Excerpted from Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, by David Kaufman
When she made Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, in 1959, Doris Day was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history. But after the death of her third husband a decade later, she devoted herself to animal-rights work, withdrawing more and more to her pet-filled Carmel estate in the wake of new financial and personal disappointments. In an excerpt from his forthcoming biography of the 86-year-old singer-actress, David Kaufman charts the divide between Day’s private struggle and the sunny, champagne-bubble glamour her fans adored.
Doris Day, the bouncy, fresh-faced, blonde singer who had been born Doris Kappelhoff, had her first hit song, “Sentimental Journey,” in 1945, when she was 23. Like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, both of whom she worked with, Day parlayed her success as a big-band vocalist into a career in Hollywood (where two years would get shaved off her age). Her first picture, Romance on the High Seas – in which she plays a singer on a cruise ship – was released in 1948, and she was immediately acclaimed. Like Judy Garland, she was a natural; the camera loved her. When Michael Curtiz, her director, learned that she wanted to take acting lessons, he admonished her against it. “You have a very strong personality,” he said. “No matter what you do onscreen, no matter what kind of part you play, it will always be you. What I mean is, Doris Day will always shine through the part. This will make you a big, important star.”
Over the next two decades, Day made 38 more films. In 1956, when she worked with Alfred Hitchcock on The Man Who Knew Too Much, she kept asking her co-star, James Stewart, why she was not getting any direction. Was Hitchcock unhappy with her work? Though Stewart assured her that Hitchcock usually spoke up only when an actor was doing something wrong, Day finally confronted the man himself,
who put her mind at ease. “Dear Doris, you’ve done nothing to elicit comment from me,” he said. “You have been doing what I felt was right for the film, and that’s why I haven’t told you anything.”
Norman Jewison, her director on The Thrill of It All (1963) and Send Me No Flowers (1964), was also bemused by Day’s insecurity. “Doris did not believe that she was an attractive woman. I thought she was beautiful. Millions of fans thought she was beautiful. Everybody she had ever worked with thought she was beautiful. Doris remained unconvinced.”
Besides James Stewart, Day’s leading men included James Cagney, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, David Niven, James Garner, Louis Jourdan, and Jack Lemmon. Cagney, who co-starred with her twice, in The West Point Story (1950) and Love Me or Leave Me (1955), about the 20s-and-30s singer Ruth Etting, told her, “You know, girl, you have a quality that I’ve seen but twice before.” He named Pauline Lord and Laurette Taylor, two of the greatest American stage actresses. “Both these ladies could really get in there and do it with everything. They could take you apart playing a scene. Now, you’re the third one.”
James Garner, who acted with Day in The Thrill of It All and another light comedy, Move Over, Darling (1963), considered her the perfect co-star. “I’d rather have Doris than Liz Taylor,” he remarked. “Everything Doris does turns to box-office gold…. I think Doris is a very sexy lady who doesn’t know how sexy she is. That’s an integral part of her charm.