Rising Above: The Life And Times Of Doris Day

Actress and singer Doris Day was one of the biggest stars that the entertainment industry had ever seen. Her popularity in the ’40s and ’50s led to a successful career in both music and acting. But America’s most wholesome star has more to her than most people realize. Back-stabbing husbands and scandalous affairs played out in her personal life while Doris worked hard to keep her career moving forward.

Here’s what you didn’t know about the incredible life and times of Doris Day.

She Was Named After a Song

Doris Day was actually born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff, the daughter of second generation German immigrants. Her stage name came after orchestra leader and jazz musician Barney Rapp saw her performing a version of “Day After Day”. Although it’s often confused with Doris’ hit single “Day By Day”, the two were entirely different songs.

The former was never recorded by the singer, despite becoming her namesake. The tune was so frequently requested by audiences that it simply made sense to dub her Doris Day – it’s certainly more stage-worthy than Doris Kappelhoff.

A Car Accident Changed Her Life’s Direction

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

While it’s almost impossible to imagine a world in which Doris Day isn’t a singer, it almost didn’t turn out that way. Doris loved to dance, developing a keen interest from an early age. She formed a dance duo with friend Jerry Doherty and the pair were frequently booked around her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

While the youngster dreamed of becoming a professional performer, a car accident in 1937 badly injured her leg, ruining her chances of pursuing a career in dance. Her hopes and dreams were destroyed at the tender age of 15.

The Road To Recovery Is Paved With Gold

During the long, lengthy recovery process following the car accident, Doris stumbled across the talent that would see her become a household name. To keep herself entertained, Doris would listen to the radio and often sang along with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller.

Her mother instantly recognized her daughter’s talent and arranged for her to have singing lessons with Grace Raine. Grace was so impressed with Doris’ voice that she gave her three lessons a week for the price of one, telling her mother that she had “tremendous potential”.

From Restaurants and Radios To Big Bands and Billboards

les-brown-and-doris-day-56218-74471
Photo: Metronome/Getty Images
Photo: Metronome/Getty Images

When it started to happen for Doris, it really started to happen. Within the first eight months of singing lessons, the young beauty landed her first professional roles, working as a vocalist on the WLW radio program Carlin’s Carnival and singing in a local restaurant. It was there that she first caught the attention of Barney Rapp.

Rapp offered her a position in his band which then propelled her to work with other legendary band leaders, including Les Brown. Working with Brown while in her early 20’s, Doris made the move that catapulted her to stardom. Things would never be the same for the girl from Cincinnati.

A Toxic Relationship When She Was Seventeen

While working as a vocalist for Rapp, Doris met surly trombonist Al Jorden. Despite warnings from her bandmates and her own mother, the teenager fell head over heels in love and quickly married 23-year-old Jorden in 1941. The choice would be a devastating move and the union was toxic from the get-go. Her young husband would fly into fits of jealous rage, beating her brutally on regular occasions.

When Doris fell pregnant with their son Terry, Al implored her to get an abortion. Eventually, after a slew of awful and dangerous situations, the young mother divorced her tyrant of a husband just before her 18th birthday. Jorden would later commit suicide in 1967 with the same gun he had once threatened Doris with.

A Sentimental Journey

1945-doris-day-68037-24013.jpg

It wasn’t long before Doris returned to work. In early 1945, Doris recorded “Sentimental Journey”. The song soon became a smash hit, with the lyrics “Gonna take a sentimental journey / Gonna set my heart at ease / Gonna make a sentimental journey / To renew old memories”. The track became the unofficial anthem of soldiers returning home. The phenomenal success of the record climbed to number one on the charts and Doris became a breakout star.

The song continued to be associated with Day throughout her life, and she recorded different versions of it on numerous occasions. Over the course of the next two years, Doris and the Les Brown Band had six other top ten hits. A star was born.

Another Man Distracted Her From Show Business

Although her first marriage had been enough to put anyone off of men for life, Doris was a young woman in her prime with a son to raise. Not long after her divorce from Jorden, she began dating another fellow band member, George Weidler. The pair began sharing a hotel room – something still considered scandalous for unmarried couples at the time – and leader Les Brown was gravely concerned.

According to him, Weidler was just as obnoxious as Jorden had been. He ordered the pair to split, but they defied him and married in 1946. For the second time in a few short years, Doris declared she was going to quit showbiz to concentrate on being a mother and wife. Her pledge didn’t last long.

