Doris Day radiated goodness. On the silver screen, she represented the woman every man wanted, or at least should have wanted—smart, sweet, and beautiful. In her later years, Day’s energies were largely channeled towards the welfare of the animals she loved. And before she became one of America’s most bankable film actresses, Day, who died on Monday, May 12 in 2019 at the age of 97, was a popular recording artist whose career commenced as a singer with several notable big bands.
Doris Kappelhoff was her maiden name. She was born in Cincinnati on April 3, 1922 and initially cultivated an interest in dance, but that was curtailed by a 1937 auto accident that injured her leg. During her extended period of healing, Doris began singing along with the big bands she heard on the radio, just for fun (Ella Fitzgerald was her favorite singer). Her mother encouraged her, hiring a music teacher, Grace Raine, for her sidelined daughter. Before long, the newly minted chanteuse was appearing on local radio and at a Chinese restaurant that featured live music.
Local bandleader Barney Rapp hired the newcomer to replace his pregnant wife as his orchestra’s ‘girl singer.’ Rapp changed her surname to Day, inspired by one of the numbers she sang, Day After Day. After Rapp, Day took similar singing posts with the big bands of Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown. The latter was where Day got her big break: she fronted Brown’s orchestra on a 1945 rendition of Sentimental Journeyfor Columbia that became a huge seller. It wasn’t her only trip to the winner’s circle with Brown’s outfit—she also scored with My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time(her second chart-topper),Till The End Of Time, and Aren’t You Glad You’re You?(several more hits with Brown transpired over the next couple of years). Since Brown was Bob Hope’s bandleader, there was plenty of radio exposure for the young vocalist.
Day segued into movies despite having no acting experience. Her first role came in director Michael Curtiz’s 1948 musical ‘Romance on the High Seas.’ Its soundtrack included Day’s first big solo seller, It’s Magic, the work of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn (they had recommended her for her part in the film). A couple of months earlier, her duet with Buddy Clark, Love Somebody, had climbed to the peak of the pop hit parade. Day quickly developed into a major musical film star, lighting up the screen in ‘Tea For Two’ (1950), ‘On Moonlight Bay’ (1951), and the hugely popular ’51 release ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams,’ the film bio of songsmith Gus Kahn.
Day’s lengthy solo recording career at Columbia was filled with hits. Her biggest in 1949 was Again; Hoop-Dee-Doocracked the Top Ten the next year (it was but one of her seven chart entries in ‘50), and Day scored big in 1951 with Would I Love You (Love You, Love You)and Shanghai. Her eight ’52 hits included duets with Frankie Laine, Donald O’Connor, and Johnnie Ray and the solo #1 A Guy Is A Guy. 1953 brought seven more chart bows including two more duets with Ray. Day’s ’54 hit haul was led by her tender ballad Secret Love, a chart-topper not only at home, where she registered nine hits in all that year, but in Great Britain too. It hailed from her movie ‘Calamity Jane,’ where Day played the raucous title role.
‘Love Me Or Leave Me,’ Day’s starring turn in the dramatic 1955 bio of singer Ruth Etting, proved that she could do more than dazzle in frothy musicals. Although the advent of rock and roll slowed Day’s constant assaults to the upper reaches of the pop hit parade somewhat, she had a mammoth seller in 1956 with the lilting Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be), from the Alfred Hitchcock-directed thriller ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much,’ where she co-starred with James Stewart (the song won an Oscar). A couple of years later, Day had her last major hit record with the delightful Everybody Loves A Lover, but by then her film career had taken precedence anyway.
Day’s movie career struck its apex with a series of romantic comedies where she was teamed with Rock Hudson: ‘Pillow Talk’ (1959), ‘Lover Come Back’ (1961), and ‘Send Me No Flowers’ (1964). Hudson wasn’t her only notable leading man during this period; she shared the screen with David Niven in ‘Please Don’t Eat The Daisies’ (1960), Cary Grant in ‘That Touch Of Mink’ (1962), and with James Garner in ‘The Thrill Of It All’ and ‘Move Over, Darling’ (both 1963). ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ with Rod Taylor was Day’s last major film success in 1966.
Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff entered the world on April 3, 1924, in Evanston, a comfortable middle class suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Her first name was borrowed from her mother's favorite silent film actress, Doris Kenyon. Both of her parents were born in America to German immigrants, and she was their third and final child (one son, Richard, died at the age of two long before Doris was born.
The other boy, Paul, was three years her elder). Her father, Frederick Wilhelm von Kappelhoff (known as William), was a music teacher; church organist; and choral master with a pronounced affinity for classical music. Her mother, Alma Sophia Welz, was an earthy, gregarious woman with a predilection for hillbilly music and country and western tunes. Her parents' diverse musical tastes (neither of which exerted any lasting influence on young Doris) were symptomatic of a deeper rift between them, and they were divorced in 1936. Alma Sophia moved her children to the nearby suburb of College Hill, but retained her job in the Evanston Bakery, which helped to finance the dance lessons that Doris had pursued since kindergarten.
A disastrous "debut performance", during which her turn in a school minstrel show was abbreviated when she wet her pants, did nothing to deter the youngster's fascination with popular music in general and dancing in particular. She attended ballet school, learned to tap dance, and by the age of twelve had developed an act with a neighborhood boy named Jerry Doherty. In 1937 the duo won the five hundred dollar first prize in a local amateur contest.
It was decided to use this money to help finance a trip to Hollywood, where they might further develop their skills at the well known Fanchon & Marco dance school. The fledgling partnership was so buoyed by their four weeks of tutelage under the attentive eye of film choreographer Louis Da Pron that they decided, along with their mothers, to return to Cincinnati and gather their possessions for a permanent move to the West Coast.
On Friday the 13th, October, 1937, the night of a farewell party thrown by family friends, Doris was in the back seat of a car that collided with a train at a railroad crossing. Her right leg was shattered, the move to Hollywood was forgotten, and presumably Astaire & Rogers could breathe easier once again. It was during her lengthy recuperation, compounded by a fall that broke the knitting bones once again, that the events which turned Day into a singer were set in motion. "So you see, every 'break' is a good one!," she later noted wryly.
The long commute to school was unmanageable on her crutches, so Doris bided her time in the family's new apartment. It was upstairs from her Uncle Charley's tavern, and the music of the latest popular favorites from the juke box down below was constantly in the background. In her boredom she turned to the radio, which regularly featured remote broadcasts from the great dance bands of the era. She enjoyed Benny Goodman and the Dorseys and their ilk, though as she was later to note in her autobiography, "... the one radio voice I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald.
There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I'd sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clear way she sang the words." At this time Fitzgerald was singing with the band that brought her to stardom, Chick Webb and his Orchestra (together they enjoyed one of the most successful recordings of all time with A-Tisket, A-Tasket in 1938). Her influence on Day is very much in evidence on many of Doris's early recordings with the Les Brown band, as well as on the four small-group sides that open this collection.
In hopes that this newfound interest in singing might supplant dancing in her daughter's life, Day's mother brought her to vocal coach Grace Raine, the woman whom Doris today credits as the, "one person who had the greatest effect on the career that was in store for me. "Though not a vocalist herself, Raine was a gifted • teacher who impressed upon her young pupil the importance of sincerely feeling a song's lyrics, and communicating their meaning in an intimate, personal manner.
"The most important thing that Grace Raine told me," recalls Day, "was that when you sing, don't think of a big audience out there. Sing into someone's ear. A person. You're acting." Grace felt that Doris had so much potential that she was willing to accommodate her limited means and gave her three lessons a week for the price of one.
Raine was affiliated with Cincinnati radio station WLW, and to gauge how her protege might sound over the air, she arranged for her to appear on Carlin's Carnival, a local Saturday morning radio show that featured amateur talent. Doris performed Day After Day, the song that was to eventually provide her with...