The Crazy Life of Hollywood’s Sweetheart: Doris Day

Doris Day always had musical talent and dreams and aspirations of becoming a professional dancer. After her dance dreams were cut short, the determined teenager knew she still wanted to be a performer, and she turned her focus to singing and acting. Her talent and beauty quickly turned her into a shining star. Despite her success in Hollywood, Day’s personal life was less than glamorous.

Doris Day 1953
Doris Day 1953. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

The starlet was married four times, and none of them had a happy ending. In fact, they all ended up as relationship horror stories. Instead of focusing her energy on men, she gave her love to animals. She cared so much about all living creatures and actively helped them throughout her long life and impressive career.

This is the extraordinary life of Hollywood’s darling, Doris Day…

An Innocent Star is Born

As the sexual revolution took America by storm, Doris Day’s movies remained pure, conservative, and sweet. She usually played wholesome characters and was unwilling to get with the times. In the 1960s and 70s, she was even dubbed “The World’s Oldest Virgin.” But let’s start at the beginning…

Doris Day six months old / Doris Day age two
Doris Day at six months old (left) and two years old (right). Source: Shutterstock

On April 3rd, 1922, she was welcomed into the world as Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff to the children of German immigrants. However, for most of her life, Day thought she was born in 1924, and it took a whole team of journalists to find her real birth certificate confirming her 1922 birthday. In fact, she only found out her real birthday when she was 95 years old.

Dancer with Musical Genes

Day’s dad was a choirmaster and music teacher. Unfortunately, he also had a habit of cheating on his wife, so when Doris was very young, her parents decided to separate. Parents splitting up isn’t a rare occurrence, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy for any child to handle. Luckily for Doris, she was able to focus on her passion.

Doris Day
Doris Day. Photo by Kobal / Shutterstock

From a very early age, Day loved to dance. She was a performer, and it gave her a way to express herself. At 15 years old, Doris Day and Jerry Doherty (another talented dancer) danced a duet that worked the local Cincinnati circuit. It was clear that she was going to go places.

Break a Leg… Literally!

Sadly, Day’s dreams of a dance career were cut short. On October 13th, 1937, Day was involved in a car accident that severely injured her right leg; she was only 15 at the time. The teenager’s hopes of becoming a professional dancer may not have been possible, but that wasn’t going to bring her down.

Doris Day and Gene Nelson on the set of the film Tea for Two 1950.
Doris Day and Gene Nelson on the set of the film Tea for Two 1950. Photo by Glasshouse Images / Shutterstock

Even though she watched her dance dreams go up in flames, Day spent her recovery time singing along to the radio. She was particularly inspired by 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,” Day expressed.

Day After Day

When it comes to her career and personal style, Day credits her music teacher, Grace Raine, as her biggest influence. The feeling was mutual; Day made a huge impression on her teacher, and she was amazed by the “tremendous potential” of the young singer. She was so impressed that she gave Day thrice-weekly voice lessons, but only charged her for one.

Doris Day circa 1940
Doris Day circa 1940. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

You may be wondering where Doris Day got her stage name. It was actually from a Jazz musician named Barney Rapp, who told her she should change it. He explained how the name “Kappelhoff” was too long to fit on marquees. She chose the name because of the song “Day After Day.”

But I’m Under-Qualified

Doris Day’s first-ever hit was also the unofficial World War II anthem. She recorded “Sentimental Journey” in 1945 with Les Brown and his renowned band, which catapulted her into fame. Her voice has also been highly associated with the efforts to bring the troops home.

Jack Carson and Doris Day sitting together with two children in Romance on the High Seas
Jack Carson and Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas 1948. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

Doris Day’s movie debut was in the 1948 flick Romance on the High Seas. She was initially shocked when she found out that she got the part. After all, she had absolutely no acting experience and wasn’t expecting it. Michael Curtiz, the director of the film, explained that Day was an “honest” “All-American Girl,” which is exactly what he was looking for.

