Things You Might Not Know About Doris DayPublished on April 19, 2018. Updated March 24, 2020
Doris Day was the definition of a Hollywood treasure. Her talent and incredible career made her iconic and have changed the landscape for women in the entertainment industry in the years that have followed. Doris Day was truly a one of a kind and, despite decades of fame, there is still a lot that many don’t know about her! From dancing to acting to singing and everything in between, here are 12 things you never knew about Doris Day:
12. What’s In a Name?
While she was world renowned as Doris Day, she was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. When Doris was discovered by Barney Rapp, she was only 16 years old and he knew that she needed a stage name that was easier for people to remember. Thanks to her rendition of “Day After Day” he suggested Day for her last name, and while she wasn’t thrilled about it, Rapp thought it was perfect and had “a nice fresh sound to it –like the dawn of a new day.” Doris later reportedly told her mother that she didn’t like Doris Day because it sounded like the name of a headliner at a Burlesque house; in other words, according to Doris, it sounded like a stripper’s stage name.
11. Age Is Just A Number
Somewhere along the line, it seems Doris forgot her birthday and for quite some time said she was born in 1924. It wasn’t until a few days before her birthday in 2017 that her official birth certificate was found revealing the star was turning 95 not 93 as she thought. “I’ve always said that age is just a number and I have never paid much attention to birthdays, but it’s great to finally know how old I really am!” Day said after the revelation. “There has long been speculation and rumors about Doris’ age and we get this question a lot, looks like we finally have the answer,” said Day’s spokesman, Charley Cullen Walters. “The story I have heard the most is that at one point Doris was up for a role when quite young and her age may have been miswritten on the audition form. We don’t know if that’s correct, but if so it could’ve simply stuck for all these years.”
10. Early Life
Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff was born on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio to Alma Sophia, a housewife, and William Joseph Kappelhoff, who worked as a choirmaster and music teacher. She was one of three siblings born to the couple, with two older brothers, but her brother Richard passed away before her birth. In a 1986 interview, Day’s son Terry, opened up about his grandparents and his mother’s early life revealing that Alma had to take on raising Paul and Doris alone after Doris found her father cheating on her mother. “He was completely tyrannical about other people’s behavior and morals but unfortunately, he was a complete hypocrite about his own. Mother was just 10 years old when she discovered him in bed with the mother of her own best schoolfriend,” Terry said.
9. Dreams of Dancing
While Doris Day was best known for her singing and acting, when she was young, her first passion was dancing. When she was in her early teens, Doris formed a dance duo with Jerry Doherty and the two performed in Cincinnati, but just as she was beginning to realize her dream of dancing, tragedy struck. On October 13, 1937, when she was only 15 years old, Doris was a passenger in a car accident that ended up damaging both her legs severely, including breaking her right leg. “I couldn’t walk for almost three years,” Day once said of the severity of the incident and how it crushed all of her dreams of continuing on in dance.
8. Becoming A Singer
Although the devastating accident took away her hopes of dancing, another door opened during that time she spent injured and rehabilitating. “That was the greatest thing that happened. Instead of dancing, I sang. They carried me three times a week up a stairway to my music teacher,” Day once recalled. She also revealed,”During this long, boring period, I used to while away a lot of time listening to the radio, sometimes singing along with the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller.” However, there was one voice that stood out above the rest and it belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. “There was a quality to Ella’s voice that fascinated me, and I’d sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.” It didn’t take long for Doris to land a job performing as a vocalist on a radio program where she caught the attention of Barney Rapp, who changed her name and launched her career.
7. Two Stars
For any entertainer, it is a huge achievement to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and among many of her awards and accolades, Doris Day is one of the few to have not just one, but two stars! In February of 1960, Day was honored with two stars: one for her work as an actress and the other for her work as a singer.
6. Personal Life
Although Doris Day was the poster girl for all things happy and wholesome, behind the scenes, her own personal life was nothing short of dramatic. While still a teenager, Day fell in love with Al Jorden, the trombonist from Barney Rapp’s band, who already had a bad reputation. The pair were married in 1941 and together welcomed their son, Terry, but the relationship was far from loving. Jorden was reportedly very abusive and begged Day to get an abortion when she became pregnant. Only two years after their wedding, Day took the steps to divorce Jorden, who went on to commit suicide in 1967. Not long after she split from Jorden, Day fell for saxophonist George William Weidler and the pair were married in 1946. Unfortunately, after they moved to L.A. for Day’s career, their marriage deteriorated and Day ended up moving to New York with her mother and child to escape Weidler and the pair divorced. In April 1951, Day married her third husband Martin Melcher, and although they were together until his death in 1968, it wasn’t until after he died that she discovered that he and her attorney Jerome Rosenthal had squandered away all of her money, leaving her in debt. In 1976, Day married for the fourth time to Barry Comden, who was nearly 10 years her junior and worked as a maitre d’ at the Beverly Hills Old World Restaurant. Comden endeared himself to Day through her love of animals by giving her bags of scraps and bones to give to her dogs when she left. Their marriage only lasted until 1981 as Comden said their marriage fell apart because Day cared more about her animals than she did for him.
