Doris Day, the quintessential all-American girl, continues to be revered by her fans, while the media still celebrate her as an actress and singer with a legendary Hollywood "girl next door" image.

However, Doris Day's personal life, faced with steely resolve, was the very antithesis of how most fans perceived her super-stardom.  The studios promoted her in screen roles highlighting her wholesome, vivacious blonde personality. However, in hindsight, this concentration on her image belied her great acting and musical talents; a full retrospective appraisal of her career in recent years has brought her fans a fuller appreciation of her gifts.  Of her 39 films, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me and Pillow Talk remain popular favorites, and still run frequently on cable television.  Paralleling her success in big-screen entertainment, a series of excellent albums recorded between 1956 and 1968 expanded her popularity, and are as relevant today as when they were first released.

The Singer | The Actress | Notable Achievements | The Television Personality | Challenges & Honors | More Recently … | People Are Saying | Life & Legacy Video |

The Singer

Born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, her parents came from German stock.  Her father, Frederick Wilhelm Von Kappelhoff, was a music teacher, choir master and church organist and loved classical music.  Her mother, Alma Sophia Welz, on the other hand, was an outgoing woman who enjoyed "hillbilly music."  Doris was the youngest of three: she had two brothers, Richard, who died before she was born, and Paul who was a few years older. She was named after silent movie actress Doris Kenyon, whom her mother admired. Growing up in the 1930s Doris was attracted to music and dance, eventually forming part of a dance duo which performed locally until a car she was riding in was struck by a train, crushing her right leg, a severe injury that curtailed her ambition to become a professional dancer.

However, while recovering, Doris gained a vocal education by listening to the radio, becoming a fan of the embryonic records of upcoming Ella Fitzgerald. Her mother encouraged her to take singing lessons. Alma took Doris to see vocal coach Grace Raine, who was so impressed with Doris' natural talent that she offered her three lessons for the price of one.  Doris credits Raine with impressing upon her the importance of delivering a lyric, and today Doris says that Raine had the greatest impact on her singing career.  

At age 15, Doris began performing locally and while working with local bandleader Barney Rapp, she adopted the stage name "Day" after Rapp suggested "Kappelhoff" was too long and cumbersome for marquee appeal. After leaving Rapp, Doris worked with a number of other band leaders including Bob Crosby, and was eventually hired by Les Brown.  She had two stints with Brown's band, with marriage to trombonist Al Jorden, birth of her son Terry and subsequent divorce in between. Her 1945 hit "Sentimental Journey," co-written by Brown and recorded with his band, was made at the ideal time, as it reflected the thoughts of weary troops as they returned home from service in Europe and the Pacific.

"She was every bandleader's dream, a vocalist who had natural talent, a keen regard for the lyrics and an attractive appearance." - Les Brown

Following her second hit record with Brown, "My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time," Doris went solo with a contract from Columbia Records in 1947.   Her radio work (with Bob Hope and later Frank Sinatra) lead to separation (and eventually divorce) from second husband George Weidler. Weidler could see that Doris was becoming a notable personality, and he did not want to be known as Mr. Doris Day. His request for a divorce came via letter while she was performing at the Little Club in New York.

The Actress

"I'll remember this to my grave.  We all walked into a room to see the screen tests.  The first screen test was Marion Hutton's. Then came Janis Paige [who ended up with a part in the film].  Then on the screen came Doris Day.  I can only tell you, the screen just exploded. There was absolutely no question.  A great star was born and the rest is history." - Sammy Cahn

Still despondent over her divorce, Doris reluctantly accepted an invitation to sing at a Hollywood party attended by songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. She was asked to sing and gave a tearful, emotionally charged rendition of "Embraceable You." So impressed was Styne that he arranged for a screen test.  This lead to her first movie, Romance on the High Seas (1948), with director Michael Curtiz, who placed Doris under a personal contract for further films at Warner Brothers. Tea for Two (1950), Lullaby of Broadway (1951), On Moonlight Bay (1951), By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) and Calamity Jane (1953) were among the popular musicals that helped Doris sell hit records like "It's Magic" and "Secret Love." The occasional dramatic role, such as in the dark Storm Warning (1950) and musical melodrama Young Man with a Horn (1950), proved Doris had natural acting talent.

