Obit Doris Day

Doris Day

Doris Day, the sunny blond actress and singer whose frothy comedic roles opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Cary Grant made her one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and ‘60s and a symbol of wholesome American womanhood, died Monday. She was 97.

In more recent years, Day had been an animal rights advocate. Her Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed her death at her Carmel Valley, Calif., home.

Day “had been in excellent physical health for her age” but recently had contracted pneumonia, the foundation said in a statement. She requested that no memorial services be held and no grave marker erected.

With her lilting contralto, fresh-faced beauty and glowing smile, Day was a top box-office draw and recording artist known for comedies such as “Pillow Talk” and “That Touch of Mink,” as well as songs like “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” from the Alfred Hitchcock film “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Over time, she became more than a name above the title. Right down to her cheerful, alliterative stage name, she stood for the era’s ideal of innocence and G-rated love, a parallel world to her contemporary Marilyn Monroe.

Day herself was no Doris Day, by choice and by hard luck. Her 1976 tell-all book, “Doris Day: Her Own Story,” chronicled her money troubles and three failed marriages.

“I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America’s Virgin, and all that, so I’m afraid it’s going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together,” she wrote.

Day received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. Although mostly retired from show business since the 1980s, she still had enough of a following that a 2011 collection of previously unreleased songs, “My Heart,” hit the top 10 in the United Kingdom.

The Humane Society of the United States, of which The Doris Day Animal League is an affiliate, praised Day as a pioneer in animal protection.

In 1987, Day “founded one of the first national animal protection organizations dedicated to legislative remedies for the worst animal abuse,” said the league’s executive director, Sara Amundson.

Born to a music teacher and a housewife in Cincinnati, Day dreamed of a dance career but at age 12 broke her leg badly when a car in which she was traveling was hit by a train. Listening to the radio while recuperating, she began singing along with Ella Fitzgerald, studying the singer and the subtleties of her voice.

Day began singing at a Cincinnati radio station, then a nightclub, then in New York. A bandleader changed her name to Day after the song “Day after Day” to fit it on a marquee.

A marriage at 17 to trombonist Al Jorden ended when, she said, he beat her when she was eight months’ pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Terry, in early 1942. Her second marriage also was short-lived. She returned to Les Brown’s band after the first marriage broke up.

Her Hollywood career began after she sang at a Hollywood party in 1947. After early stardom as a band singer and a stint at Warner Bros., Day won the best notices of her career with 1955’s “Love Me or Leave Me,” the story of songstress Ruth Etting and her gangster husband-manager. She followed with “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” starring with James Stewart as an innocent couple ensnared in an international assassination plot. She sang “Que Sera, Sera” just as the story reached its climax.

But she found her greatest success in slick, stylish sex comedies, beginning with 1959’s Oscar-nominated “Pillow Talk,” in which she and Hudson played two New Yorkers who shared a telephone party line. It was the first of three films with Hudson.

In her autobiography, Day recalled her son telling her the $20 million she had earned had vanished and she owed around $450,000, mostly for taxes. Her son, Terry Melcher, who died in 2004, became a songwriter and record producer, working with such stars as the Beach Boys.

Day married a fourth time at age 52, to businessman Barry Comden in 1976.

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