"I've always thought it's just a number," says Doris Day about her age, but confesses that she "can hardly believe" she'll be 90 on April 3. On that special date, we celebrate this ageless favorite of Turner Classic Movies--and the world--by showing a dozen of her movie hits in a 24-hour birthday marathon.
Day is doing some celebrating of her own with "A Sentimental Journey," a three-day fundraising event for family and friends at her Cypress Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, that begins on her birthday. Meanwhile, Day has participated in a rare and exclusive telephone interview with TCM's Robert Osborne that can be heard in the TCM Media Room.
"A Sentimental Journey," named for Day's first No. 1 hit record, is a three-night package at the Cypress Inn on April 3-5 that will benefit the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF), an organization founded by Day to help animals and the people who love them. The event includes an invitation to a pet fashion show featuring Day's beloved "four-leggers," live entertainment on the evening of April 3 with pianist Jim Martinez and singer Laura Didier, and tickets to an official birthday celebration dinner on the evening of April 4. The dinner will feature live entertainment, surprise guests, a silent auction and a raffle with a chance to win personal, autographed memorabilia from Day's collection. Also included in the package are a daily breakfast buffet and commemorative gift bag with Doris Day and DDAF memorabilia. A generous portion of the proceeds from all activities will go directly to DDAF. Space is limited, with room selection on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more, call the Cypress Inn at 1-800-443-7443 or visit Doris Day's website.
Osborne's interview with Day--lengthy, far-ranging and fascinating--begins with his telling the sunny star that, of all the people for whom TCM gets requests for movies and information, "No. 1 is Doris Day." An obviously pleased Doris responds in that bubbly voice, "You've made my day!"
Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, she was the daughter of a music teacher and his wife. In response to a question from Osborne about when she first realized she could sing, she says it was while in dancing school at the tender age of five: "We had to pick out a song to sing and make up a tap dance and do that on the next Saturday." At one time she dreamed of becoming a professional dancer and in the mid-1930s formed a dance duo with a partner, Jerry Doherty. "Of course, I was in a car accident which shattered my right leg, and was in a cast for nearly two years," she tells Osborne.
"While I was recuperating," she continues, "I would listen to the radio and sing along with the bands--often with Ella Fitzgerald--and that's how I started singing." After some radio vocalizing and training with an influential local teacher, Grace Raine, Day was hired by Barney Rapp as a vocalist for his band, then moved on to work with bandleaders Bob Crosby and Les Brown. It was with Brown that she recorded "Sentimental Journey," which set her firmly on the path to that remarkable recording career.
Day says she embarked on her movie career at Warner Bros. almost by accident: "I happened to be around the studio, but I was going to New York the next day." However, composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn, who were preparing a 1948 film called Romance on the High Seas (1948), had heard her sing and recommended her to director Michael Curtiz, who auditioned her for the leading role in the musical. "You're such a natural," Osborne tells her. From the start she was completely comfortable and natural in front of movie cameras. With her blonde beauty, bouncy personality and fresh singing voice, she became an instant star in this, her first film. "I was never nervous," says Day. "I just loved it, and it just rolled."
Day would appear in a total of 39 films, many of them hits, before turning to another successful career in television. She was the biggest female box-office champion in film history, ranking in the top ten box-office stars for ten years during the period (1951-66) and reaching No. 1 on the list for four of those years. She also released more than 30 albums, and her songs spent a total of 460 weeks in the Top 40 charts.
Osborne asks Day about some of her famous co-workers, reminding her that Rock Hudson once said, "Doris Day is my Actor's Studio. That's where I learned everything about comedy and timing." Day says, "He is really so dear to me. He was so marvelous to work with... I felt so sorry for him. What happened was really bad." (Hudson died of AIDS-related causes in 1985.) She also has enthusiastic words of praise for Frank Sinatra and her three Jameses--Cagney, Garner and Stewart.
Almost as beloved for her loving commitment to animals as for her films and recordings, Day founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation in the late 1970s and continues to be a leading advocate for animal welfare. She tells Osborne that she currently has four dogs, having "lost a few of them" in recent times. "That's the hardest part of it. I love them so much--they're just like my babies."
