I’m convinced that Doris Day was put on this earth to make us happy. When our daughter Jessie was four, my wife and I introduced her to Calamity Jane, and it was love at first sight. We followed it with The Pajama Game. Believe me, it was no chore for us to watch those 1950s musicals over and over again (as kids oblige parents to do) because they were so entertaining and Day was so good in them. When you see her face, when you hear her voice—you can’t help but smile. How many people have that effect on the public decade after decade? She was a natural talent who made everything she did look easy.
Moreover, she was one of just a handful of performers who were box-office movie stars and chart-topping singers at the same time. It didn’t hurt that she introduced some of her biggest hits in movies: “It’s Magic” in her first feature, Romance on the High Seas, “Secret Love” in Calamity Jane, and “Que Sera, Sera” in The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The so-called “girl next door” she played (and it’s not the only kind of part she played) bore little resemblance to the real Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff, who hailed from Cincinnati, Ohio. Her life was anything but breezy: she was a child of divorce whose ambition was to be a dancer. A catastrophic car accident changed those plans when she was an adolescent. She spent three years recuperating and devoted that time to working with a voice coach. She left home to tour with the Les Brown Band a few years later and married one of its musicians, who treated her poorly. A second marriage barely lasted a year. Her longtime spouse Martin Melcher left her millions of dollars in debt, which is one reason she headlined a TV sitcom for four years. I think it’s fair to say that she never fully recovered from the death of her beloved son, Terry Melcher.
But Doris Day brought happiness to a legion of devoted fans who remain loyal to her favorite cause, the care and protection of animals.
It was a fundraiser for her Animal League that enabled Entertainment Tonight to send me to Carmel, California for an on-camera visit back in 1993. She was everything you could want Doris Day to be: sunny, smiling and utterly unpretentious.
What she was not was anecdotal. I understand why author A.E. Hotchner sought out stories from her family, friends, and colleagues for the book he wrote with the actress, Doris Day: Her Own Story. But I pried a few nuggets loose: she referred to director Frank Tashlin as “that nut” and expressed gratitude to Bob Hope for teaching her comedy timing during her two-year tenure on his radio show. She also seemed to appreciate the fact that I loved her album with André Previn, Duet.
It was a memorable day by any standards. We played a round of croquet and she greeted then-Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood, who dropped by to say hello. I wish I had access to the video we shot that day, but I can recommend two subsequent interviews that I know you’ll enjoy: a 2010 conversation with New York radio personality Jonathan Schwartz and the transcript of a lovely chat with Paul McCartney that appeared in a British newspaper.
Doris Day made a lasting impression on all of us and seemed to find peace in her later years, living in a beautiful part of California, surrounded by friends who respected her privacy and, of course, her many animal companions. She deserved no less.