The Girl Next Door
It is unfortunate, yet true, that Doris Day is best remembered by the American public for her film career. As successful as that career was- she appeared in 39 films and was, for five consecutive years. the leading female box-office attraction- she has had four distinct segments to her life, which have only occasionally intersected. She has achieved fame through her illustrious film career, with her own popular television series and with her long tenure as an advocate for animals’ rights.
But it is her thirty years spent as vocalist, both with the ‘40s orchestras of Bob Crosby and Les Brown, and in the ’50s, as a solo artist, for which she has endeared herself in the hearts of countless music lovers. Her satin smooth voice and easy vocal delivery lent her the image of the innocent “girl next door,” an image she continued to promote throughout her film and television incarnations.
Doris Day was cast as the “perpetual virgin,” a perception she did not necessarily attempt to dispel, despite the fact that it frequently made her the object of ridicule and derision. The noted pianist and wry wit, Oscar Levant, considering his relationship with her, once quipped, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”
Still, beyond the squeaky-clean image, Doris Day recorded material at a prodigious pace, laying down over five-hundred songs, including seven million-sellers and eighteen albums through the course of her celebrated career. She had the gift for lending intimacy and immediacy to every song she sang, qualities with which her audience heavily identified.
Born on April 3rd, 1924, in Evanston, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, to German Catholic parents, Doris Mary Ann Von Kapplehoff had two brothers- Richard, two years older, who died before she was born, and her eldest brother, Paul. Her father, William, was a music teacher, choir master, and church organist. Her mother, Alma, was fond of popular music, especially country music.
As a young child, little Doris loved to dance. Growing up, her idol was Ginger Rogers. She began to take dancing lessons at the age of six, with the dream of one day becoming a ballerina. When she was twelve years old, following her father’s scandalous affair, in which he ran off with another woman, Doris’ parents settled a bitter divorce. She lived with her mother and her brother Paul, in College Hill, Ohio.
In 1937, when she was just thirteen, Doris and her young partner, Jerry Doherty, won a $500 prize in a local amateur dance contest sponsored by the Alms & Doepke department store. With hopes of finding stardom there, Doris and her dancing partner planned a trip to Hollywood, California, to determine their prospects as professional dancers. While in Hollywood, they also hoped to visit Franchon & Marco’s famous school of dance.
However, the day before they were to depart, Doris went out with friends to dinner at a nearby restaurant. On the way back from the meal, the car in which Doris was riding was struck by a train. Her right leg was severely injured, dashing her dreams of a career as a dancer. Recovering from her injuries, she was bedridden for a year.
Her convalescence, took place in the family apartment, located above the Cincinnati tavern owned by her uncle. The teenaged girl was exposed to the jukebox blaring in the bar below, playing the hits of the day. By the time she was fourteen years old, she had acquired a taste for the music of swing acts such as Benny Goodman and the Dorsey Brothers orchestras, among many others. She started singing along with Ella Fitzgerald’s records, while slowly evolving a style of her own.
Music quickly became Doris’ consuming passion. Her talent attracted voice coach Grace Raine, whose crucial instruction helped to crystallize for the young girl the distinctive vocal phrasing which was to become the essential aspect of her subsequent singing career. Doris later said, “Grace Raine really taught me virtually everything I ever learned about singing.”
Raine arranged for Doris to appear on “Carlin’s Carnival,“ an amateur showcase on the Cincinnati radio station WLW. She sang the standard “Day After Day, ” written in 1932 by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. Her performance won for her a regular performing segment with the station.
Still known as Doris Kappelhoff, she was approached by nightclub owner and bandleader Barney Rapp, who offered her a job singing at his local club, The Sign Of The Drum, for $25 a week. It was Rapp who suggested that Doris change her name. Because of the popularity of her radio performance of “Day After Day,” she somewhat reluctantly chose to capitalize on the association, selecting the name Doris Day. She dropped out of Our Lady Of Angels High School in St. Bernard, beginning her career as a professional singer.
