The tributes that are being given in honor of her lifetime of work, both on the screen and off, would seem to indicate that the world has finally come to appreciate all she represented. For a long period of time it was only the fans and admirers who seemed to sing her praises. It wasn’t considered chic in every circle to enjoy Doris. Fortunately, there has been a reevaluation in recent years. Doris Day’s talents as a singer and actress have been recognized and her humanitarian efforts have elevated her almost to deserved Sainthood.
I was fortunate to spend time with Doris and to see, up-close and personal, the talented pro and the human being whose loyalty and devotion to her friends, whether two-legged or four-legged, sparks instant admiration. She never “Went Hollywood”. She always retained a shy and unassuming modesty about her talents and for years would not even watch the dozens of films she had made. Only in recent years did she begin to give them a look and to actually find herself enjoying them.
On my many trips to California, where we would visit in Beverly Hills or later in Carmel, Doris always welcomed anyone who traveled with me, as though they were family. I did in fact bring my mom and dad in 1980 and she could not have been more accommodating.
Doris Day’s record as a performer is unrivaled. As a Big Band singer, she learned to sell a lyric with the very best. The nearly 800 recordings that she made during her career are of a wide and awe-inspiring range. She could sing just about anything and make a connection with the listener that wrapped them in her velvety tones. Some of her work on vinyl is the stuff that dreams are made of. Forget the lightweight material she sometimes sang and give a listen to her work with Andre Previn or some of the outstanding work she produced in the late 50’s and 60’s.
As an actress she gave 150% to every role she played. Even something as lame as “The Ballad of Josie” she approached with the same level of seriousness that she did in Hitchcock’s “the Man Who Knew Too Much” or in “Love Me or Leave Me”. While the material wasn’t always top-notch, her performances were. She never resorted to “cutesy” and made it all look so easy and natural that critics often missed her greatness when reviewing a film.
She could sing, dance, play comedy, drama, reduce you to tears or make you howl with laughter until you cried. You believed her and Rock or her and James Garner or Gordon MacRae. A moviegoer wanted her as their friend, their mother, their wife or their neighbor.
The tags that were put on her as “goody-two-shoes” or “antiseptic” or “sexless” had nothing to do with the opinion that moviegoers had. Pretentious critics who could never admit to enjoying Day’s comedic skills, found it easier to cast barbs in her direction. Her enormous popularity at the box-office over two decades only added to their need to demean or find fault.
When she switched to television, her series, which ran for five years, averaged tens of millions of viewers on CBS each week. Although she walked away from the Hollywood “rat race”, finding a small-town peace in Carmel, California, offers continued to pour in well into her 90’s. She was unfailingly gracious in declining them. She did accept a few honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, but politely asked the Academy to take her name out of consideration for an Honorary Oscar. She did the same thing with the Kennedy Center Honors. To Doris Day, the continued stacks of fan mail that poured into her home, was all the recognition she needed for a job well done.
Today I remembered so many good times with Doris. Laughing, crying, biking, dining at unpretentious spots and sharing secrets. When I wrote my first book in 2011, I politely asked her whether she’d consent to have me use a picture of us together on the cover. She was delighted. She figures prominently in my latest book, “The Concord Theatre and Concord’s Love Affair with the Movies” because I went to see a Doris Day film at the Concord Theatre. After sitting through it twice, I left the theater with a new job – one I had for 27 years. In 2020, an expansive book about her amazing life and career will come out. It is based upon classes I have been teaching for some years, “More Than Freckles: The Amazing Career of Doris Day”. Hundreds of attendees for these classes which I receive no compensation for, have discovered Doris Day for the first time.
Doris Day’s work on behalf of animal welfare is a legacy equal to her performing legacy. Since the early 70’s Doris has devoted herself to making a difference and she has. I’ve watched her, personally, give all she can to changing legislation, getting laws enacted, and helping people to understand what it means to love an animal and to be responsible.
Yes, we mourn the loss of a gifted legend. However, she has left behind a body of work that will endure and a change in perception around animal welfare. The world is a much better place because of Doris Day and the life that she chose to lead. She overcome obstacles and tragedy and lived with a courage and inspiring light that shone from within. Thank you Doris Day!!