On a personal level, Doris married her agent, Marty Melcher, in 1951.  He subsequently handled her career as her producer and decided not to renew her contract with Warner Brothers after the completion of Young At Heart in 1954. As a freelance actress, Doris' range of roles increased. She made the bio-pic Love Me Or Leave Me, based on the life of ‘20s singer Ruth Etting, in 1955 for MGM; it was hailed as a triumph for both her singing and acting.  She followed this with Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), which teamed her with James Stewart and included location work in Morocco and London. On set, Doris asked Hitch why he wasn't giving her any direction.  His response was simple: "Because you are doing everything just right," he said. 

Doris' recording of "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" was used as an innocuous plot device in the film, and won an Oscar for Best Song. When Doris later recorded "Que Sera Sera" for Columbia, it became such a massive hit, it was henceforth perceived as her signature number.  Today, Doris casually admits to initially disliking the song.

Doris returned to Warner Brothers for the film version of Broadway hit The Pajama Game in 1957.  She was ideally cast as a feisty union shop-steward in a pajama factory, and the film included great songs that kept the action buoyant. Doris starred in comedies with Clark Gable, Jack Lemmon, Richard Widmark and David Niven. Then, in 1959, Doris paired with Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk for Universal.  This role gained her a Best Actress Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award and began a run of sophisticated romantic comedies. The onscreen chemistry between Doris and Hudson led to two more films, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. That Touch of Mink (1962) with Cary Grant lacked the same screen chemistry that was so apparent with Hudson, but the glow was back when she teamed up with James Garner in The Thrill of It All (1963) and Move Over Darling (1963). The dramatic Midnight Lace (1960) with Rex Harrison was an emotionally draining role for Doris. As for musicals, Jumbo gave Doris the lovely Rodgers & Hart score to sing, but the circus story based on a ‘30s Broadway spectacle was too old-fashioned to make any impression in 1962.

Doris was voted Top Box-Office Female Star for four straight years during the early ‘60s, and was among the Top 10 for 10 straight years.  Her record has never been matched, but fickle tastes eventually rejected such frothy fun for Hollywood's more explicit sex and darker themes. By mid-decade her box-office appeal had slipped a few notches, but Melcher continued to star Doris in light-weight fare with Move Over Darling and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), the best of the bunch thanks to Doris' personable appeal. Ironically, her final movie, With Six You Get Egg-Roll (1968), gave an indication that roles nearer her actual age might be the way forward.

Notable Achievements

The title song from Move Over Darling gave Doris a major Top 20 hit in 1964. Produced and co-written by her son Terry, the song's success encouraged Doris to focus on more contemporary numbers.  But when her Columbia Records contract ended, a 1967 independent album project entitled The Love Album not only concluded her recording career but was ironically unissued for more than 27 years, with its belated 1994 UK issue preceding a 2006 U.S. release. It is widely agreed that when she recorded The Love Album she was at the peak of her vocal prowess, with many critics and fans considering this her finest album.  This fact is especially gratifying for Doris, since she personally selected the songs.

Despite numerous hit singles throughout her career, Doris' recording achievements are best celebrated by 16 superb concept albums.  Among these, Duet recorded in 1962 with the Andre Previn Trio, embodied all that is great about Doris' 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 knock-out, up-and-at-‘em swinger that hit its mark with a mix of brilliantly orchestrated standards and newer numbers. The extended chart success of the Love Me or Leave Me soundtrack was joined by similar souvenirs from The Pajama Game and Billy Rose's Jumbo. Thankfully all these albums are still available, together with various compilations that feature her many singles.

