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Doris Day, 'Pillow Talk' Star, Was America's '50s Sweetheart

Icons | May 13, 2019

Portrait of Doris Day from the '60s; with Rock Hudson on the movie poster for 'Pillow Talk' (1959). Sources: Bettmann/Getty; IMDB

Doris Day, the Calamity Jane, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Pillow Talk star, has died at the age of 97 after a bout with pneumonia, and Hollywood mourns the loss of an icon. A talented actress, singer and dancer, Doris Day was idolized for her girl-next-door good looks and a playful innocence that starkly contrasted the appeal of more overt sex symbols of her day, like Marilyn Monroe. Let’s look back at the life and legacy of the beautiful and talented singer and actress Doris Day. 

The Early Years

Doris Day in 1957. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Doris Day was her stage name. Her real name was Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff and she was born on April 3, 1922 in Ohio. Her mother, Alma, was a housewife and her father, William Joseph Kappelhoff, was a music teacher and choir director. She learned much about music from her father, but Doris had her heart set on being a dancer. She and a boy from her school, Jerry Doherty, formed a dance duo and won some talent contests, one of them netting them $500. Doris was just 14 years old when she made plans to move to Hollywood with Doherty to seek their fortune as show business dancers. But it was not meant to be. The night before the couple was supposed to leave Cincinnati for the bright lights of Hollywood, Doris’s car was struck by a train and she was severely injured. Her dancing career ended before it even began. 

Plan B…Singing

Source: (npr.org)

Doris Day had some experience as a singer, thanks to her father. When she was 17 and fully recovered from her train accident, she took singing lessons and began touring as a singer with the Les Brown Band. While touring with the band, she met and married her first husband, Al Jorden. She was just 17 at the time of their wedding. The couple had a son together, named Terry, but divorced after just a few years of marriage. Doris claimed that Jorden was prone to violence and even beat her when she was eight months pregnant with Terry. 

Doris Day, Singer

Source: (allmusic.com)

Throughout her career, Doris Day remained a talented singer. She recorded such popular hits as “Que Sera, Sera,” “Sentimental Journey,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Tea For Two,” “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and “Lullaby of Broadway.” She was noted for her smooth, golden voice and her ability to tell a story through song. 

An Acting Career

Doris Day in "Romance on the High Seas." Source: (flickr.com)

In 1946, while working as a singer, Doris Day’s agent suggested that she take a screen test for the executives at Warner Bros. Doris was bright, bubbly, and fresh. The studio executives thought that she showed tremendous potential, so they signed her to an acting contract. Her early films included Romance on the High Seas in 1948, My Dream is Yours and It’s a Great Feeling, both in 1949. Fans adored her for her playful innocence and relatability on screen. Doris Day was just getting started. In 1950, she starred in three Warner Bros. movies and, in 1951, she made five more. 

The Love Of Her Life

Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart on the poster for 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1956). Source: IMDB

In 1951, Doris Day met Martin Melcher, who turned out to be the love of her life. The couple married later that year and Melcher officially adopted Doris’s young son, Terry. The 1950s was a successful decade for Doris Day. She starred in some of her biggest hits during this time, including the musical Calamity Jane (1953), the Hitchcock-directed thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and the romantic comedy Pillow Talk (1959) with Rock Hudson. The on-screen chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson led many to speculate about a possible romance. Much later, Doris claimed that she had no idea that Hudson was, in fact, gay. 

In her late-'50s/early-'60s heyday, Doris Day was among the most popular actresses in Hollywood. She won the Golden Globe Award for "World Film Favorite -- Female" in 1958, 1960 and 1963. She was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Pillow Talk.

A 1960s Slow Down

Doris Day and Martin Melcher. Source: (whosdatedwho.com)

Doris Day continued to make fairly successful movies in the early '60s, including Please Don't Eat The Dasies (1960), Midnight Lace (1960), That Touch Of Mink (1962), and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). She was the top female box-office draw in 1960, '62, '63, and '64. But times were changing and her squeaky-clean screen persona suddenly fell out of favor with audiences looking for more daring fare. She was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but turned it down because she felt the script was "vulgar and offensive."

In 1968, Day's husband Martin Melcher died unexpectedly. Throughout their marriage, Melcher had handled Doris’s finances. It was only after his death that Doris learned she was millions of dollars in debt. It seemed that Melcher had made a series of unwise investments that had failed to yield a return. She eventually filed a lawsuit against an investor who had duped Melcher and won her case. She got back nearly $22 million dollars of her hard-earned money. 

No More Doris Day Films

Source: (pinterest.com)

Doris Day didn’t make any more movies after Melcher’s death in 1968. She did, however, star in a television series called The Doris Day Show. This variety show was hugely successful and ran from 1968 to 1973. After her series was cancelled, Doris Day made sporadic television appearances, but mostly devoted her time, money, and energy to another cause that was close to her heart—animals. 

Doris Day, Animal Crusader

Doris Day the animal lover. Source: (thebark.com)

From 1980 onward, Doris Day devoted her life to helping animals. She founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation, which works to promote animal rights legislation. This cause was Doris Day’s passion and she spent tireless hours working on behalf of defenseless animals. 

Doris Day’s Reputation

Source: (variety.com)

During the height of her movie career, Doris Day had a reputation for being innocent and virginal, despite the fact that she had married so young and had a child. She once stated, “I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America’s virgin. It may shock people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together.” Doris Day’s naïve persona led to her being spoofed in comedy skits and referenced in songs. Her 1976 autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story offers proof that she was not always to picture of innocence that the public saw. 

A Sad Day in Hollywood

Source: (telegraph.co.uk)

The passing of Doris Day on May 13, 2019, at the age of 97 marked a sad day for Hollywood, especially fans of the classic Hollywood era. 

Tags: Doris Day | Ladies | Movies In The 1950s | Pillow Talk | Rock Hudson | Singers

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.