Doris Makes Her Hollywood Debut

Photo: Pressefoto Kindermann
Photo: Pressefoto Kindermann

When Bob Hope and Hollywood came knocking, Doris couldn’t resist grabbing the opportunity with both hands. She became a regular on Hope’s extremely popular show and her career continued to grow, while her desire to be a homemaker waned. In 1948 Doris was cast to star in the musical romantic comedy Romance on the High Seas. When she auditioned for the role, Doris admitted to director Michael Curtiz that she didn’t have any acting experience.

It was this confession that garnered her first acting role, as Curtiz loved her honesty and thought she embodied his vision for the all-American girl. Her song, “It’s Magic” was featured in the movie and gave Doris her first hit as a solo artist.

Doris Ran Away From Her Marriage Problems

GettyImages-119452647
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

With her interest in Hollywood piqued, Doris and Weidler moved to Los Angeles so she could focus on movies. The best location the couple could find was in a less than desirable trailer on a road full of drug dealers. The marriage soon began to deteriorate as Weidler wasn’t fond of his stepson, Terry and resented his wife’s success.

When Doris insisted that her mother Alma move in with them to help, things went from bad to worse and Doris secured work in New York – as far away from her husband as possible. After Doris moved with her mother and child, Weidler demanded a divorce.

Doris Breaks Records

GettyImages-517721394
Getty Images
Getty Images

Her first film role landed her a slew of other opportunities in Hollywood and Doris starred in several nostalgic period films for Warner Brothers over the next few years. On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon and Tea For Two were all relatively minor movies – but 1951’s I’ll See You in My Dreams was a box office smash, breaking records held for 20 years.

Not only was her acting career reaching unprecedented heights, but the song “Secret Love” from 1953’s Calamity Jane scored the Academy Award for Best Original Song, becoming her fourth number one hit in the U.S.

A Not So Sunny Disposition

Doris had worked hard to become successful, but the grueling work schedules often left her in a foul mood. She was away from her young son for long stretches of time and it took its toll on the star, who had divided feelings about fame. Although Doris would be known for her glowing smile and her bright and sunny on-screen attitude, in reality, she had quite the tempter.

Her tantrums were legendary, often discussed among those who worked with her. When things didn’t go to plan, the songstress would stomp her feet, swear like a sailor and barge through the place, slamming doors and threatening to go back to her hometown and leave it all behind her once and for all.

Doris Wasn’t Loyal, And Things Got Complicated

Photo: Warner Brothers/Getty Images
Photo: Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Despite having two failed marriages under her belt by the time she was 27, Day hadn’t given up on finding love – in fact, she was more romantically active than ever. At one point in the early ’50s, she was seeing her ex-husband George Weidler, leading actor Jack Carson and her manager Al Levy, all at the same time. Levy became obsessed with her and like most of the men in her life exhibited extreme jealousy.

When he found out Doris was sleeping with other men, he attacked her. Worried by his behavior, she approached his business partner Marty Melcher for help. Before long, Melcher was on her list of lovers too. The pair married in 1951.

Que Sera, Sera Almost Didn’t Happen

Up until the mid-50’s, Doris had mainly played comedic characters. Her dramatic breakthrough came in Love Me or Leave Me, alongside renowned actor James Cagney. The role earned her widespread respect as a “serious” actress and Doris was soon cast in Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. The song “Que Sera, Sera” would become synonymous with Day and win an Academy Award.

It’s funny to think that at first, she refused to sing it, labeling it a “children’s song.” Doris recorded the song in one take under pressure from the studio, supposedly claiming “That’s the last time you’ll ever hear that song.”

Doris Turned Down Roles To Keep Her Wholesome Image

With her agent now her husband, Doris had more work in the early ’60s than ever, but the world was changing. At the end of the decade, society was ready for more risque content thanks to the sexual revolution. However, Day’s movies didn’t evolve and neither did her wholesome image. For a woman who set the still unbeaten record for receiving seven consecutive awards as the top female box-office star, it was devastating when she slid out of the top ten completely in 1966.

Doris was given the chance to play Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, a role that would’ve undoubtedly revived her popularity but she turned it down, calling the script “vulgar and offensive.”

Her Late Husband Had Stolen Her Fortune

Although Doris had stayed married to Marty Melcher until his death in 1969, the union was not always a happy one. He was manipulative and many thought he was exploiting Doris for his own gain. When he died, the 47-year-old actress discovered that her late husband and her attorney, Jerome Rosenthal, had squandered away her fortune, leaving her with nothing but debt.

