May 13, 2019

Article at Vanity Fair

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Doris Day, Musical Icon of the 50s and 60s, Dies at 97

Hollywood beckoned, and Day made her film debut in the lead of the 1948 musical Romance on the High Seas, taking a part that had been meant for Betty Hutton until Hutton became pregnant. Over the next 20 years, she’d make another 38 films, and would spend seven years as the top female box-office draw and four as the top draw, male or female. She was equally at home in musicals (the best of which were the Western-themed Calamity Jane and Love Me or Leave Me, a biopic of singer Ruth Etting), dramas (notably, Young Man With a Horn, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Julie, and Midnight Lace), and comedies. She introduced on-screen two songs that won Oscars, “Secret Love” (from Calamity Jane) and “Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be),” from The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Day’s ability to appear sexy and wholesome at once took her career to new heights in the three farces she made from 1959 to 1964 with Rock Hudson, the screen partnership for which she is best remembered. Pillow Talk (which earned Day her only Oscar nomination), Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers were considered sophisticated and fairly risqué sex comedies at the time, though they soon came to appear tame and even coy, unfairly earning Day a reputation as the world’s oldest virgin. Seen today, the films seem almost campy, since Hudson’s deceptive gamesmanship looks like a diversionary tactic to hide what we now know was the actor’s closeted homosexuality. Yet Day’s characters seem almost proto-feminist; each is an independent career woman who refuses to be exploited, and who ultimately says yes to sex—but only on her own terms.

In 1968, the year she released her final film (family comedy With Six You Get Eggroll), her husband-manager Marty Melcher died. Day was horrified to discover that not only had her fortune disappeared, but that Melcher had obligated her to star in a TV sitcom. The resulting series, CBS’s The Doris Day Show, ran from 1968 to 1973, and was a hit despite radical changes in its cast and premise throughout its run. (Day’s character started out as a rural mom and ended up as a single, urban career gal.) Its theme song was “Que Será, Será”—by now Day’s signature tune.

Day walked away from entertainment after the series ended, focusing on rescuing stray pets and animal-rights activism. She returned briefly to TV in the 1985-1986 season with Doris Day’s Best Friends, a show on cable’s Christian Broadcasting Network that focused on her love of animals. She invited old pal Hudson to be her first guest, and it was on her show that he first revealed, to Day and to the world, his AIDS-ravaged physique. Within days, he acknowledged that he had AIDS (becoming the first celebrity to do so), and within three months, he was dead.

Day was married four times and had one child, songwriter-record producer Terry Melcher, who died of melanoma in 2004 at age 62. In 2011, Day paid him homage by releasing My Heart, an album of unreleased tracks she had recorded for use on the C.B.N. show that Terry had produced, and, in some cases, composed. Suddenly, at 89, Day was back on the Billboard top 200 chart for the first time in nearly 50 years.

Aside from that late-career resurrection, Day was content to spend her last decades taking care of the animals at her estate in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. After accepting a lifetime-achievement Golden Globe in 1989, she turned down all invitations to accept honors and awards in person. Perhaps her reticence stemmed from her lifelong insecurity over her public image, whether that was the perky and chaste girl next door or the glamorous blonde star. Remarked Send Me No Flowers director Norman Jewison, “Doris did not believe that she was an attractive woman. I thought she was beautiful. Millions of fans thought she was beautiful. Everybody she had ever worked with thought she was beautiful. Doris remained unconvinced.”