Doris Day Dies at 97: A Life of Thrills and Disappointment
Legendary actress Doris Day passed away on Monday, May 13 at the age of 97, according to her foundation. A hallmark of post-war Hollywood, Day dazzled on screen in more than 20 films throughout the 1950s and ’60s.
Born on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio during the Roaring 20s, Doris Day and her contemporaries represented the shifting of America from the depression they grew up in and the Second World War they came of age through.
An aspiring dancer in her early years, a car accident in 1937 crushed those dreams as her leg was broken, ending any aspirations of becoming a professional dancer. Instead, as she spent hours recuperating, Day turned to the music on the radio to keep her mind occupied. Her voice wasn’t broken, after all. Through the radio, Day would later recall how she taught herself how to change her singing voice to sound like the singers on the radio.
“…the one radio voice I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I’d sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words,” Day said in the biography of her life, Doris Day: Her Own Story.
Deciding to become a professional vocalist as she entered adulthood, Day found success on the radio and in 1945, had her first hit song, “Sentimental Journey,” as World War II ended and troops started returning home. Day’s touring and performing got her recommended for her first movie role in 1948 and her film career took off.
Doris Day starred in twenty-one box office hits between 1948 and 1968.
From 1948 through 1969, Day would star in at least one or two films every year with few exceptions. Over the years, she made movies with all the era’s best leading men: Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, That Touch of Mink with Cary Grant, Young at Heart with Frank Sinatra, The Winning Team with Ronald Reagan, and The Man Who Knew Too Much with James Stewart.
While Day’s career soared, her personal life wasn’t always so rosy. Married a total of four times in 40 years — including 17 years to Martin Melcher with whom she had her only child, son Terry Melcher — Day chose not to remarry after her third divorce in 1981. Her marriage to Melcher ended with his death and Day finding out that he and her attorney had squandered much of her money and left her in financial straits leading to bankruptcy.
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She also learned at the time that Melcher had contracted her into what would become the beloved “The Doris Day Show” which featured Day’s rendition of the song “Que Sera Sera” as its theme song. “The Doris Day Show” lasted from 1968 through 1973, after which Day retired from performing, choosing instead to try her hand at hosting a television talk show between 1985-86.
Day led a largely peaceful and quiet life during her retirement. She would give an occasional interview and enjoyed working with her pet project, The Doris Day Animal Foundation, and living near fellow octogenarian Clint Eastwood in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.