Her One Oscar Nomination

Doris Day earned her only nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards in 1960. In 1959, she had played the lead role in Pillow Talk, a movie about a bachelorette (played by Day) and a womanizer (played by Rock Hudson). The two share a telephone party line and ultimately fall in love—a classic romance movie.

Doris Day in Pillow Talk
Doris Day in Pillow Talk 1959. Photo by Universal / Kobal / Shutterstock

However, she didn’t win the Oscar. Of course, she was honored to be nominated, but she lost to Simone Signoret for her role in Room at the Top. Day was still dubbed as the unofficial queen of 1950s rom-com. She had a special part in the nostalgic period with movies like On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea for Two.

Broadening her Horizons

Animal Lover

However, in the 1953 film Calamity Jane, Day took on a less gender-conventional role as the titular cowgirl. It was a response to the musical Annie Get Your Gun. In addition to acting, Day had other passions, specifically when it came to animals. In 1978, Day founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation. It is still around but is now called the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

Doris Day on the train reading a newspaper with her feet up in Calamity Jane 1953
Doris Day in Calamity Jane 1953. Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

The non-profit organization operates under her motto “to help animals and the people who love them.” Former US President George W. Bush honored Day with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 because of her lifelong work in animal welfare.

Her Voice for Animal Rights

That wasn’t all she did when it came to her passion for animals. In 1995, the actress started Spay Day USA, which is pretty self-explanatory. It basically encouraged pet owners to spay or neuter their pets because shelters were overcrowded, reaching between 14 and 17 million dogs and cats each year. This way, there are fewer animals on the street or that need to be put down.

Doris Day with a dog on in 1955
Doris Day 1955. Photo by Snap / Shutterstock

George W. Bush revealed that he had a little crush on Day as a WWII pilot, but he wasn’t the only president who recognized Doris Day. The star actually captured the hearts of many United States Republican presidents. She acted in a few movies with Ronald Reagan and even dated the actor-turned-Head-of-State.

One More Time

Despite being nominated for just one Oscar, Day is behind two Best Original Song winners at the Academy Awards: “Secret Love” in the film Calamity Jane (1953) and the classic “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). I guess you don’t necessarily need to be the one nominated to feel honored.

Doris Day singing into the microphone
Doris Day circa 1939. Photo by Glasshouse Images / Shutterstock

“Que Sera, Sera” is arguably the most famous song by Doris Day. In the AFI’s list of the 100 most iconic tunes in America cinema, the song ranks at number 48. More important, from 1968-1973, it was the theme song for her sitcom, The Doris Day Show.

Good Girl, Gone Dramatic

In the 1950s, Day’s movie career was disrupted by more dramatic, darker roles. For example, in Storm Warning, she portrayed a KKK member’s abused wife. You can’t get much more dramatic than that. More famously, Day starred alongside Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Steve Cochran, Doris Day, and Ginger Rogers in Storm Warning
Steve Cochran, Doris Day, and Ginger Rogers in Storm Warning 1950. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

Initially, producers resisted casting Day in Hitchcock’s film. She was mostly known for her songs and roles in romantic comedies. The producers were looking for a more serious actress like Lana Turner, Kim Novak, or Grace Kelly. They even asked Hitchcock if he would consider using a brunette like Jane Russell or Ava Gardner. However, the director specifically asked for the beautiful blonde comedy star Doris Day to be his lead. He was impressed with her after seeing her performance in Storm Warning.

My Only Son

When it comes to politics, Doris Day was a right-wing voter for her entire adult life. However, that didn’t mean she was necessarily a lifelong Republican. Even though she was married several different times, the actress only had one child named Terry Melcher. He grew up to work in the industry as well.

Doris Day and Terry Melcher circa 1952
Doris Day and Terry Melcher circa 1952. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

Terry was a talented songwriter and music producer in his own right. Tragically, Day outlived her only child. In 2004, Melcher died of melanoma, a form of skin cancer that comes from the pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes. I can’t even imagine the heartbreak of losing a child, let alone your only child.

