singer, 25 years in Hollywood making 39 films, a TV series and hundreds of recordings, Doris Day gave it all up and walked away, aged 49. Anyone who’s followed her career will not have been surprised by that. She was never addicted to the limelight – as much as she loved making films she also maintained that, ‘work was work, and when I wasn’t at work, I didn’t think about it’. No doubt there were a few special films that she did think about when she was ‘off duty’ but, generally speaking, that was her attitude. She didn’t run with the Hollywood crowd and was always more of a home bird who liked to relax with her family and a few close friends when she wasn’t working.
She learned to move easily through life, following her varied career from unknown band singer to top recording, film, and television star. Her son Terry Melcher said, ‘my mother is very good at moving on’ – and gave as one example, ‘as soon as she felt her voice had passed its peak, she stopped recording, saying it was time for others now’.
It must have been clear to her that her film career had also passed its peak. Now nearly 50, she was too old for the romantic comedies she’d been making and she didn’t want to play parts such as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate, which she was offered and turned down, considering it ‘vulgar’. She was probably also aware that it might not have been well received by some members of her huge fan base, many of whom thought that her image-breaking role in Love Me or Leave Me was a bit risqué at the time.
Doris Day has always had a close relationship with her fans and still devotes time to answering fan mail and keeping in touch with some she’s known for years. She feels a responsibility to them for what she has created – the professional ‘Doris Day’ who has inspired such love, devotion and loyalty. Or as Lloyd K Jessen put it, the Reel Doris Day compared to the Real Doris Day. Although, you could say that, at this stage, there isn’t much in it, and both parties are happily living together as one.
So Doris moved on from the bright lights to the coastal town of Carmel, California – a place she fell in love with while making the film Julie on location there in 1956. This time she did something personal, based on her long-held affection for animals, particularly dogs, and founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF), which has improved conditions for animals throughout the US and in 50 other countries – a job she has since spent almost as much time working on as on her entertainment career.
Now, unbelievably, in her nineties, she is still working with her charity and inspiring others to help, as evidenced above with a new fundraiser from Scott Dreier. Everybody Loves a Lover – an excellent reinterpretation from his upcoming album, The Doris Day Project, and a big hit for Doris in 1958. Doris says she is honoured and delighted – so make her even happier and click on the link. Read more about the project.
To that end, she has also had the ears of three former presidents, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, who rang to offer congratulations and to invite her to the White House when his administration awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. A combination of her well-known fear of flying and the decision she made to step out of the public spotlight caused her to reluctantly decline.
George W said at the White House presentations: “Doris Day could not be with us this morning, but this beautiful lady is a special presence in American life. I called her yesterday and told her she would be missed. I told her to watch (TV) just in case I said something nice about her. (Laughter) Even when Harry Truman lived in the White House, all of America knew the name of the girl who sang Sentimental Journey over the radio… It was a good day for America when Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff of Evanston, Ohio decided to become an entertainer. It was a good day for our fellow creatures when she gave her heart to the cause of animal welfare. Doris Day is one of the greats, and America will always love its sweetheart.”
Praise indeed and a great honour – however, it is as a film actress and singer that we mostly remember her. Her songs and films remind us of what we like to think were more innocent times. Not that all her films were perfect, as Doris herself was the first to admit. Molly Haskell, a fan and film critic, interviewed her and found that she didn’t want to discuss her films. “They were all awful!”, she said. (We gather that she has since revised that opinion!) But Doris was always good. In many of her films she didn’t really act, or didn’t seem to – perhaps she made it look too easy. And then she’d surprise us with films such as Love Me or Leave Me, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Pillow Talk, or Midnight Lace – all a long way from her early Warner Brothers output.
Today, she is still the subject of much world interest. Sky Arts has just shown an hour-long documentary about her in their Discovering Film series. She has an enormous online presence, with countless fan websites and blog references. Tribute shows are phenomenal and a gift to performers with her range of films and records (always on TV and radio and still selling). Books about her are frequent and produce miles of (often sensational) newsprint. She has outlived most of her co-stars and peers and along with a small number of others, including Debbie Reynolds and Kim Novak, is the last of the great film actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
This website seeks, where possible, to take an objective view of her work and its influence while recognising that to many she is just Doris Day, not needing explanation or analysis.
This is an unofficial fan website and a collaborative effort with other Doris Day fans. Many of the films mentioned have links to where you can find more information on them or buy the DVD(s), where a small percentage will come back to the website and help cover some of the costs.
Bryan James, webmaster – firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks: Judy Rigdon, Ralph McKnight, Paul E Brogan, Howard Green, Michael Hadley, Lloyd K Jessen, Lauren Benjamin, Derald Hendry, Puck Groeneweg, Barbara Norton, Gonzalo Gamboa III and David Kaufman
Thanks also to other members of The Doris Day Forum:
Ania, Cranhill, Dayniac, Dave, Diane, Dominique, Dorine, Doris Day Fan, Doris Martin, Alan Moore, Flower, heckyeahdorisday, Jake Iverson, Jas, Jbeane, Johnny, Ken, Megan, Mikeydv, Nada, Peter Flapper, Ray Lyons, Rennie, Renny, Scooter, Sinem, Toby Martin, Tybear, and many others – if I’ve forgotten anyone, apologies and please let me know.