Not only had he ruined her financially, but Melcher had committed Doris to a series of contracts without her knowledge, one of which being The Doris Day Show. The widow detested the idea of going into TV, but had no choice.

The Doris Day Show And Retirement

The-Doris-Day-Show-64987-34951.jpg

With nothing in the bank, a desperate Doris fast approaching her 50’s had no other option but to go ahead with the television show her husband had signed her up for. Doris’ one stipulation was that CBS relinquished full creative control to her and her son, Terry. Although her movie popularity had waned, The Doris Day Show ran for five successful seasons.

Every season had dramatic changes to its premise that baffled audiences, but it somehow worked. By 1973, Doris had come to realize she was largely considered ‘passe’ and a thing of the past. With roles drying up, the star mostly retired from acting, except two further TV specials.

Actress Turned Animal Activist

In the early 70’s Doris decided to use her influence for the greater good, founding Actors and Others for Animals. Her interest in animal welfare stemmed from an incident during her teenage years when her dog was killed by a passing car. Doris is also an avid anti-fur campaigner and founded the non-profit charity Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978.

The charity supports causes throughout the U.S that share the DDAF’s mission statement of helping animals – and the people that love them. These days, the Pillow Talk star has many pets and frequently adopts stray animals that she feels are in need of help.

What Happened To Terry Mulcher?

Doris was largely absent for the majority of her son’s early years. Her mother Alma mainly raised Terry as Doris was often on tour or filming. However, the two remained close throughout Terry’s life. Terry went on to find success in his own right, producing bands such as the Byrds and having a top 10 hit of his own with the duo Bruce & Terry.

Doris and her beloved son worked together frequently, as he was the executive producer of her television shows. He also helped his mom through her financial struggles following the death of his stepfather. Sadly, Terry died in 2004 aged 62.

Doris Didn’t Know Her Birth Year Until 2017

Throughout her life Doris believed she was born in 1924. It wasn’t until her birthday in 2017- when she thought she was turning 93 – that the Associated Press presented the aging star with a copy of her birth certificate that Doris had never seen. Despite her previous notions, the document showed that Doris Day was born in 1922.

“I’ve always said that age is just a number and I have never paid much attention to birthdays,” she said in a statement. “It’s great to finally know how old I really am!” Doris and her friend Betty White had often joked about White being two years older, but the joke was on Doris.

A Career Over, A Legacy Left

There’s no doubt that while the actress bowed out of the biz years ago, she made a tremendous impact on the entertainment industry. Her influence goes well beyond a few hit singles. Modern day artists still look to Doris’ music for inspiration – some of which have mentioned her by name in their songs.

The Beatles mentioned her in “Dig It”, George Michael sang about her brightness in Wham’s hit “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and Elton John lists her in “Wrap Her Up” alongside fellow silver-screen legend Brigitte Bardot. The list is endless – just like Day’s timeless legacy.

Doris Day Lived To Be 97 Years Old

doris-day
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On May 13, 2019, The Doris Day Animal Foundation announced that the beloved star had died at her Carmel Valley, California, home. The official statement said that Day was surrounded by close friends when she passed away, and that she “had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia.”

Stars immediately took to social media to pay tribute to the singer. “For those of us in my generation, Doris Day was synonymous with Hollywood icon,” tweeted actor George Takei. “She would no doubt remind us, upon this day of her passing, ‘Que sera sera,’ but we will miss her dearly anyway. Rest now in our hearts forever, Ms. Day.”

Doris Grew Up Around Infidelity

Doris Day and her son, Terry Melcher, play checkers with Day's mother.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Doris’s history with infidelity may have been influenced by her childhood. Her mother, Alma Sophia, married William Joseph Kappelhoff, the son of German immigrants. Alma was a stay-at-home mom, while William taught music and choir. Doris’s father had allegedly cheated on his wife, resulting in their divorce.

Doris’s personal life eerily reflected her father’s. She was married four times, and she was often accused of having relationships with other men. Perhaps Doris became used to infidelity in the family, or it could have been a result of turbulent marriages.