But Doris wasn't done yet.  In 2011 at age 89, Doris became the oldest living recording artist to chart on UK's Top Ten with new material featured on her album, My Heart. Released through her Arwin Productions, the compilation contained previously unreleased material hand-picked by Doris, primarily recorded for her 1985-86 television series, Doris Day's Best Friends, along with four American Songbook favorites from Doris' vast catalog of recordings.  The album was dedicated to her son, Terry Melcher, who had passed away in 2004, and who produced and co-wrote some of the featured songs, including the title tune.  A particularly moving moment is Doris' spoken introduction of Terry singing "Happy Endings," a wistful song he had originally written for Doris to perform.  In the US, the album's surprising success landed its debut at #135 on the Billboard 200 chart, and Doris donated the proceeds to the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

"When I recorded for Columbia, I could usually do anything in one take...I would invariably want to use the first take because that would be the one that was spontaneous and fresh." - Doris Day

The Television Personality

The sudden death of Marty Melcher in 1968 was catalyst to Doris' discovering he and business partner Jerry Rosenthal had squandered her earnings, leaving her deeply in debt. Years were taken up suing Rosenthal in the courts, with a large civil judgment eventually awarding Doris over $26 million dollars.  After legal fees, she received only a fraction of that amount. Doris also discovered Melcher had committed her to a television sitcom series. Despite grave misgivings, and a dislike of television, the ultimate need to clear her debts convinced Doris to go ahead with The Doris Day Show, netting her a Golden Globe (1969) for Best Actress in a Television Series. With annual changes in formula, she successfully steered the series for five years (1968-1973) as co-executive producer with son Terry and grew to enjoy the work.  Her contract completed, she left the grueling schedule on her own terms. Additionally, two television specials, The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special (1971) and Doris Day Today (1975), gave Doris a chance to sing with friends Perry Como and John Denver as guests. A cable television series, Doris Day's Best Friends, during 1985-86 featured celebrity guest stars in primarily a talk-show format, with topics mainly dedicated to animal welfare.

Publication of her autobiography, Doris Day - Her Own Story, in 1976 was a surprisingly honest account, as related to A. E. Hotchner. The book revealed much of the painful trauma in her private life and three marriages, which had been masked by her sunny on-screen and recording image, and how her positivity enabled her to emerge a survivor. Television interviews ensured the book became a best seller.

Challenges & Honors

"I always felt that making a living wasn't the easiest thing in the world, and I decided I was going straight ahead and try to be as uncomplicated as possible. The important thing in life is just living and loving." - Doris Day

The 2004 death of Doris' beloved son Terry was a major blow. They weren't just mother and son, but considered one another buddies.  Terry was there for Doris when Marty died and helped guide her through the endless legal battles, financial difficulties and launch of her new television series.  During the same year, Doris was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.  At the time, she said, "I am deeply grateful to the President and to my country. ... To come from Cincinnati, Ohio, for God's sake, then to go to Hollywood, and to get this kind of tribute from my country. ... I love this country so much."   Unfortunately, a dislike of travel, along with a commitment to the animals in her care, caused Doris to miss attending the award ceremony personally.

She has also turned down an honorary Academy Award and Kennedy Center Honors Award because accepting these in person would not be possible. However, she did receive a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in February 2008 and in her absence, Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole were on hand for the tribute, accepting the honor on Doris' behalf. Her last appearance at such a public event was to pick up her Cecil B. DeMille Career Achievement Award at the Golden Globes ceremony in 1989, which was presented by her Carmel, California, neighbor and friend Clint Eastwood.

Among her many awards, Doris also received the Legend Award from the Society of Singers in June 2011 in recognition for her lifetime achievement in the recording industry, and in January 2012, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association honored her with a Career Achievement Award.

In recent years, fans from all over the world made the pilgrimage to Carmel, California to celebrate Doris' April 3rd birthday and help raise money for her Doris Day Animal Foundation.  The celebrations typically lasted several days and included screenings of her films and TV show, raffles and memorabilia auctions, musical tributes, and appearances by co-stars, such as Jackie Joseph, Philip Brown, Bernie Kopell, Kym Karath, Brian Nash, Rich Little, Peter Marshall, Jon Findlater and Jimmy Bracken.  The anxiously-awaited capper to the festivities was Doris coming out on the deck of her home to greet and thank the fans who had gathered on the golf course below to wish her a happy birthday.  In previous years, fans and celebrity friends phoned in their best wishes to the local Carmel radio station, "Magic 63," which played Doris' recordings all day long and conducted live on-air interviews with Doris throughout the day. 