She continued to sing with Rapp’s band, while making occasional radio appearances. When she learned of an open vocal position with Bob Crosby’s orchestra, she jumped at the opportunity to audition. She won the job, and for the next three months, Doris sang with the Crosby group. She was fifteen years old. While performing with Bob Crosby’s band, she first sang with many of the sidemen, such as Bob Haggart, William Stegmeyer, Billy Butterfield, and Zeke Zarchy, with whom she would later work on her own solo recording sessions.
It was not long before Doris drew the attention of bandleader Les Brown. At the time, Les had a couple of different singers fronting his band, including Miriam Shaw. But in 1940, he heard the perfect vocalist for the band. “A song plugger,” Brown recalled, “told me that there was a great singer I had to hear, who came into town with the Bob Crosby band, named Doris Day. They found out that she had given her notice. I went and saw the show, went backstage and hired her. I thought she was great. She was a natural. The public loved her,” he said. “Wherever she went and whatever she sang, the public liked. It was a turnaround for us that really helped. The band started cooking, you might say.” Doris cut fourteen sides with the Brown orchestra between November 1940 and April 1941.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, romance got in the way. The teenager was madly in love with her high school sweetheart from Cincinnati, Al Jorden, who had become a trombone player in the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra. At Jorden’s urging, Doris returned to Cincinnati to settle down and start a family. She left the Les Brown band in at the end of 1941 and married Jorden.
However Doris’ matrimonial bliss was short-lived. Jorden displayed a jealous streak and a violent temper. He frequently beat Doris, even while she was pregnant with their son. Shortly after the birth of their son, Terry, in February of 1942, Doris filed for divorce.
Once the divorce to Jorden was settled, Doris left her son in the care of her mother and returned to singing and touring with the Les Brown band. It was upon her return to the Brown group, that Doris found her first real success. In 1945 she sang “My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time,” with the Brown orchestra for the Columbia Records label. The song rose to number one on the Billboard charts, and stayed there for seven weeks.
Then, in 1946, Doris released “Sentimental Journey” with the Brown orchestra on the Columbia label. It became the unofficial theme song for all of the young men returning home from the war. The record shot the to the top of the Billboard charts, reaching number one and holding in the Top Ten for sixteen weeks. “Sentimental Journey,” remained in the charts for months, making stars of the Les Brown band (which became Les Brown and the Band of Renown) and Doris Day. It was Doris’ theme song for several years.
In March of 1946 Doris married once again, to saxophonist George Weidler, who was two years younger than she. However, the huge success of “Sentimental Journey” proved to be a threat to Weidler, who feared (rightly, as it turned out) that her career might soon overshadow his own. The couple divorced before the end of the year.
Late in 1946, Doris signed a contract with Columbia as a solo artist, beginning an affiliation that did not end until the mid-’60s. For the next two years she released a steady string of hits with Columbia, including a duet with Buddy Clark on “Confess” that topped the charts in 1947.
From September through November of 1947, Doris was the regular female vocalist on the NBC Saturday night radio series “Your Hit Parade,” which was hosted during that period by Frank Sinatra. It was Sinatra, and bandleader Artie Shaw, who first suggested to Doris that she consider an acting career.
At her agent’s behest, she attended a party in Hollywood, where she impressed songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn with an unrehearsed rendition of the Gershwin standard “Embraceable You.” Styne and Cahn were in the midst of writing the score for a Warner Brothers musical comedy called Romance on the High Seas. The film had been slated to star Betty Hutton, who subsequently backed out of the role. Cahn insisted that Doris audition for director Michael Curtiz. Curtiz immediately ordered for her a screen test, the success of which won for her the part. The picture was a hit, and Doris Day became a movie star. It also spawned for her the hit song, “It’s Magic.”