Furr-Real Problems

Day always had a connection to animals; her love for animal rights stems back to when she was a teenager. After her car accident, Day was devastated because she had to give up dancing. To make her feel better, her mom bought her a dog named Tiny. One day, she took Tiny out for a walk when the unleashed dog ran into the street and got hit by a car.

Doris Day with her dog at home
Doris Day at home. Photo by Snap / Shutterstock

After her dog died, Day was understandably filled with guilt. That’s when she chose to devote the rest of her life to animal welfare. Doris Day and other actresses, including Mary Tyler More, Jayne Meadows, and Angie Dickinson, starred in campaign ads that criticized wearing fur as a fashion statement.

A little Late, Buddy

Day got married for the first time when she was still a teenager. In March 1941, she tied the knot with a trombonist, Al Jorden. She met him back while she was on tour with Barney Rapp’s band. Even though he was the father of her only son Terry, the marriage didn’t last. The pair split up less than two years later.

Doris Day and George Weidler on March 30th, 1947.
George Weidler. Source: Tumblr

Husband number two, George William Weidler, was a saxophonist. This man introduced the starlet to Christian Science, but that was after they broke up and briefly got back together. The couple married in 1946, but by 1949 it was over. However, Doris Day still hoped to find her true love.

Third Time’s the Charm

On Day’s 29th birthday, she got married for the third time to film producer Martin Melcher. They were together from 1951 to 1968. This marriage seemed to be Doris’s happiest one; Melcher even adopted her son, Terry, who took his last name. The three of them became a cute little family.

Doris Day and Marty Melcher circa 1963
Doris Day and Marty Melcher circa 1963. Photo by MediaPunch / Shutterstock

Unfortunately, the romance was cut short. The marriage lasted for a happy 17 years until Melcher died of a heart attack in 1968, at the young age of 52. It took Day a while to get over the loss of her husband, but she wanted to find someone to share her life. After Melcher, she walked down the aisle one more time (we’ll get to that later).

Injuries and Illnesses

Day took a stroll through a hotel garden, and her leg got caught on a sprinkler. The wound was pretty deep, and she needed stitches. Day was forced to cancel her co-presentation of the Best Original Oscar with Patrick Swayze and Marvin Hamlisch because of the unfortunate injury.

Doris Day and Marty Melcher
Doris Day and Marty Melcher. Photo by MediaPunch / Shutterstock

For years, Day and Martin Melcher (her third husband) never saw a doctor. It was actually against their belief system as Christian Scientists. However, as soon as Day began showing signs of cancer, she was forced to change her faith and finally saw a doctor. Thankfully, Day’s lump was found early enough, and the starlet made a full recovery.

Getting the Girl

Years after Day’s third husband passed away, a doggy bag brought her and her fourth and final husband, Barry Comden, together. He was working as a maître d’hôtel in one of Day’s favorite restaurants. It was common knowledge that Day loved animals, especially dogs, so Comden decided to use this information for his advantage.

Doris Day
Doris Day. Photo by Globe Photos / Shutterstock

He charmed the beautiful actress by giving her a big bag of scraps and bones on her way out. It certainly seemed to have worked, and he caught Day’s attention. The pair started dating and tied the knot shortly after in April 1976. You know what they say,”it was love at first bite.”

It’s Me, or the Animals

Even though dog treats brought Day and Comden together, apparently animals drove the couple apart. They were divorced in 1982, just six years after walking down the aisle. After the spit, Comden reportedly said that Day’s love for animals was stronger than her love for her husband.

Doris Day with two dogs in the film Please Don’t Eat The Babies
Doris Day Please Don’t Eat The Babies. Photo by Moviestore Collection / Shutterstock

But she loved animals throughout all her relationships. Even back when she was filming Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, the actress was actively fighting to give the animals on set better living conditions. She also fed hungry creatures around the area. She was passionate about her cause, that’s for sure.