"I just feel so fortunate and so blessed to have been able to entertain people in the theatres and on record, it's just an amazing life that I've experienced." - Doris Day

More Recently …

When Doris left the Hollywood spotlight in the late 1970's, she never looked back. Rather, she moved forward in her second career with the same enthusiasm and energy that put her at the top of the entertainment profession. This time her focus would be on her heart's passion: the welfare of animals.  Doris always had an innate connection with animals, and they related to her almost instantly, sensing her recognition of their gentle souls.  She thought of them as spriritual creatures, unique in their capacity for unconditional love, and she worked tirelessly, rescuing, healing, and placing literally thousands of abused or neglected animals.

In 1971, Doris became a founding member of the grassroots organization, Actors and Others for Animals, and literally went door to door to rescue pets in distress and promote spay/neuter to reduce the euthanasia of millions of homeless pets in shelters every year.  To make an even bigger impact, she later founded her own Doris Day Animal Foundation in 1978 (then known as the Doris Day Pet Foundation), which continues to carry on Doris' legacy to make this a better world for the animals, as a grant-giving charity that funds non-profit organizations and programs across the country that directly help animals and the people who love them.   In 1987 to complement DDAF, Doris founded the Doris Day Animal League as a lobbying organization in Washington, DC to help pass laws that protected animals.  The League merged with the Humane Society of the United States in 2006 for a greater voice on Capitol Hill and continued to advocate for animals until it was absorbed into the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2019.  

In 2009, Doris funded the Doris Day Equine Center at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.  More than 250 abused and neglected horses from Western Nebraska were rescued and placed at the ranch.  Closer to home and near and dear to her heart was a special horse, Mocha, who was rescued by the SPCA of Monterey County, California.  After Mocha's rescue, Doris saw to it that the Doris Day Animal Foundation contributed to his upkeep.  At one point, Doris visited him at the SPCA and was pleased to see that he was fully recovered.  Mocha and the other horses at SPCA took to Doris as though she were a long-lost friend.  The staff noted they had never seen the horses so affectionate with anyone--a testament to her instant bond with animals, large and small.

In her later years, Doris enjoyed a quiet life at her home in Carmel Valley, California.  She preferred to stay out of the spotlight, but was in no way the recluse that the tabloids made her out to be. There was always a steady stream of friends who visited her at her home.  She kept busy caring for her animals and her beautiful home and grounds (in that order), reading and answering the hundreds of pieces of fan mail she received each month.  She tended to the affairs of the Doris Day Animal Foundation, and had projects ranging from the release of a new CD, her website, a paper doll book, and many more projects.  She was offered scripts and "gigs" and often said, who knows, maybe one day she would surprise us all with a new film.

Doris experienced great loss at times, but through her faith, positivity and a determined will to pick herself up and go on, she led a rewarding and fulfilling life that continues to inspire fans throughout the world.

Biography written in 2008 by Allen Pollock for Updated by Bob Bashara and Lea Price