For the next ten years, her twin careers traveled along parallel trajectories. She had frequent hits with songs that were taken from her films. She recorded some great jazz-oriented material for the 1950 film Man With A Horn (the film that made a star of Kirk Douglas); and she had a hit with “Lullaby of Broadway,” from the 1951 film of the same name, in which she starred. She also began to appear in non-singing roles, distinguishing herself as capable dramatic actress, such as in the 1950 release Storm Warning.
It was during the filming of “Romance on the High Seas,” however that Doris was introduced to Martin “Marty” Melcher, who was married at the time to Patty Andrews of the Andrews sisters. Not long after, Melcher became Doris’ business agent. He soon divorced Andrews and began dating Doris. Cynics have suggested that Marty saw in Doris far greater earnings potential. They were married on April 3, 1951, her 27th birthday. In 1952, Marty legally adopted Doris’ ten-year-old son Terry.
But, with a recording career masterminded by Columbia A&R head Mitch Miller, Doris continued to churn out hit songs with clockwork regularity. She enjoyed collaborative hits with Frankie Laine (“Sugarbush”) and Johnny Ray (“Let’s Walk That A-way”). In 1952, she took the song, “ A Guy Is A Guy” to the top of the charts.
She had a million selling, number one hit in 1954 with “Secret Love,” written by Paul-Francis Webster and Sammy Fain, which was taken from the film Calamity Jane, in which she starred. It is said that Doris recorded “Secret Love” in one take, having only learned the song just the night before.
In 1955 she had a hit with “Love Me Or Leave Me,” from the film of the same name, in which she also starred. Her biggest hit of all was “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans; which she sang in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she co-starred with James Stewart. In addition, she had hits with and the Rodgers and Hart classic from Pal Joey “Bewitched,” and in 1958, with “Everybody Loves A Lover,” written by Robert Allen and Richard Adler.
Doris Day was the most popular American singer of the ‘50s and one of the highest paid. But, beginning with the 1958 film Teacher’s Pet, in which she co-starred with Clark Gable, her movies began to outshine her musical releases. Her last hit song came with the 1962 title track release from her film Move Over Darling, produced by her son, Terry Melcher.
Rock music began to dominate the popular music landscape in the ’60s, which left Doris’ singing career in limbo. Ironically, as her musical fortunes began to fade, her son Terry became a successful rock producer for Columbia Records. His greatest successes came in association with the Byrds’ early work and with Paul Revere & the Raiders. In 1967 Terry quit his job working for the Beatles’ fledgling Apple records label to produce his mother’s final record, The Love Album. Unfortunately, owing to subsequent difficulties, the album remained, more or less forgotten, unreleased for twenty-six years.
For, Doris’ personal and professional fortunes took a terrible turn in 1968, with the death of her husband Marty Melcher. Melcher had managed her business affairs for seventeen years, and, after his death, Doris learned that he and her attorney, Jerome Rosenthal, had squandered (or embezzled) the millions of dollars she had earned through the course of her career. When he died, Melcher left Doris $500,000 in debt. The strain of these and other revelations eventually led Doris to a nervous breakdown.
In the Fall of 1968, she began her recovery, starting work on her CBS network comedy series The Doris Day Show. Before his death, Marty Melcher had committed her to doing the show, signing a contract with CBS in the Spring of 1967, without her knowledge or consent. But the show turned out to be a gigantic success, and by the end of its four-year run, Doris was able to regain her financial footing.
A year after the series ended, she won a $22 million dollar judgment against Rosenthal for his role with Melcher in the mishandling of her finances. Since the cancellation of the CBS series in 1973, she has remained essentially out of the public eye. Today she continues her longtime crusade for animal rights, running the Doris Day Animal Foundation from her home in Carmel, California.
Doris Day captured the hearts of all America in the ‘40s with her soulful vocal stylings and fresh-scrubbed good looks. In the ‘50s, she became an American icon both in song and on film. Her popularity continues, unabated and undiminished after sixty years. The love affair endures between her fans and the quintessential “girl next door.”