5. The Doris Day Show
The Doris Day Show was a highlight for many fans, but what they didn’t know was how against doing the series the star was. After Melcher’s death, Day discovered to her dismay that not only had he used her fortune and left her in debt, he had also committed her to starring in The Doris Day Show without her consent. “It was awful,” Day told OK! Magazine in 1996. “I was really, really not very well when Marty [Melcher] passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering. But he’d signed me up for a series. And then my son Terry [Melcher] took me walking in Beverly Hills and explained that it wasn’t nearly the end of it. I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me.” Day had no choice but to do the show because of the debt she was in and in order to earn money to fight her legal battle against Jerome Rosenthal. In the end, Day won the lawsuit for a total of $22,835,646 which was the largest amount ever awarded in a civil suit in California at the time.
4. Que Sera, Sera
Just a mention of “Que Sera, Sera” invokes the thought of Doris Day, but as it turns out, at first she wanted nothing to do with the Academy Award-winning song. Day sang the song in Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much and, in fact, he didn’t particularly want her in the film. “We got a call from Alfred Hitchcock. And he told us that he had Doris Day in his picture, whom he didn’t want. But MCA, the agency, was so powerful that they said if he wanted Jimmy Stewart he would also have to take Doris Day and Livingston and Evans. It was the only time an agent got us a job that I can remember. Hitchcock said that since Doris Day was a singer, they needed a song for her. He said, ‘I can tell you what it should be about. She sings it to a boy. It should have a foreign title because Jimmy Stewart is a roving ambassador and he goes all over the world,” songwriter Jay Livingston revealed. After hearing the song, however, Day didn’t want to record it because she thought it sounded like a “children’s song.” “She didn’t want to record it but the studio pressured her. She did it in one take and said, ‘That’s the last you’re going to hear of this song,'” Livingston explained. Day also commented on why she wasn’t fond of the song, saying, “The first time somebody told me it was going to be in that movie, I thought, ‘Why?’ I didn’t think there was a place to put that song. I thought, ‘I’m not crazy about that. Where are they going to put it? For what?’ I didn’t think it was a good song.” After the song’s massive popularity, however, she conceded, “I thought that was wonderful, because it became that because of children. And then I understood it. Because it was for our child in the movie. Then I realized, maybe it isn’t a favorite song of mine, but people loved it. And kids loved it. And it was perfect for the film. So I can’t say that it’s a favorite song of mine, but, boy, it sure did something.”
3. Retreat From the Spotlight
After Day became a star, she quickly became the golden girl of Hollywood with her innocence, grace, beauty and talent, but when the cameras weren’t rolling, Day was often different. After her stardom took off, she was faced with an endless and grueling schedule of filming and recording, and it began to take its toll. She soon became known for her tantrums and anger and often threatened to go back home and never return to Hollywood. After a long and tumultuous relationship with the entertainment industry, Day finally began to step back from the spotlight and mostly retired from acting when The Doris Day Show came to an end in 1973. After her retreat from Hollywood, Day sought her true happiness by caring for animals and moved out to Carmel-by-the-Sea in Calfornia. “I came out to Carmel and it was so nice, and I have so many doggies,” she said in a 2007 interview. “And I thought that this would really be nice.”
2. Animal Activism
Day always had a strong passion for caring for animals, and thanks to her stardom she was able to take action on that passion. In 1971, she co-founded Actors and Others for Animals and then in 1978 founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation and the Doris Day Animal League, she then set her sights on helping bigger pets when in 2001 she opened the Doris Day Horse Rescue and Adoption Center. As for the star herself, she took in several animals to her own home. “If I come across a doggie who needs a home, that’s when I take them,” she said. “They’re in a special area — an outdoor area — but the ceiling is all glass and they look up there and see the trees. They have two big rooms inside and then one outside. They just love it.”
1. The Doris Day Image
While Doris Day was certainly America’s Sweetheart for quite some time, her innocent, joyful and proper image portrayed by her many roles often made many fans question her personal life decisions. She was under heavy criticism for her many relationships and for living with men before marriage, but as she explained, she never claimed to be the person everyone thought she was from her films. “You don’t really know a person until you live with him, not just sleep with him. Sex is not enough to sustain a marriage. I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-shoes, America’s Virgin, and all that, so I’m afraid it’s going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together. The young people have it right. What a tragedy it is for a couple to get married, have a child, and in the process discover they are not suited for one another! If I had lived with Al Jorden for a few weeks, God knows I would never have married him. Nor would I have married George Weidler. But I was too young and too inexperienced to understand any of this. Now my heart was busted and I had lost my way,” she said in 1975.