I loved Doris Day. For me she will always be inextricably linked with memories of Sunday afternoons matinees in front of the telly and with family singalongs around the piano which inevitably included Que Sera Sera. What will be will be.
Happy times and innocent days, which just about sums up most of her films, all 39 of them. And nothing wrong with that, at the time.
Her story though is so much more than the sweet romantic comedies she starred in with mum's favourite, the ridiculously handsome Rock Hudson. Incidentally when he died in the 80s of Aids all mum said was “Isn’t it sad he had to hide who he really was all these years?” Yes Mum it was. I suspect others today feel they have to hide it still.
Behind Doris Day’s sunny image is a story at times as dark as the films she never starred in. The daughter of German immigrants she was first and foremost a singer touring America with a big band. It is said her agent changed her surname because Kappelhoff wouldn’t fit on the posters.
She was married four times. Her first husband was violent. Her second, who was also her agent, pushed her so hard that she virtually had a nervous breakdown while making Calamity Jane, still one of my favourite Hollywood musicals.
When he died she discovered he had also embezzled 20 million dollars of her royalties. Instead of being wealthy she has half a million dollars in debt so she agreed to the Doris Day Show to pay it back. She never made another film, retiring to Carmel, California, where even in the final months of her life she was seen tending stray cats and dogs on the streets. Indeed it was the Doris Day Animal Foundation that made the announcement of her death, aged 97 this week.
Rock Hudson's friend
Doris remained Rock Hudson’s friend when others ran quite literally for the Hollywood hills. It was on her TV show that he made his last appearance.
He was thin and gaunt leading to speculation that he was gay and dying.
It is one of the most touching stories of their deep friendship when she described trying to tempt him with morsels of food, to no avail. And how they clung together for the final goodbye.
It is also widely reported that her only son Terry was the intended target of mass murderer Charles Manson.
When Terry, a successful record producer, refused to work with Manson musically he targeted his house.
Only Doris had demanded he move out as Manson’s attitude towards her son was becoming more and more menacing. Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate moved in, with terrible consequences.
Her son died of skin cancer some fifteen years before her. Perhaps that is the real reason behind the rather sad announcement that there will be no funeral, no headstone, no memorial service, as per her wishes. Perhaps she wrongly believed no one will mourn her.
Girl next door
What is also sad is that she never saw herself as anything other than capable of being the girl next door.
So she turned down the role in The Graduate of the seductive Mrs Robinson because “I couldn’t see myself rolling around in the sheets with a young man half my age”.
Oh I wished she had taken it. She would have once and for all broken the mould Hollywood created for her, the mould that led pianist Oscar Levant to joke, “I’ve been around so long I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”
Much has changed since Doris Day came a-rolling on over the plains.
The landscape is very different today. Thankfully.
And if you want to know how different you only had to watch the BAFTAs this week.
It only struck me hours after watching the awards, the significance of the last category which went to the incredible Jodie Comer, for her fabulous Villanelle in Killing Eve.
For the first time the award for Best Actress was the final award, after the men, though the inevitable obsession in the papers the following day with what they wore rather than what they had achieved remains somewhat tiresome.
So keep on demanding the demanding, ladies. And thank you for never accepting what will be will be. I suspect Doris has been with you all the way.