Remembering Doris Day on Her Birthday

Learn more about the life of legendary singer, actress, and activist Doris Day.

April 3, 2017

Doris Day was many things. The quintessential girl next door, an Oscar-nominated actress, a celebrated singer, and a devoted animal welfare activist. She was also a legend still beloved by a large, loyal fan base that grew up listening to her cheery music, watching her popular rom-com movies, and adoring the slice of sunshine she gave to each of them.

Early Life and Career

Day was born on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, OH, and died on May 13, 2019, at the age of 97. Day (née Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff) grew up with music as an important part of her life. Her father was a music teacher, choirmaster, and church organist, and her mother enjoyed listening to country music. Day developed a love for dance and became part of a duo that performed locally, but her dreams of becoming a professional dancer ended when her leg was crushed during a car accident.

While recovering, her mother suggested she take singing lessons, and from then on, her amazing musical talent was undeniable. With Ella Fitzgerald as one of her biggest inspirations, Doris began performing with local bandleader Barney Rapp in 1939. It was Rapp who convinced Doris to change her name from Kappelhoff, considered too long and burdensome.

First Big Hit and Big-Screen Debut

In 1945, she had her first hit, “Sentimental Journey,” co-written by Les Brown, who hired her to be part of his band after she did a short stint in a group led by Bob Crosby (brother of Bing). The timing of the song was perfect: U.S. soldiers were returning home from war, feeling sentimental about the civilian life they were about to rejoin.

In 1948, Day proved her versatility by making her big-screen debut in the musical “Romance on the High Seas.” She recorded the song “It’s Magic” to accompany the film and scored another hit single. She effortlessly balanced successful music and film careers for the next several years. Day cranked out hit after hit, including “Love Somebody,” a duet with Buddy Clark; “My Love and Devotion” in 1952; “Let’s Walk That-A-Way” in 1953; “Everybody Loves a Lover” in 1958; and many soundtrack hits.

Continued Film Success

On the silver screen, Day starred in the musical “Young Man with a Horn” (1950) alongside Kirk Douglas and played the abused wife of a Ku Klux Klan member in the film “Storm Warning” that same year. In 1953, Day scored one of her biggest roles as a rabble-rousing cowgirl in the box-office hit “Calamity Jane,” featuring her hit “Secret Love.”

In 1955, she starred in “Love Me or Leave Me” with James Cagney (a biopic based on the life of ’20s singer Ruth Etting) and then teamed up with James Stewart for the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The Man Who Knew Too Much” the following year. The film featured her song “Que Sera Sera,” which became one of her trademark tunes and later the theme song for her TV series “The Doris Day Show.”

From 1957 to 1962 Day starred in several successful films alongside some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. There was the hit musical “The Pajama Game” in 1957, “Pillow Talk” co-starring Rock Hudson in 1959 (in which she received her first and only Academy Award nomination), “Send Me No Flowers” with Hudson again in 1962, “That Touch of Mink” also in 1962 with Cary Grant, and “The Thrill of It All” in 1963 with James Garner.

Transition to TV and Animal Welfare

By the late 1960s, Day’s feel-good, sweet-girl image seemed to no longer fit the darker and more sexually charged path that Hollywood was taking, so after a few more films, including “Move Over Darling” (featuring her Top 20 hit with the same title) and “With Six You Get Eggroll,” Day turned to television.

“The Doris Day Show,” about a widow who moves her two sons to the country, ran from 1968 to 1973 and earned her a Golden Globe for best actress in a television series. Two years after the show ended, Day retired from show business and devoted her time to being an animal welfare advocate. In 1978, she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation (now called the Doris Day Animal Foundation) and formed the Doris Day Animal League in 1987.

Doris Day Today

Although the artist left the spotlight many years ago, her movies and vast music catalog are still revered and cherished by many.

For ‘40s Junction channel curator/programmer Human Numan, Doris Day was more than the classic girl next door. To him, she was a multi-talented entertainer and an American icon whose music spoke for itself.

“I was vacationing in Punta Gorda, Florida, in the late ‘90s, and took a sunset cruise aboard a small paddlewheel double-decker. As we quietly bobbed through the calm waters of the bay, the DJ started the song Moonlight Bay and everyone on board, mostly retirees, gasped in delight and joined in,” Numan remembers. “The packed boat proceeded to sing the entire song. I was covered in goosebumps with a startling realization of the powerful legacy of Doris Day.”

Special thanks to Hindsight Records