Doris Day, the actress, singer and animal rights activist (who didn’t need an Oscar to ensure her greatness) died Sunday at 97. Day was one of the last larger-than-life links to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood filmmaking, perhaps best known for starring in a trio of comedies with Rock Hudson (including the classic, taboo-prodding Pillow Talk) and Hitchcock’s 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much; her multi-format sitcom The Doris Day Show (1968-1973); and her stellar discography—Day recorded hundreds of songs for Columbia Records throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s (Sly and the Family Stone’s cover of Que Será, Será at the end of Heathers introduced me to Day’s most famous hit).
Day’s dominance at the box office in the 1960s owed something to the actress’s wonderful blend of carefully constructed sweetness and comic acuity. Day herself understood that her “girl next door” demeanor was a draw for audiences, but it wasn’t until the publication of her 1975 tell-all autobiography Doris Day: Her Own Story (co-written with biographer and novelist A.E. Hotchner) that the world learned just how much popular fantasies about Day’s life deviated from reality, a sobering one often characterized by heartbreak and abuse.
A round-up by People magazine reminded us of some of the travails Day experienced in her life: a car accident that ended her dream of becoming a dancer, an abusive first marriage with musician Al Jorden (I mean, crazy stuff), a love affair with pre-presidential Ronald Reagan (frightening to this author), and her marriage to Martin Melcher, the man who went on to manage Day’s career and burn craters through her life savings, a deception Day didn’t learn about until after Melcher’s death.
Hopefully Day found a more consistent joy in the last 40 years of her life. Not long after The Doris Day Show ended, she moved to an estate in Carmel, California, where she turned to animal rescue and advocacy work. After such a fruitful career that brought delight to so many people, no one can fault her for that.
Once I had a secret love
That lived within the heart of me
All too soon my secret love
Became impatient to be free
I will miss you Doris Day, my first secret love
— Paulo Coelho (@paulocoelho) May 13, 2019