march 2012


Doris Day: 88 and Going Strong

Several sources indicate Doris Day was born in 1922, while others have contended 1924; however, in the census of April 1930, she is listed as age 7. Reportedly, a census taker visited her home was April 10, 1930, which would suggest Day was born in 1923. However, in a recent interview with NPR's Terry Gross from April 2, 2012, Ms. Day herself recounted the reason as to why her birthday has become the subject of such confusion, but stated unequivocally that she would be celebrating her 88th birthday on April 3, 2012, thus placing her actual date of birth at April 3, 1924. And since it unlikely that anyone could have a better idea of Ms. Day's birth date than the woman born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff, we’ll accept it as fact.

So a happy 88th to our dear Doris, who made some very great records, and many a wonderful movie, up to and including her final screen appearance starring in 1968’s With Six You Get Egg Roll. Talk about America’s Sweetheart—Doris Day was the real deal. In this Video File tribute, we are considering her singing career primarily, but in many instances her recordings and films are intertwined.

Doris Day’s million selling #1 single ‘Sentimental Journey,’ recorded when she was the lead singer with Les Brown’s band, 1945.

It was in 1946, after a successful run as a band singer, that Doris signed a solo record contract with music giant Columbia Records. This would herald the start of a productive partnership which would see her capitalize on the popularity she had earned through her work with Les Brown's band. Already having scored a huge million-seller in “Sentimental Journey” (1945), her singing career continued to flourish over an intense three decades. This meant hundreds more beautiful Day recordings with a variety of hit singles like “It's Magic” (1948), “Secret Love” (1954), “Que Sera Sera” (1956) and “Move Over Darling” (1964), as well as countless studio albums which received critical and commercial acclaim.

Doris Day's name may not immediately spring to mind when considering the great pop singers of the 20th Century, especially of the WWII and post-war years, but she ranks with the finest of her time. Her movie career so overshadowed her recording career--and alone among the female artists of her day, she did have full-time recording and acting careers--that a few generations have come of age thinking of her mostly as the wholesome lass of silver screen fame. She appeared, after all, in 39 films, and as of 2009 was the top-ranked female box office star of all time and in the top 10 of all box office stars, irrespective of gender. Early on, she was aiming for a career as a dancer, a dream derailed when her legs were severely injured in a car accident in 1937, after which she started taking singing lessons, and at age 17 began performing professionally around her home town of Cincinnati. In 1945, while working with bandleader Les Brown, she had her first hit record, a big one it was, too, in "Sentimental Journey," now one of the beloved songs in the Great American Songbook.

From Doris Day’s movie debut, Romance On the High Seas, her hit ‘It’s Magic,’ by Jule Styne and Sammy Cash.

In 1948, though, fed up with the business and having separated from her second husband, Day was ready to go back home to Cincinnati when her agent persuaded her to join him at a party at the home of composer Jule Styne. We now have Styne and his collaborator Sammy Cahn to thank for one of the truly remarkable recording careers in pop history. When she sang "Embraceable You" at the party, Styne and Cahn recommended her for a role in the film they were working on, Romance On the High Seas, which produced another hit for her in "It's Magic." The movie roles came regularly and with them great songs--by 1953 she had notched her fourth chart topping hit in the wonderful "Secret Love," from Calamity Jane, a role she later said was most like her in real life. In 1956, Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she starred with James Stewart, gave her yet another signature song (aside from "Sentimental Journey") in "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)," which Day reportedly despised but which became her theme song, and showed up in two other of her movies, 1960's Please Don't Eat the Daisies and as a duet with Arthur Godfrey in 1966's The Glass Bottom Boat. Even the dawn of the rock 'n' roll era could not prevent "Que Sera Sera" from becoming a cultural phenomenon and a catch phrase still heard today. Her last top 10 hit came in 1958, with "Everybody Loves a Lover," but she continued recording into 1967, with her final LP being The Love Album, which did not see a commercial release until 1994. During her Columbia years she cut 16 superb concept albums. Among these, Duet, recorded in 1962 with the Andre Previn Trio, embodied the best qualities of the Doris Day vocal style. The album features minimal jazz accompaniment, which highlights her up-close-and-personal approach to the lyrics and melodic vocal strength. I Have Dreamed (1961) was dedicated to softly reflective numbers, and naturally displayed an intimate appeal, shot through with sensitivity. Cuttin' Capers (1959) proved to be a knockout, up-and-at-'em swinger that hit its mark with a mix of brilliantly orchestrated standards and newer numbers.

From Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Doris performs ‘Que Sera, Sera (What Will Be Will Be)’

She returned to the recording studio last year, the result being the December 2011 release of My Heart, comprised mostly of recordings written and produced by her late son Terry Melcher and the Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston. Many of the songs on this collection were recorded in the mid-‘80s for Ms. Day's Best Friends television show. The songs were meant to be used as background music for segments featuring Doris and the animals she devotes her life to now with the Doris Day Animal League, a non-profit organization “working to reduce the pain and suffering of non-human animals through legislative intiatives.” In England the album soared to the top ten on the best-seller charts, making the legendary singer the oldest living artist to ever reach that distinction.

The title track from Doris’s 2011 album, My Heart, written and produced by her late son, Terry Melcher.

In all, she recorded more than 650 songs; all are not gems, of course, but her voice had warmth, charm and an unassuming seductiveness, subtle but effective (and affecting). She didn't do melancholy so much; hers was a style marked by life affirming sunniness and, as the occasion demanded, starry-eyed romanticism--hope abided in the subtext of her readings. Whatever the mood, she took the listener into her confidence, sharing her vulnerabilities, her yearnings or, indeed, her buoyant spirits in a way that felt intimate and earned--and was unforgettable. In all, Ms. Day, who recorded for Columbia uninterrupted from 1947 to 1967, released 29 albums and found her recordings occupying the Top 40 charts for 460 weeks. She is, pure and simple, one of the giants of 20th Century popular music.

dorisReleased in conjunction with the Turner Classic Movie network, which celebrated Ms. Day's 88th birthday by airing a solid week of her movies, the double-CD With a Smile and A Song (which takes its name from her 1964 children's concept album she recorded with the Jimmy Joyce Children's Chorus) presents 30 choice musical performances culled from the twin poles of her career--films and recordings, curated by Ms. Day herself. Obviously these recordings represent only a tiny percentage of her catalogue, but they do represent some of the finest and best known work of her distinguished career.


Doris Day, ‘Secret Love,’ one of her classic love songs, from the Calamity Jane soundtrack, a million-plus seller in 1953. Written by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster.

On April 2, 2012, National Public Radio’s Terry Gross, host of “Fresh Air,” was granted a rare interview with Doris Day. Even in print, Ms. Day sounds as vivacious as ever, and we know from her 2011 album My Heart that she can still sing a sweet song with authority and touch her listeners’ feelings. Here are a few tidbits from that interview.

Terry Gross: I guess everyone who loves Doris Day has their own reasons, and when I say everyone, I mean lots of people. Doris Day is the biggest female box office star in Hollywood history. She started singing in big bands when she was a teenager, made her first film when she was 24, and after making about 40 movies, walked away from that part of her life in 1968. After that, her mission was rescuing and caring for animals. Doris Day ended her public life many years ago. We phoned her at her home in California.

So, you know, I'm wondering, when you gave up acting and performing--your last movie was in '68, your last TV I think was in '73--and you've been avoiding the public eye and keeping photographers away, but do you still enjoy singing even if it was just around the house?

DAY: Oh, I love singing. But I had bronchitis which I, you know, that I never had before my life and only when I moved here, and it was very, very, very rough on me. And I think that my voice is--it seems that it's different to me and it makes me feel terrible because I love to sing so much. And sometimes I sing around the house. Sometimes I start singing and it sounds, it sounds like me and I feel, you know, so good about that, and sometimes it doesn't because the air up here is so different than when I was in Los Angeles. It's totally different. (Doris Day now lives in Carmel Valley, California.)

Set to a potpourri of scenes of the silver screen’s classic romantic couple—Doris Day and Rock Hudson—Doris sings Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘I Have Dreamed,’ from her like-titled 1961 album. Beautifully accompanied by Jim Harbert’s Orchestra.

So a lot of people may already know the story, but when you were a teenager and Paramount offered to bring you from your home in Cincinnati to Hollywood, you had a going away party and on the way home the car you were in was hit by a train and one of your legs were shattered and that ruined what your dream was at the time, which was to be a dancer. And it's only after that that you discovered you could sing. And when I hear that story I think how could Doris Day possibly have known that she couldn't sing until she was a teenager and laid up after this accident?

When that accident happened I was a dancer with a boy partner and I was very young but we used to sing together and then we would dance. So I was used to singing. But then that accident happened it was a bad thing for my leg. It was hurt badly and my right foot, so much so that I couldn't walk and I had to lie down. And I was just lying down all the time and then a couple of years went by because the--I hate to go into all of this. It must be boring.


The bones in my right leg from the knee down were not healing, and so that went on for a few years and I did nothing but just lie there because they had to wait until the bone in the bones would come together.

‘You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me,’ written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, released in 1950 as a single and on the soundtrack album for the film Lullaby of Broadway, directed by David Butler.

Did that give you a sense of patience or anxiety? I mean, because you must have been really nervous about healing. At the same time only patience can see you through something like that.

Well, my mother didn't go into the details about the bones not knitting. She just said, you know, we have to take our time with this and you understand that. And I said sure. Whatever has to be, will be. And that sounds like "Que Sera."

