Doris Day

Photo of Doris Day
  • Birth Name

    Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff
  • Born

    April 3, 1924
    Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Died

    May 13, 2019 (age 95)
    Carmel Valley Village, California
  • Orchestras

    Les Brown
    Bob Crosby
    Jimmy James
    Ted Phillips
    Boyd Raeburn
    Barney Rapp
    Joe Sanders
    Jmmy Wilbur

Though best re­mem­bered to­day as the vir­ginal hero­ine of such light sex come­dies as Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, Doris Day be­gan her ca­reer as a vo­cal­ist dur­ing the big band era. Her voice graced such pop­u­lar hits as Sentimental Journey” and My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time,” earn­ing her a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the most se­duc­tive singers of that era.

Born Doris Kappelhoff, in Cincinnati, Ohio, she be­gan to study dance at age six. At thir­teen, she won an am­a­teur con­test, and her mother de­cided to take her to Hollywood. A car ac­ci­dent along the way pre­ma­turely ended her dream how­ever. Her right leg was se­verely in­jured, and she re­turned home to re­cu­per­ate.

Living above a tav­ern owned by her un­cle, Day had ac­cess to a juke­box and be­gan to take an in­ter­est in singing. She stud­ied voice and, though still need­ing crutches to walk, won an am­a­teur con­test on ra­dio sta­tion WLW singing Day by Day.” Soon af­ter, in 1939, she be­gan per­form­ing at a lo­cal Chinese restau­rant on Saturday nights and mak­ing un­paid ap­pear­ances on a lo­cal ra­dio pro­gram.

Early Band Career

That same year, af­ter doc­tors had fi­nally switched her from crutches to a cane, band­leader Barney Rapp heard Day on ra­dio and asked her to au­di­tion. Rapp had made a na­tional name for him­self play­ing smaller ho­tels but had de­cided to set­tle down in Cincinnati and open a club. Day, then still known pro­fes­sion­ally as Kapelhoff, im­pressed Rapp and be­gan singing with the band six nights a week. The or­ches­tra leader found her last name cum­ber­some and changed it to Day, based on the song that launched her ca­reer.

Rapp closed his club af­ter only a few months and be­gan play­ing one-nighters in the lo­cal area. Day stayed as vo­cal­ist, but the long work days took their toll, and she even­tu­ally set­tled in Chicago singing with the Jimmy James Orchestra. In May 1940, she au­di­tion for Bob Crosbys band and landed the job, join­ing them at the Blackhawk Cafe, re­plac­ing Marion Mann.

Day re­mained with Crosby only three months. In her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, she in­di­cates that the band re­leased her in an ef­fort to cut ex­penses, and that Gil Rodin, the group’s man­ager, helped her land a re­place­ment job with Les Brown in August, whose new band was up and com­ing at that time. Some re­ports, though, say she de­cided to quit af­ter a mem­ber of the band made strong passes at her and fright­ened her, and Brown stated in an in­ter­view that he’d heard Day was dis­sat­is­fied with Crosby’s group and was ready to leave. Day most likely sugar-coated her ex­pe­ri­ence with the band.

Les Brown Years

Day felt at home with Brown’s or­ches­tra, whose men were as re­spectable as swing mu­si­cians could be. She was well-liked by all. She left the band in March 1941, though, to marry Jimmy Dorsey trom­bon­ist Al Jorden, whom she had first met and started dat­ing when they both were mem­bers of Rapp’s band. After leav­ing Brown she briefly sang with Joe Sanders’s band.

Everyone warned Day against mar­ry­ing Jorden, but she ig­nored their con­cerns. Once mar­ried, she dis­cov­ered that he was in­sanely jeal­ous, and he be­gan to phys­i­cally abuse her. After the birth of their son, Terry, she tried to move home to Cincinnati on her own, hop­ing to di­vorce Jorden once safely away, but upon find­ing out her plan he quit Dorsey and moved with her. She fi­nally man­aged to leave him in early 1943, with the help of her fam­ily.

