Nationality: American. Born: Doris von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, 3 April 1924. Education: Attended Withrow High School, Cincinnati; Fanchon and Marco Dance School, Los Angeles, 1937. Family: Married 1) Al Jorden, 1941 (divorced 1942), son Terry; 2) George Weidlen, 1947; 3) Martin Melcher, 1951 (died 1968); 4) Barry Comden, 1976. Career: 1940—singer with Bob Crosby's band in Chicago; 1940–46—singer in Les Brown's band; also became successful recording star; 1947–48—under personal contract to director Michael Curtiz, made film acting debut in Romance on the High Seas ; contract with Warners; 1948—appeared with Bob Hope on weekly radio shows and concert tours; 1955—contract with Warner
Romance on the High Seas (Curtiz) (as Georgia Garrett)
My Dream Is Yours (Curtiz) (as Martha Gibson); It's a Great Feeling (Butler) (as Judy Adams)
Young Man with a Horn ( Young Man of Music ) (Curtiz) (as Jo Jordan); Tea for Two (Butler) (as Nanette Carter); The West Point Story (Del Ruth) (as Jan Wilson); Storm Warning (Heisler) (as Lucy Rice)
The Lullaby of Broadway (Butler) (as Melinda Howard); On Moonlight Bay (Del Ruth) (as Marjorie Winfield); I'll See You in My Dreams (Curtiz) (as Grace LeBoy Kahn); Starlift (Del Ruth) (as Herself)
The Winning Team (Seiler) (as Aimee); April in Paris (Butler) (as Ethel "Dynamite" Jackson)
By the Light of the Silvery Moon (Butler) (as Marjorie Winfield); Calamity Jane (Butler) (title role)
Lucky Me (Donohue) (as Candy)
Young at Heart (Douglas) (as Laurie Tuttle); Love Me or Leave Me (Charles Vidor) (as Ruth Etting)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock) (as Jo McKenna); Julie (Stone) (as Julie Benton)
The Pajama Game (Abbott and Donen) (as Katie "Babe" Williams)
Teacher's Pet (Seaton) (as Erica Stone); The Tunnel of Love (Kelly) (as Isolde Poole)
It Happened to Jane (Quine) (as Jane Osgood); Pillow Talk (Gordon) (as Jan Morrow)
Please Don't Eat the Daisies (Walters) (as Kate Mackay); Midnight Lace (Miller) (as Kit Preston)
Lover Come Back (Delbert Mann) (as Carol Templeton); That Touch of Mink (Delbert Mann) (as Cathy Timberlake); Billy Rose's Jumbo (Walters) (as Kitty Wonder)
The Thrill of It All (Jewison) (as Beverly Boyer); Move Over, Darling (Gordon) (as Ellen Wagstaff Arden)
Send Me No Flowers (Jewison) (as Judy)
Do Not Disturb (Levy) (as Janet Harper)
The Glass Bottom Boat (Tashlin) (as Jennifer Nelson)
Caprice (Tashlin) (as Patricia Fowler); The Ballad of Josie (McLaglen) (as Josie Minick)
Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (Averback) (as Margaret Garrison); With Six You Get Egg Roll (Morris) (as Abby McClure)
Doris Day: Her Own Story , with A. E. Hotchner, New York, 1976; rev. ed., 1985.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus , New York, 1973.
Haskell, Molly, From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies , New York, 1974.
Morris, George, Doris Day , 1976.
Young, Christopher, The Films of Doris Day , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1977.
Gelb, Alan, The Doris Day Scrapbook , New York, 1977.
Clarke, Jane, and Diana Simmons, Move over Misconceptions: Doris Day Reappraised , London, 1980.
Braun, Eric, Doris Day , London, 1991.
Current Biography 1954 , New York, 1954.
Shipman, D., "Doris Day," in Films and Filming (London), August 1962.
Capp, Al, "The Day Dream," in Show (Hollywood), December 1962.
Morris, George, "Doris Day: No Pollyanna," in Close-Ups: The Movie Star Book , edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
Haskell, Molly, "Doris Day," in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Williamson, Judith, in Consuming Passions (London), 1986.
Casablanca, T., "The Awful Truth," in Premiere , February 1993.
* * *
Having at various times been ridiculed as the vacuous heroine of not very distinguished Warner Brothers musical comedies in the 1950s or as the perpetual virgin of Universal's sex comedies in the 1960s, Doris Day now finds herself the victim of a critical change of heart; it now appears that she may have been a gifted and unappreciated actress as well as remaining, for most of her career, one of the top two or three attractions at the American box office.