Day essentially retired from performing in 1973. When Osborne asks why, she responds rather wistfully: "I don't know why myself... But it was stupid of me to stop because I loved doing it." She ends the interview on a surprising note by saying, "You never know--I might start working again!" Osborne assures her that her fans have remained very loyal: "They love you and the work you have done, and they really cherish that."
The Day movies in the TCM tribute range from her early years at Warner Bros. to her final feature film (to date) and provide a full and lively illustration of her incredible range as a quadruple-threat performer--world-class singer, accomplished dancer, sparkling comedienne and riveting dramatic actress. Here's the lineup, with times the films will be shown on TCM.
I'll See You in My Dreams (1951, screening at 6 a.m. ET) was Day's 10th film after her 1948 debut. It's a film biography of lyricist Gus Kahn (played by Danny Thomas), casting Day as Mrs. Kahn and offering her a chance to show off her inimitable singing style on such standards as "The One I Love," "My Buddy" and the title tune. April in Paris (1952), a bouncy musical comedy with Doris as a chorus girl named "Dynamite" who is mistakenly invited to a prestigious arts festival in Gay Paree, provides more first-rate singing by Day, plus the chance for her to dance up a storm with costar Ray Bolger.
Calamity Jane (1953, screening at 4:15 p.m. ET) is a rambunctious musical reminiscent of Annie Get Your Gun. Day is "Calam," a gun-totin' hoyden who corrals her guy (Howard Keel) after singing the plaintive, Oscar-winning ballad "Secret Love" (Day's biggest recording hit). This was a major highlight of Day's Warners years, offering the best original score of her films for that studio and the role that she claimed as her favorite--"the closest to the real me."
Day's first film away from the studio that had been her home for seven years was a knockout: MGM's Love Me Or Leave Me (1955, screening at 12:15 p.m. ET). In this biopic of Ruth Etting, a singing star of the 1920s and '30s who became involved in a tempestuous relationship with gangster Marty Snyder, Day projects a torrid new image and holds her own in dramatic fireworks with James Cagney as Snyder. Day also moves expertly through a catalog of splendid numbers associated with Etting including "Ten Cents a Dance," "Shakin' the Blues Away" and the title song. She has often said that she considers this to be her best film.
By the late 1950s Day had introduced straight comedies into her mix of musicals and dramas. Two of these comedies came from MGM. In The Tunnel of Love (1958, screening at 6 p.m. ET) she stars opposite Richard Widmark as a couple whose adopted baby looks suspiciously like the husband. Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960, screening at 4 a.m. ET) is based on Jean Kerr's witty best-selling memoir. Day is the wife of a critic, as Kerr was in real life, with the nimble comic actor David Niven playing her husband in this family-style comedy.
Day really hit her comic stride in her lightly risqué farces with Rock Hudson at Universal. Lover Come Back (1961, screening at 8 a.m. ET) has the sexy twosome as competing Madison Avenue ad executives whose love/hate relationship is sparked by a mysterious (and intoxicating) product called VIP. In Send Me No Flowers (1964, screening at 12 a.m. ET) Doris and Rock are a couple whose marriage is threatened by his hypochondria. As she indicates in her interview with Robert Osborne, Day and Hudson became dear friends and brought a palpable rapport to the byplay in all their films together.
Day also enjoyed a sublime comic chemistry with James Garner, who played her husband in two 1963 films. In Universal's The Thrill of It All (screening at 8 p.m. ET) she annoys him by becoming a successful television spokesperson; in 20th Century-Fox's Move Over, Darling (screening at 10 p.m. ET) she startles him by returning after she has been stranded for five years on a desert island and presumed dead. In both films, Day and Garner skillfully mine their material for laughs and a touch of sentiment.
Day's last big musical was Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962, screening at 10 a.m. ET), an MGM circus epic in which her songs include the exquisite "Little Girl Blue" and her supporting cast includes Stephen Boyd and the hilarious team of Jimmy Durante and Martha Raye. Day's final film before she left movies for television was With Six You Get Eggroll (1968, screening at 2 a.m. ET), a charming comedy released through National General Pictures in which she and Brian Keith play a widow and widower who combine their families with tumultuous results.
By Roger Fristoe