Back on her own again and need­ing to earn a liv­ing, Day joined Boyd Raeburns or­ches­tra, singing with it in May, and later took a job as staff singer at WLW, where she per­formed on sev­eral pro­grams over the next few months. She also sang with lo­cal band­lead­ers Jimmy Wilbur and Ted Phillips. Brown asked her to re­turn, but she re­fused, not want­ing to leave her son at home. The or­ches­tra leader fi­nally con­vinced her in late 1943.

Day’s ca­reer did­n’t re­ally be­gin to take off un­til near the end of the war. She had her first num­ber one hit with Brown’s band in April 1945 with My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time,” fol­lowed by Sentimental Journey” in June. The two songs helped pro­pel her into the na­tional spot­light for the first time, and she fin­ished eighth in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1946 col­lege poll for best over­all fe­male vo­cal­ist. In the 1947 poll, she fin­ished sixth over­all and fourth fa­vorite fe­male band vo­cal­ist.

Post-Band Career

In mid-1946, wed­ding bells once again rang for Day when she mar­ried for­mer Brown sax­o­phon­ist George Weidler. Weidler had moved to the West Coast af­ter leav­ing the band, and Day gave no­tice to fol­low him, leav­ing the band on September 15. Weidler’s fi­nances were mea­ger. The cou­ple lived in a run-down trailer park in an in­dus­trial area of Los Angeles, and Day sup­ple­mented their in­come by work­ing on lo­cal ra­dio. While re­turn­ing to New York for a one-month club en­gage­ment in mid-1947. she re­ceived a let­ter from Weidler say­ing he was di­vorc­ing her. She quickly left the East Coast and re­turned to Los Angeles to sal­vage what was left of her life.

Once again on her own, Day fo­cused on her ca­reer. She signed on as co-host, along­side Frank Sinatra, of ra­dio’s Your Hit Parade pro­gram for the fall 1947 sea­son and also be­gan record­ing for Columbia. Attracting the at­ten­tion of Hollywood, she was of­fered an au­di­tion for the lead in 1948’s Romance on the High Seas af­ter Judy Garland and then Betty Hutton had been forced to leave the pic­ture. The au­di­tion proved suc­cess­ful, and she left Your Hit Parade in November 1947 to make the film.

Day’s early solo record­ings were of­ten quite jazzy, though her work be­gan to soften over sub­se­quent years. Her most vis­i­ble sides from the 1950s on­ward were pop songs. Some of her biggest hits were Secret Love,” from the film Calamity Jane, and Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” which she sang in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The fo­cus of Day’s ca­reer shifted to Hollywood af­ter her suc­cess­ful role in Romance on the High Seas, and she starred in sev­eral mu­si­cals and se­ri­ous films over the next few years. 1958’s Teacher’s Pet, how­ever, marked a turn­ing point in her ca­reer. It was the first of what would be­come the many whole­some roles for which she is best re­mem­bered. She quickly emerged as a pop cul­ture icon, her whole­some in­no­cence the per­fect non-threat­en­ing match for Marilyn Monroe’s sex­u­al­ity.

This new im­age was not to Day’s lik­ing how­ever. It had been the cre­ation of her hus­band/​agent, Marty Melcher. Melcher had be­gun to sign her for films that she did­n’t want to make. He’d also be­gun to em­bez­zle from her earn­ings. When he died in 1968, she found her­self broke and on the verge of a ner­vous break­down. Before his death, Melcher had also com­mit­ted her to a tele­vi­sion sit­com. The Doris Day Show ran be­tween 1968 and 1973 and was a huge suc­cess, help­ing her re­build her fi­nances. Aside from the se­ries, though, Day ap­peared on tele­vi­sion very rarely.