It sure does. I was going to point that out.

No. But I didn't mind. I wasn't upset and I wasn't anxious to get out of bed. I knew that I had to lie there and be quiet. And suddenly, it pulled together and I was able to stand, and then before too long I was singing with the band in Cincinnati at the age of 16. But then the man who brought his band into the place was well known in Cincinnati and loved by everybody and my mother told him about 16, and she said that she's not supposed to be singing anywhere and getting paid at 16. And he said we'll put a pretty gown on her, we're going to fix her hair really beautiful and she's going to sing the way I like her to sing and then we go on from there, and she's 18.

From Young Man With a Horn (1950), a thinly veiled biopic of jazz great Bix Beiderbecke, with Kirk Douglas in the Bix role, Doris sings Ray Noble’s standard ‘The Very Thought of You,’ backed by Harry James and his orchestra. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

Ah-ha, so you had to lie a little bit.

So he did, he did it. I kept that two years older for years. It was really funny. I was always two years older than I really was. And so then, you know, as the years go on and my mother said to me, you know what? She said it just occurred to me you've been whatever the number was that she'd talked about, she's maybe like 30. She said you know what? You're not really 30. You're 28. And I looked at her and I said, oh, my gosh. I forgot all about that.

Another gem from Young Man With a Horn: Doris’s treatment of ‘Too Marvelous for Words,’ written by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting.

So you became famous for your romantic comedies in the '50s and '60s. But there was this image of you that became formed that the characters you played were kind of, you know, like bland and a little stereotyped or something. But really, when you look at the roles you played like you're a working woman, you're an independent, single working woman in some of those like really classic films. You know, like in Pillow Talk in 1959 with Rock Hudson, you're an independent interior decorator. In Lover Come Back to Me 1961 with Rock Hudson, you worked in the advertising industry. In Touch of Mink with Carey Grant, 1962, you're a career woman. So, you know, you're actually playing these independent working women.

That's what I was. For real.

For real. Right. For real, you must've been pretty tough, actually.

Oh, I don't know.


I don't know about being tough, but what we were doing was something that I was just loving. You know, I just loved my work and whatever they wanted me to do I wanted to do.

From the 1955 Charles Vidor-directed Love Me or Leave Me (a biopic about the 1920s and ‘30s singing star Ruth Etting), Doris sings and dances her way through Irving Berlin’s ‘Shaking the Blues Away’ as her co-star, James Cagney (who personally requested Ms. Day be in the movie), looks on.

Did you get the sense that there was this, like, image of who Doris Day was that was sometimes not really who either your characters were or who you were?

Hmm. No. No, I didn't. I just did what it--wanted me to do. I didn't compare. In other words, and say, oh, God, I'm not like that. Whatever, when I read the script, the words told me what I was and I never had a problem with that. I played me doing that.

Also from Love Me or Leave Me, Doris sings ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You,’ written by Sammy Cahn and Nicholas Brodzky, and an Academy Award winner for Best Song (1955).

Is that the way you saw it--playing yourself but as somebody else?

Playing myself no matter what it was.

Playing yourself, as if you were in that position of your character.

That's right. It had to be done like that. I had to say things like that. It was fine.

Also from Love Me or Leave Me, ‘You Made Me Love You,’ written in 1913 by James V. Monaco and Joseph McCarthy and originally recorded that same year by Al Jolson.

What was the biggest stretch for you, the character most unlike you?

Oh, they were all different. I didn't feel different in any of them, even though they were different. I loved, you know, being married and I loved not being married, but working on it. And doing what I was supposed to do and be. That's the way I worked.

‘I have no bedroom problems. There’s nothing in my bedroom that bothers me’: Rock and Doris together for the first of their three films, Pillow Talk (1959) with Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter. Directed by Michael Gordon, the movie won the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Doris Day), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Thelma Ritter), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Richard H. Riedel, Russell A. Gausman, Ruby R. Levitt) and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

So you left the movies after 1968. Your last film was With Six You Get Egg Roll, and it was the same year that your husband of the time died. Why did you leave movies then?

I don't know. I thought that I had done all the different things and I loved doing them and then I had a feeling of just quieting down and I came out to Carmel and it was so nice. You know, and I have so many doggies, and I thought this would really be nice to get out of Los Angeles because it was changing down there, quickly, and it wasn't good. And so I came up and we redid a home, and I just moved in and that was it.

And to be in films, when I think about that, then I thought I should've stayed because I loved that so much, but there were all kinds of new people coming up and I thought I've done mine. I've had a great time. So now it's their turn. And that's the way I felt.

Excerpts from Terry Gross's interview with Doris Day, April 2, 2012, for Fresh Air. The complete interview transcripts is at


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