One of the biggest box office stars of the mid-20th century is no longer with us.
Doris Day, the legendary Hollywood star who went from starring in classic musicals like Calamity Jane to leading love interest in the likes of Pillow Talk and Lover, Come Back, has passed away at age 97. We remember the life of the silver screen icon below.
News of Doris Day passing away was announced by The Doris Day Animal Foundation (via The Los Angeles Times), who said the actress died early Monday morning in her Carmel Valley, California home surrounded by close friends. The foundation said in a statement, “Day had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death.”
Doris Day was one of the biggest box office stars of the 1950s and 1960s, and the career gave her the image of being the cute girl next door, something that she was never all that thrilled with since her own personality was anything but that. In fact, she began her career off the silver screen by utilizing the talents of her lovely singing voice.
After a hopeful dancing career was dashed following a car accident that gave her a compound fracture in one leg, she fell into singing and landed her first hit song with “Sentimental Journey,” which she performed with the touring Les Brown and His Band of Renown. But a successful singing career turns into much more after a recurring guest spot on The Bob Hope Pepsodent Show landed her a career in the movies.
Doris Day become a contracted star at Warner Bros. Pictures, starting in 1948 with Romance on the High Seas, which also had her song “It’s Magic” hit #2 on the pop charts and even landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Other musicals followed, including My Dream Is Yours, Young Man with a Horn, I’ll See You in My Dreams, April in Paris, and Lucky Me, all of which contributed to her image as the girl next door.
Each of Doris Day’s musicals only bolstered her career in the recording industry too. Usually, at least one song from any given film’s soundtrack became a hit on the music charts. In fact, seven of the ten albums she released between 1949 and 1955 ended up on the top five.
Day broke out of her girl next door image every now and then in an effort to shake things up and show a different side of her. Day’s turn in the musical Calamity Jane let her be more of the tomboy that she was at heart, and she showed a dramatic side to her with Love Me or Leave Me, the story of 920s singing star Ruth Etting. She also played against type with turns in noir films like Storm Warning, the domestic abuse thriller Julie, Alfred Hitchcock’s famous thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much also allowed her to break the usual typecast role she found herself in. The latter landed her an Oscar for Best Song too.
But ultimately, when musicals started to fade from popularity, Day ended up settling back into that girl next door archetype by being the star of several popular romantic comedies. Following The Pajama Game, one of her last big musicals in 1957, Doris Day starred in a slew of romantic comedy roles that saw her paired with some of Hollywood’s biggest gentlemen icons. Day starred alongside Clark Gable in Teacher’s Pet, David Niven in Please, Don’t Eat the Daisies, Cary Grant in That Touch of Mink, James Garner in The Thrill of It All and Move Over Darling, and more.
Perhaps Doris Day’s most famous romantic turn was in 1959’s Pillow Talk, which paired her with Rock Hudson, and that’s because it was regarded as quite the steamy sex comedy at the time. The movie not only earned her the only Oscar nomination for acting that she ever received, but also sparked a series of movies starring the duo, including Lover, Come Back and Send Me No Flowers.
As the 1960s became more filled with experimental and alternative filmmaking styles, Doris Day’s star began to dim. The actress famously had a chance to be part of it with a total career makeover with the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but she turned it down. Instead, her last film was With Six You Get Egg Roll in 1968.
Day wasn’t done with the entertainment world yet though. She starred in the CBS sitcom The Doris Day Show from 1968 through 1973, which followed her as a widow living in the big city who suddenly has to move back to the rural countryside with her sons. The show was popular with viewers, but it always tried lame gimmicks that never lasted long, including a big move to San Francisco, a few different jobs for Day’s character.
After Day’s contract at CBS was finished in 1973, Doris Day chose to retire to her Carmel Valley home, and she started the Doris Day Pet Foundation as well as the Doris Day Animal League, which found homes for stray pets and fought for animal rights, the latter eventually merging with The Humane Society. That passion led to one more return to television in 1985 for a show called Doris Day’s Best Friends, which was a show all about pets. It was a passion that she kept up with for the rest of her life.
Doris Day mostly stayed out of the spotlight after leaving all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood behind. But she did accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement from the Golden Globes in 1989. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2004, though her fear of flying kept her from coming to the White House to accept it. And Day was last honored by a big awards show with a Lifetime Achievement award for her contribution to music in 2009.
You couldn’t ask for a more perfect portrait of life as a celebrity in the 1950s and 1960s. While Day found fame and fortune during these decades, she rarely found happiness, always hoping to start a family that stayed together, something that constantly evaded her with various dramatic relationships with men who turned out to treat her not so well. But she leaves behind an amazing legacy of work on film and in music, and she’ll be remembered forever by many generations.
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