In 1974, Day won a $22 mil­lion judge­ment against her de­ceased hus­band’s lawyer for his role in the mis­man­age­ment of her funds. She then re­tired from show busi­ness, re­turn­ing only briefly in the mid-1980s for the ca­ble se­ries Doris Day’s Best Friends. She con­sid­ered a re­turn to the big screen sev­eral times, but suit­able roles were hard to come by. In 1976, she mar­ried Beverly Hills busi­ness­man Barry Cromden. The cou­ple sep­a­rated in 1979 and then di­vorced.

An avid an­i­mal lover, Day spent most of her re­tire­ment pro­mot­ing and rais­ing funds for the an­i­mal wel­fare groups she founded. She do­nated much of her in­come to those causes and also at­tempted to start her own pet food fran­chise. Day lived out the rest of her life in Carmel, California, where she died in 2019 at age 95.

Music

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  • Three at a Table for Two
    Les Brown (Doris Day), Okeh (1940)
  • Celery Stalks at Midnight
    Les Brown (Doris Day), Okeh (1941)
  • Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)
    Les Brown (Doris Day, Ronnie Chase), Okeh (1941)
  • My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time
    Les Brown (Doris Day), Columbia (1945)
  • Sentimental Journey
    Les Brown (Doris Day), Columbia (1945)

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Films

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  • Screenshot
    "It's Magic"
    Doris Day
    from Romance on the High Seas, Warner Bros. (1948)

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Radio

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  • One Night Stand: Les Brown
    September 4, 1945 (AFRS) 29:01

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. “Doris Day.” IMDb. Accessed 6 Jul. 2016.
  4. “Night Club Reviews: Barney Rapp's, Cincinnati.” Billboard 2 Sep. 1939: 17.
  5. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 25 May 1940: 12.
  6. “Les Brown Reviews His Band.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1940: 23.
  7. “Club Talent.” Billboard 8 Mar. 1941: 17.
  8. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 22 May 1943: 14.
  9. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 24 Jul. 1943: 67.
  10. “Divorces.” Billboard 28 Aug. 1943: 31.
  11. “Off the Cuff.” Billboard 25 Sep. 1943: 20.
  12. “Five-Way Pick-Up.” Billboard 11 Dec. 1943: 10.
  13. “Vaudeville Reviews: Earle, Philadelphia.” Billboard 22 Apr. 1944: 27.
  14. “Les Brown a Par $20,800 in Philly.” Billboard 29 Apr. 1944: 27.
  15. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 28 Oct. 1944: 26.
  16. “Music Popularity Chart.” Billboard 21 Apr. 1945: 23.
  17. “Music as Written.” Billboard 18 May 1946: 26.
  18. “Music Popularity Chart.” Billboard 16 Jun. 1945: 22.
  19. “Television Reviews: Don Lee.” Billboard 2 Mar. 1946: 12.
  20. “Music as Written.” Billboard 31 Aug. 1946: 25.
  21. “TD, Bing, Jo Stafford Get Rah-Rah Nods.” Billboard 6 Jul. 1946: 21.
  22. “Best-Liked Vocalists.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1947: 20.
  23. “Dinah, Bing, Melchior Cop Vocal Honors.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1947: 38.
  24. “Lawrence Most Promising Ork.” Billboard 12 Jul. 1947: 34.
  25. “Doris Day Leaving 'Hit Parade' Nov. 8.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1947: 38.
  26. “'Hit Parade' Seeks New Gal Warbler.” Billboard 29 Nov. 1947: 7.
  27. “Music as Written.” Billboard 8 Nov. 1947: 22.
  28. Wilson, Earl. “Doris Day a Pain in Neck, In the Old Days, Of Course.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 9 Oct. 1957: n.p.
  29. Humphrey, Hal. “Call It Corn, Doris Day Like It.” Toledo Blade 10 Aug. 1968: n.p.
  30. Royce, Bill. “Doris Day, Hubby Going Separate Ways.” Boca Raton News 23 Oct. 1979: n.p.
  31. Champlin, Charles. “Doris Day Plans Return to Acting, But Pets Keep Her Busy.” Schenectady Gazette 17 Mar. 1988: 28.