She was Almost Mrs. Robinson

Originally, Doris Day was asked to play the iconic role of “Mrs. Robinson” in The Graduate. However, Day wasn’t flattered by the offer; in fact, she took offense to it and rejected the part. When describing the script, Day referred to it as “vulgar and offensive.” As we know, the role ultimately went to Anne Bancroft, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.

Doris Day and Marty Melcher sitting in front of a view of the ocean circa 1956.
Doris Day and Marty Melcher circa 1956. Photo by Mgm / Kobal / Shutterstock

Despite not taking the movie role, Doris was still making a name for herself on the small screen. Her sitcom, The Doris Day Show, ran for five years on a weekly basis; however, the actress wasn’t involved at all at the early stage of its creation. Reportedly, it was her husband, Martin Melcher, who committed her to the show without her knowledge.

Think of the Animals

On May 13th, 2019, Doris Day passed away from pneumonia at 97 years old. It was evident that she committed her life to all types of critters and their foundations until the very end. Her death statement was even made by the Doris Day Animal Foundation. The charity announced that the humble starlet didn’t want a public funeral, memorial, or grave marker.

Doris Day at the 1989 Golden Globe Awards.
Doris Day at the 1989 Golden Globe Awards. Photo by MediaPunch / Shutterstock

Even though Day’s Hollywood heyday was in the 50s and 60s, she continued to do what she loved away from the spotlight. After her notable acting career, Day continued to live a long and fulfilled life dedicated to protecting animals. She will always be remembered for her talent as well as her kind heart.

Creepy Connection

Doris Day actually had indirect encounters with the famous sociopath Charles Manson. We mentioned how her son Terry was a music producer, and, if you didn’t know, Charles Manson was an aspiring musician. Melcher kind of brushed off Manson’s mediocre musical ambitions, but the two stayed in the same social circles and hung out every once in a while.

Terry Melcher
Terry Melcher circa 1971. Photo by Fotos International / Shutterstock

Allegedly, Day had great intuition and disapproved of her son’s friendship with the psycho. She insisted that Terry and his girlfriend, Candice Bergen, move from their home at Cielo Drive because Manson knew where they lived. Now that we know what the heartless manipulator was capable of, Day’s gut feeling was on point.

A Mother’s Intuition

Luckily, Day’s hunch about Manson turned out to be crucial for her son’s safety, but she couldn’t save everyone. While Terry and his girlfriend were living in the Cielo Drive home, Manson would come over and viewed it as opulent Hollywood living. I’m sure he came off as a creep, but I don’t think anyone knew how evil he truly was.

Terry Melcher and Doris Day
Terry Melcher and Doris Day 1973. Photo by MediaPunch / Shutterstock

As we know, August 8th, 1969, was a fateful night. Charles Manson ordered his followers to attack the residence. He likely knew that Melcher had moved at that point, but he was already familiar with the area. Tragically, five other people were viciously murdered in the home that night.

Tragic End

When Charles Manson’s “family” got to the home, they didn’t find Doris Day’s son; instead, they found Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate and a few of her friends. The devastating night ended in blood. Tate (with her unborn baby) and four of her guests were killed in one of the most notorious murders in America.

Wedding of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate 1968.
Wedding of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate 1968. Source: Shutterstock

Manson fact: Contrary to popular belief, Charles Manson never actually killed anyone. He manipulated others to do his dirty work for him. Still, he was convicted for seven counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He was a truly horrible person. The sociopath was sent to prison in 1971 and remained there until he died in 2017.

Bad News and More Bad News

Despite being married four times, Day’s true love seems to have been her third husband. If it wasn’t bad enough to find out her husband passed away in 1968, Day got even more bad news upon his death. She discovered that Jerome Bernard Rosenthal, her late hubby’s business partner, had spent all of their money. She was left with no husband and no money, but things only got worse from there.