Most of the snide criticism of her work in fact came at the end of it, when from the perspective of the late 1960s and early 1970s Day's girl next door seemed an affront to the less romance-centric lifestyles of the sexual revolution. No such taint affected her career during the years when she was actually acting, when a Doris Day film was consistent with, and a kind of vindication of, 1950s and early 1960s versions of the ideal woman. By any standard, she was one of the great popular singers of her generation, and that talent at times threatened to overwhelm her work as an actress. Her breath control was exact, her diction was flawless, and her tone was beautiful, but her unique talent was that she could evoke great emotion (and in the process spellbind her audience) without obvious histrionics. No one who has seen her first film, Romance on the High Seas , can ever forget the moment when Doris Day first sings "It's Magic." Improving with age, several Day musicals have emerged as the most enjoyable of that genre: a bouncy Broadway transplant ( Pajama Game ), an energized photocopy of Annie Get Your Gun ( Calamity Jane ), a surprisingly hard-edged if falsified biopic about Ruth Etting ( Love Me or Leave Me ), and the splashy MGM musical swansong ( Jumbo ).
She began her career as a big band singer in the early 1940s; though she now modestly denies it, she was also a fine dancer; most importantly, however, she created a "character"—the American girl, bright, carefree, resilient, honest, caring, tough when she had to be, nobody's fool, unfailingly optimistic. Day's personal life throughout the 1940s and 1950s was far from pleasant; the character she portrayed on screen was indeed just that—a persona, the work of an actress, achieved with great cunning. It was an accomplishment of and for its time, perhaps, but it proved more durable than the exotic showgirls of her predecessor, Betty Grable, or the eccentrics of her successor, Julie Andrews.
That persona was so effectively developed and so convincing that her directors were able to "use" Day in opposition to herself ( The Pajama Game ) or to inject the "character" into other, mildly inappropriate contexts (Hitchcock in The Man Who Knew Too Much ) to achieve a subtle resonance. The great transition in Day's career—from musical star to light comedy performer—is "odd," in retrospect, only if one forgets that persona. At the time of her first great comedy success— Pillow Talk in 1959—Doris Day was already 35 years old, too old for continued success in musical comedies, a form that was dying anyway; her career ought to have ended. Yet the Day persona was so much established in the moviegoer's consciousness, so much what the American woman was then, rightly or wrongly, imagined to be, that Day's transition to another genre was, in fact, both painless and successful; the American girl next door of 20 became the American career girl of 30. The new Day was more popular with the audiences than she had ever been.
Stretching her versatility to extremes may have prolonged her stardom, but whereas Day is irreplaceable in musicals and endearing in comedies, she is often uncomfortable in melodrama. One senses her flinging her emotions haphazardly at the camera. Yet, even caught up in the hysteria of Midnight Lace (whimpering while fleeing in her high heels on skyscraper girders from a gaslighting husband) or choking back tears in Julie (while crash-coursing in flying a plane after her deranged spouse shoots the pilot), Day arouses our protective instincts.
Today, armed with deconstructive works such as Rock Hudson's Home Movies , buffs approach the Day-Hudson comedies with smirking knowingness, as if awareness of Rock's homosexuality somehow invalidated these romantic trifles. While it is doubtful that Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back would ever have had the enduring appeal of Lubitsch's or Sturges's escapist wish-fulfilment, it is time to accept these films not as mislabeled sophisticated farces but as double-standard sex romps illuminated by Day's perky savoir faire. With her bubble-domed coiffure and enviably sleek wardrobe, Day's career gal was as key an identification figure in the sixties as TV's Mary Richards was in the seventies. Playing an independent working woman, Day single-handedly removed the stigma from the word "unmarried."
Contractually bound to repeat herself in films handpicked by her husband (who also obligated her to a TV series without her knowledge, a fact she discovered after his death), Day did not end her film career on a high note. As her beloved image faded due to repetition, in Caprice , and other late sixties films, the soft-focus, time-erasing filters seemed to blur her unsinkable spirit; she became a Doris Day impersonator.
Transcending her late spouse's shady business deals, Day recovered her fortune from an unscrupulous lawyer and now devotes herself to animal rights. Still smashing-looking, she declines comeback offers from Hollywood power brokers and an offer to sleuth in a TV detective series with the same finality with which she once nixed the Mrs. Robinson role in The Graduate . Having conquered every field but Broadway, Day inspires a new generation of devotees who respond to this strong-willed star who outgrew being the girl next door, the career girl next door, and the mature-but-ageless-looking married girl next door.
Doris Day was one of cinema's most popular stars because she synthesized for millions of people a particular kind of dream, but in those moments when she sang, she was something more. In those moments, she was an artist who could take us beyond ourselves.
—George Walsh, updated by Robert Pardi