Richard Nisley

Doris Day never liked her name
Pop Culture Released - Aug 18, 2013

Success comes easily for some people. Take Doris Day. She was a professional dancer in her teens until suffering severe leg injuries in an auto accident. While recovering she heard Ella Fitzgerald on the radio and decided to become a singer.

After eight months of voice lessons, she auditioned for Les Brown and his Band of Renown and was hired on the spot. Because her name Doris Kappelhoff did not fit neatly on ballroom signs it was changed to Doris Day. Years later, she said of her name: “I never liked it. Still don’t--I think it’s a phony name.”

Then Hollywood came knocking. Jule Styne pushed her into auditioning for a singing role in “Romance on the High Seas.” A number of “name” actresses were also auditioning for the part, but director Michael Curtiz saw something in Day that he liked and picked her for the part. The movie scored big at the box office and overnight Doris Day was a Hollywood star.

Acting in movies wasn’t really what Day wanted to do, but her marriage to producer Martin Melcher put her on the movie-making treadmill. When Melcher died unexpectedly in 1968, she quite making movies. Later, it was discovered that Melcher had made a number of bad business investments that, according to son Terry Melcher would have left Day broke, had he lived longer. The marriage was one of several unhappy marriages for Day. All the others ended in divorce.

Like Elvis Presley, Doris Day suffered from over-exposure. She became a cliche. But as an entertainer, she had it all. According to playwright/director/journalist Ken Bloom, “Day could hold her own in musicals, dramas, light comedies--the works. Day was the rare individual who could sing and act in equal measure. She sang with depth and intimacy, making each listener believe she was singing especially to him or her. She produced a wonderful tone and possessed a great sense of rhythm.”

Like Sinatra, Day sang the lyrics, not the melody, in an effort to illumine a song’s emotion and meaning. “Day could sing sweetly and rhythmically but she also had a backbone and could handle the most bluesy of ballads while keeping up with whatever swinging the Les Brown Band could dish out,” says Bloom of her days as a Big Band girl singer. If you want to hear how jazzy Day could be, listen to her collaboration with trumpeter Harry James on the album “Young Man With a Horn.” Critics rate her best albums as “Day by Day” and “Day by Night.”

Elvis Presley revived his singing career after he stopped acting in movies, but Day chose not to. In fact, after acting in “Romance on the High Seas” she never performed in public again. She never gave concerts, never played benefits, and refused all offers from Broadway.

Day never received an Academy Award, although she was nominated. Currently, columnist Liz Smith and film critic Rex Reed are conducting a vigorous campaign to gather support for an honorary Oscar in recognition of her career as Hollywood’s top female box-office star of all time. Will Doris Day finally be awarded an Oscar? As one of her songs goes--perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
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