Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Doris Day: Success Despite Tears

 Doris Day is releasing a new album this week entitled My Heart!   This is exciting news for all Doris Day fans because she's been out of the public eye for 17 years. 

I'm a fan, and Ms. Day is one of my favorite actresses.  She's an inspiration because her story is one of trials and perseverance.  She's also from my hometown, beautiful, historic Cincinnati! 

I'll thank you not to "dis" Cincinnati, please.  I've heard it all before...home of the Cincinnati Bungals, the Big Dead Machine, and Over The Rhine--once rated the worst neighborhood in the United States!

However, Cincinnati is home to several Hollywood legends.  Director Steven Spielberg was born there and actress Sarah Jessica Parker grew up in Cincinnati.  Dancer Vera-Ellen, singer Rosemary Clooney, and super star George Clooney all hail from the Cincinnati area.

But today, the spotlight is on Doris Day, actress, singer, dancer, super star! She could do it all, and as an actress, she could play dramatic roles, just as easily as comedic ones.  Add to that her pretty looks, svelte figure, magnificent legs, and presto--you have box office dynamite!

Despite her sunny, perky disposition, Ms. Day's road to stardom was filled with heartache and tragedy.  As a young teen, she had hopes of dancing professionally, and even won $500 in a contest with her amateur dance partner, Jerry Doherty.  But her dream to become a pro came to an end in 1937, when her leg was shattered in an automobile accident.  The car she was riding in was hit by a train.  However, while recovering, she started singing along with songs on the radio, and discovered a talent she didn't know she had.  Her mother paid for voice lessons from teacher Grace Raine, who said Doris had "tremendous potential."

Doris eventually sang on a local radio program, at a restaurant, and then went on to perform in the band of Cincinnati bandleader Barney Rapp (whose daughter Bonnie was my kindergarten teacher).  It was while performing in Rapp's band that she met trombonist Al Jorden.  She originally thought him a creep, but later fell in love and married him at the age of 17--he was 24.

Jorden abused Doris physically, cheated on her, and even insisted that she have an abortion when she became pregnant.  She kept the baby and later left Jorden.  Ironically, Doris's main ambition was to become a full time a wife and mother, not a super star.

As a single mom, she recorded "Sentimental Journey" in 1944, and that song made her a star.  A second marriage followed to saxophonist George Wiedler.  That marriage ended after less than eight months.  By this time Hollywood had noticed Doris, and Wiedler (not fond of her son, and already cheating on her) didn't want to be known as Mr. Doris Day.

By 1951, Doris was on her way to super stardom and had married her third husband, Marty Melcher.  But 17 years later, Melcher and his business partner squandered her $24 million dollar fortune.  Melcher died leaving Doris $400,000 in debt. He'd also contracted her to do a television sitcom, which she had no desire to do. But she did it anyway, and gave it her all.  The TV show saved her, and she was later awarded a court settlement after suing Melcher's business partner. 

The Doris Day Show was a success and ran from 1968 through 1973, which is how I first became acquainted with Doris Day when I was a kid.  Back then I had no idea of her tremendous talent.

Doris Day is the number one female box office star of all time, and she's the only one who was number one four years in a row! Her extensive body of work includes 39 films and 29 albums.  Today, she works as an animal rights activist.

 "Que Sera Sera" is known as her signature song, and she is a true example of that mantra, "whatever will be will be."  She has experienced numerous hardships in her career and personal life.  But she has endured and maintained a positive outlook.  "...I just feel so fortunate and so blessed to have been able to entertain people in the theatres and on record, it’s just an amazing life that I’ve experienced." – Doris Day

My favorite Doris Day film is Calamity Jane.  In it she sings the song "Secret Love," which won the Academy Award for best original song of 1953.  Last year I learned that Doris Day had had a real "secret love" when I read that she'd had an affair with Maury Wills.

Wills is the famous L.A. Dodger base stealer, and one of the first, post-Jackie Robinson African American integration baseball players.  According to Wills and a Day biographer, the affair took place in the early ‘60s.

I had known about another interracial relationship in Doris's life, but it involved her father. In her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, she talked about her father's dislike of blacks, yet, later in life, he married a black woman!

Interracial relationships are becoming more commonplace now, but black and white couples still tend to turn a few heads. These relationships no longer need to be kept secret, however, that was a different story not so long ago.  I've written about a secret love in The Governor's Sons. I hope you'll read it, then be thankful that times have changed, and then enjoy a Doris Day movie!

Thanks for stopping by!