Doris Day circa 1946
Doris Day circa 1946. Photo by Granger / Shutterstock

If being a widow isn’t devastating enough, Melcher signed his wife up for a show, The Doris Day Show, but she was unaware of this until after he died. If you think things were bad enough for the lonely actress, think again…

No Love, No Money

The actress expressed how bad it was: “It was awful, I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he’s signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry took me walking in Beverly Hills, and I explained that it was nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me.”

Doris Day on a bicycle
Doris Day. Photo by Globe Photos / Shutterstock

I can only imagine how lonely she felt. The Doris Day Show ended up being successful and ran for a long time. Even though Day wasn’t in the mood to be on TV at that time, she desperately needed the money after her savings were squandered.

Real Estate, Real Problems

The 1980s and 1990s were filled with complicated and embarrassing lawsuits for Day. Her late husband’s business partner, Rosenthal, named Day as a co-defendant in a lawsuit in 1987. She was accused of being an “unwilling, involuntary plaintiff whose consent [could not] be obtained,” referring to some real estate matters which added up to $30 million.

Doris Day
Doris Day. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

Despite everything, Day defended Melcher to her last breath regarding any implication that he deliberately drained her money. She believed that her husband had had good intentions but “simply trusted the wrong person” in handling their estate. According to Terry, the fact that his stepfather died early saved his mother from complete financial ruin.

And Stay Out!

When Day got married for the first time, she was extremely young and vulnerable. Al Jorden was horrifically abusive. A day or two after the wedding, Jorden saw his wife accepting a wedding gift from his colleague, and he hit her in a jealous rage. The physical abuse didn’t stop there.

Terry Melcher being tucked into bed by Doris Day
Terry Melcher and Doris Day 1952. Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal / Shutterstock

It continued into her pregnancy and finally ended in 1943 when Day kicked him out. When the actress looked back at that relationship, she recalled, “What had represented to me as love emerged as jealousy – a pathologic jealously that was destined to make a nightmare out of the next few years of my life.” Good thing she left when she did. In 1967, Jorden took his own life. Day was understandably more relieved than saddened by the news.

Pillow Talk Forever

Doris Day had a close, lifelong friendship with Rock Hudson, her Pillow Talk costar. The pair even starred in other films together, including Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. In 1984, Hudson was one of the first major actors to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS – which subsequently opened the door on his closeted sexuality. Day stuck by his side, giving emotional and public support.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson lying on a couch holding hands
Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk. Photo by Snap / Shutterstock

Day was hosting a show called Doris Day’s Best Friends during the time of Hudson’s illness. The actor joined Day as her very first guest. He was keeping his diagnosis a secret from the public and from his friends. When he arrived on set, Day and the crew were stunned by his scrawny and sickly appearance. Still, Hudson was there to support Day.

Looking Down from Heaven

It was a tough day for everyone on the Best Friends set. Doris revealed that Hudson would always tell her, “The best time I’ve ever had was making comedies with you,” and she felt the exact same way. She described their last goodbye as tearful and emotional:

Marty Melcher, Doris Day, and Rock Hudson
Marty Melcher, Doris Day, and Rock Hudson. Photo by Kobal / Shutterstock

“We kissed goodbye, and he gave me a big hug, and he held on to me. I was in tears. That was the last time I saw him – but he’s in heaven now.” In October 1985, after Husdon passed away from AIDS-related complications, the recording of the show aired. It gained universal attention and helped shed light on an illness that was rarely spoken about.

TV Daddy

As we mentioned, Doris Day had little to zero interest in working on a television series. But after her husband signed her up without her knowledge, she did the show. Plus, she needed the money. Even though no one asked her or seemed to care what she wanted, the show was a success.

Denver Pyle in 1994
Denver Pyle 1994. Photo by Alex Berliner / BEI / Shutterstock

But here is something interesting you probably never knew about The Doris Day Show: Pyle, who played her father on TV, was born in 1920, not long before Day, who was born in 1922. They are only a couple of years apart and could have played siblings. Oh, Hollywood! You might recognize the actor from his most notable role as Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard.