Doris Day sings out after 17 years


By Lynn Elber


Doris Day, America’s pert, honey-voiced sweetheart of the 1950s and 1960s, beguiled audiences with her on-screen romances opposite top Hollywood leading men Cary Grant, Rock Hudson and Jack Lemmon.

She adored and misses them all, says the 88-year-old Day. But her deepest yearning is reserved for her late son Terry Melcher, a record producer whose touch and voice are part of Day’s first album in nearly two decades.

“Oh, I wish he could be here and be a part of it. I would just love that. But it didn’t work out that way,” Day said, her voice subdued. It’s a voice rarely heard since she withdrew from Hollywood in the early 1980s to the haven she made for herself in the Northern California town of Carmel, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor.

My Heart, which was released last month, induced Day to edge back to public attention. The CD includes 13 previously unreleased tracks recorded over a 40-year span, including covers of Joe Cocker’s You Are So Beautiful, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Daydream and a handful of standards. All proceeds go to Day’s longtime cause, animal welfare.

A condensed version of the album was released in Britain earlier this autumn and landed on the top 10 chart.

Melcher, who worked with bands including the Byrds and the Beach Boys, produced most of the songs and sang on two. He died of melanoma in 2004 at age 62, leaving a void that draws tears from Day when she speaks of him.

“I loved doing it and having Terry with me. That was important, just for me,” she said in an interview from Carmel. “I wouldn’t think it would be what it is. … I just love that he is on it. And I miss him terribly, but I have that.”

The album’s release coincides with new recognition for the actress and singer.

It was recently announced that her recording of Que Sera, Sera (“Whatever Will Be, Will Be”), featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much starring Day and Jimmy Stewart, will be included in the Grammy Hall of Fame. This month, Day is to be honored with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s career achievement award.

And that career was storied. She once ruled the box office in a string of fluffy comedies including Pillow Talk with Hudson (which earned her a best actress nomination) and That Touch of Mink opposite Grant, movies that showcased her verve and fresh-faced sexiness. Her sweet vocals helped make hits of pop tunes including Sentimental Journey and Oscar-winners Que Sera, Sera and Secret Love.

On screen, Day often played the determined single career girl who could be swept off her feet (but never into premarital sex) by such irresistible suitors as Grant or three-time co-star Hudson. She was also the loving wife and mother in such movies as Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), with David Niven.

Day came off as a straight-shooter who didn’t let her beauty go to her head; she was no Mad Men toy. Granted, she was too ladylike to fit the definition of a dame, in the parlance of her early career. But she could hold her ground without fraying the hem of her tone-perfect cinematic femininity, or her co-star’s masculinity.

She ventured into exceptions to her signature romantic-comedies, most notably the Hitchcock thriller and Love Me or Leave Me from 1955, in which Day played jazz singer Ruth Etting in the story of Etting’s career and tempestuous marriage.

Day said she had no quarrel with the studio system under which she worked, one in which her films were largely dictated. She had stumbled into the craft, after all, pushed from band and club singer to actress by her agent. Day got the first role she tested for, in 1948’s Romance on the High Seas, and sailed on from there.

“I was just put there, put there, put there. And I’ve never gotten over that. How could life be so good for me and I was never looking? I was never looking for it,” she said.

As for her personal life, she said, “There are always things that you go through that aren’t perfect.” For Day, that included three divorces and widowhood. When her third husband died, she learned that he and a business partner had lost her multimillion-dollar fortune. (She righted herself to some extent with the 1968-73 sitcom The Doris Day Show, and a lawsuit.)

Her decision to leave Los Angeles and the industry behind was an impromptu one, Day said. She had regularly visited Carmel-By-The-Sea, decided it suited her and made the move up the California coast and away.

“I just loved what I was doing. But then, when I came up here, I thought well, I had my turn, and that’s just fine. And the other people are coming up and starring and it was their turn. I didn’t think a thing about not working,” she said.

Instead, she devoted herself to promoting the well-being of animals with the Doris Day Animal Foundation, which she created in 1978 and which is the new album’s beneficiary. Her own pets, including some half-dozen cats, have it good: She built a glass-ceiling extension off her house so the felines can enjoy the view without the risks of going outside.

Why the attention to animals? “They’re the most perfect things on Earth,” Day replied. “They’re loyal. They love you. And they’ll never forget you. … I think they’re put here for us to learn what love is all about.”

They’re also steadfast companions as her circle of family and friends has been narrowed by death. She’s still in regular touch with two-time co-star James Garner — who shares anecdotes about their working relationship in his newly published autobiography, The Garner Files — but she notes sadly how many other colleagues have passed away.

Although dampened by loss, the buoyancy that infused her work in movies and music remains part of Day. In her ninth decade of life, however, the pace has changed.

Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries (“Life is just a bowl of cherries. So live and laugh at it all”), a snappy tune and a favorite since she danced to it as a 5-year-old in Cincinnati, is on her new album. But the arrangement has turned it into “beautiful ballad,” Day said

“When I sang it slowly, it became a super song,” she said.

The same can be said of Day, in any tempo. — AP