People Are Saying

  • "I just love the good old Hollywood movies. The other day, I saw 'Love Me or Leave Me' starring Doris Day and James Cagney. It was terrific. Doris Day was superb, her performance in this film and Hitchcock's 'The Man Who Knew Too Much'" have been vastly underrated. ... She may have been sweet and virginal in 'Young at Heart,' with Frank Sinatra, but what a dramatic performance [in 'Storm Warning.'] It keeps resonating in my memory." - Martin Scorsese (Director)
  • "Doris Day is one of the grand ladies of song. She exudes sunshine with her acting and singing and just the mention of her name would bring a smile to one's face. I adore her." - Robert Goulet (Singer/Musical Star; Doris Day's duet partner on the album "Annie Get Your Gun")
  • "Doris was a great performer with warmth and expressiveness. It was one of the most pleasant recording dates I ever had when we sang together. She had a wonderful Jazz vibrato voice and could have been one of the top jazz singers." - Frankie Laine (Singer/Songwriter/Actor; Doris Day's duet partner on the hit single Sugarbush)
  • "I'll remember this to my grave. We all walked into a room to see the screen tests.& The first screen test was Marion Hutton's. Then came Janis Paige [who ended up with a part in the film]. Then on the screen came Doris Day. I can only tell you, the screen just exploded. There was absolutely no question. A great star was born and the rest is history." - Sammy Cahn, (Songwriter/Lyricist)
  • "I first met Doris Day when I was singing with my three brothers on radio station WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was 14 years old. I had a crush on her then and I still do. She had a voice so fresh you could smell it. She's a terrific singer and a great lady." - Andy Williams (Singer)
  • "She was every band leader's dream, a vocalist who had natural talent, a keen regard for the lyrics and an attractive appearance." - Les Brown (Band Leader)
  • "I remember writing with Hal David five different versions of ‘Send Me No Flowers.' Finally they picked the last one -- we kept going because we really wanted her [Doris] on the song. She did it great!" - Burt Bacharach (Songwriter/Pianist/Music Producer)
  • "She (Doris) is one of the greatest vocalists that has ever lived. I adore her. I think she has been underrated for years." - Cybill Shepherd (Actress/Singer)
  • "From the first moment I heard Doris, I was carried away by the warmth and passion of her natural gift. She remains the high benchmark against which all other singers are measured. I listen to her voice constantly, for inspiration and joy." - Michael Feinstein (Singer/Pianist)
  • "I always try to include songs by my favorite Singers in my concerts. As Doris Day has always been one of my favorites, I sing 'Secret Love' in every show I do. Doris Day was also one of the first Celebrities to attend my night club performances when I first started out. She was always very kind to me. She's a wonderful human being." - Johnny Mathis (Singer)
  • "I have always admired Doris Day for her beautiful voice that has such feeling and depth to it - she can sing any style and touch you - a true and rare gift. I admire her as both an artist and a woman." - Olivia Newton-John (Singer/Actress)
  • "Doris Day was my idol. I wanted to look like Doris Day, I wanted to sing like Doris Day. I wanted to be, Doris Day. She was the best!" - Anne Murray (Singer)
  • "She's gifted in a way that makes everything she does work. She's a Hollywood producer's dream: she has beauty, she's a great actress, a wonderful singer - putting it simply, she has it all!" - Tony Bennett (Singer)
  • "She can make a record sound like there's a smile or some kind of tear behind it." - Terry Melcher (Doris's son)
  • "She was a very expressive singer...she could take a lyric and to some extent act it out..." - Paul Weston (Conductor/Arranger of many of Doris Day's early 1950s records)
  • "She gives a song everything it needs." - Sammy Cahn (Songwriter of Doris Day's hit single It's Magic)
  • "I'd say that next to Sinatra, Doris is the best in the business on selling a lyric." - Les Brown Sr. (Big-band Leader)
  • "Doris Day has been a most important part of my life; how much she enriched my career with her Que Sera Sera. A great artist, actress and animal lover, Doris Day has brought the world a brighter day". -Ray Evans (Songwriter of Doris Day's hit single Que Sera, Sera)
  • "She has style that's her own and when you hear it, you say "That's Doris Day!" - Kaye Ballard (Co-star of "The Doris Day Show")
  • "...she had a way of being very personal with a song...she was absolutely perfect for the recording industry." - Rosemary Clooney (Singer)
  • "Doris Day has always been a multi-talented lady, whether as a big band singer with Les Brown, a fine recording artist with Columbia, or a uniquely gifted motion picture star." - Jo Stafford (Singer)
  • "She exuded sex but made you smile about it." - James Garner (Co-star in "The Thrill Of It All" and "Move Over, Darling")
  • "I love that girl! She's one of the greatest pros I've ever worked with." - Rod Taylor (Co-star in "Do Not Disturb" and "The Glass Bottom Boat")
  • "Doris Day was such a big movie and T.V. star, people overlooked her singing. The proof is in the package. She's one of the best singers there ever was." - Margaret Whiting (Singer)
  • "Doris Day has always been one of my favourites. She was given so much attention as a movie personality that people sometimes needed to be reminded how well she could sing. Thank goodness she sang in her movies." - Patti Page (Singer)
  • When asked to name her favourite singers, she replied "I dig Doris Day!" - Sarah Vaughan (Singer)
Celebrity quotes researched/compiled in 2004 by Stephen Munns @

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