Her Grandson Never Saw Her During Her Final Moments

Doris Day holds her young grandson, Ryan Melcher.
Paul Harris/Getty Images
Paul Harris/Getty Images

Doris’s son, Ryan Melcher, was also a famous musician. Her was the son of Doris’s only child, Terry Melcher. Because of tricky divorce papers, Terry never got to see his grandmother during his final years. After she died, Ryan claimed that he found out about it over social media.

“Sadly, due to a divorce that I was thrown into the middle of while still an underaged child, I have not been allowed to see my grandmother for quite some time,” Ryan wrote on Facebook. He claimed that Doris’s business manager did not even believe that he was her grandson.

She Got Into Christian Science And Then Left It

Doris Day poses for a photo.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Doris Day grew up as a Catholic but did not adhere to the religion. In 1946, she married her second husband, George William Weidler. George introduced Doris to Christian Science, and she stuck with the religion for several years. The experience caused some medical issues for Doris.

According to Doris’s book, Christian Science does not outlaw all medical practices, but it emphasizes spiritual healing. Her resistance to medicine made her ignore cancer symptoms and get a hysterectomy at age 32. Later in life, Doris left Christian Science for her “own personal religion.”

She “Wasn’t Serious Enough” For Hitchcock

Doris Day and James Stewart look scared in a still from the movie The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although Doris was known as the queen of romantic comedies, she also starred in more serious roles, such as Storm Warning. But in 1956, producers thought she wasn’t “serious enough” for Hitchcock’s new film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. They wanted another actress such as Lana Turner or Grace Kelly.

Despite the pressure, Hitchcock adamantly sought after Doris for the role. He believed that her role in Storm Warning proved that she could star in a drama, and he was right. The Man Who Knew Too Much became one of Doris’s best-known roles.

A Sprinkler Cut Robbed Her Of An Oscars Presentation

Doris Day and Karl pose next to an Oscars cake.
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In March 1989, Doris was scheduled to present the Best Original Score Oscar at the Academy Awards. But she never did. Shortly before the date, she was walking through her garden when she cut her leg on a sprinkler. The cut so deep that it required stitches.

Because of the injury, Doris could not appear at The 61st Annual Academy Awards. She left the job up to her scheduled co-hosts, Patrick Swayze and Marvin Hamlisch. Although Doris regretted being unable to attend that night, there was nothing she could do about her leg.

She Turned Down The Sound Of Music

Doris Day poses for a photo in 1965.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the early 1960s, director Robert Wise was searching for actresses to play Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Some of his initial choices were Grace Kelly, Shirley Jones, and of course, Doris Day. But Doris refused, claiming that she was “too American to play a nun from Austria.”

Doris likely turned down a role that would have advanced her career. However, she was well-known as a patriotic singer. After all, her first hit song, “Sentimental Journey,” became an unofficial World War II anthem. Perhaps she thought that the role would damage that reputation.

Animals May Have Ended A Marriage

Doris Day plays fetch with a poodle.
Phil Burchman/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Phil Burchman/Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Doris Day was an enormous pet lover, having several pets and adopting stray animals. However, this love allegedly placed strain on her fourth marriage to Barry Comden. According to Barry, the couple divorced after six years because Doris’s love of animals outweighed her love for him.

That said, Barry knew what he was in for when they started dating. The two met when Barry worked as a maître d’hôtel at one of Doris’s favorite restaurants. He often gave her scrap meats and bones for dogs. Although he knew about her love for dogs, it apparently became too much for him.

She Dated Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan and Doris Day team up in the1952 movie, The Winning Team.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Before Ronald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States, he and Doris briefly dated. The two met when mutual friends from New York visited her in Los Angeles. She claimed that she was charmed by his love of dance and intelligent conversations.

Although Doris was a lifelong Republican, Reagan wasn’t “wasn’t actually in politics” at the time. Instead, he had “a political personality,” according to Doris. The two dated in 1951, after she divorced her third husband, Marty Melcher. They also starred in The Winning Team together. But the relationship did not last long.

Her Son Was Friends With Charles Manson

Doris Day and Terry Melcher pose for a photo together.
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Doris had an indirect relationship with Charles Manson. Her son, Terry Melcher, encountered Manson through a music producer deal. Doris did not approve of the friendship, especially after Manson tried to take Terry to court over a record deal. Even so, Manson continued to visit the Melcher home on Cielo Drive.

Doris encouraged her son to move out of the residence, and eventually he did. On August 8, 1969, Manson encouraged his followers to invade the residence, even though he knew that Terry had moved out. Doris’s son narrowly escaped a deadly situation.