Word circulated through the media this morning that actress and pop star Doris Day passed away at the age of 97. In a bit of irony, I got the news in my Facebook feed just as I was beginning a lecture in a communications class about death and mourning on social media, and how that is amped up in case of celebrity. To the twenty-somethings in the room, the name Doris Day didn’t trip triggers. The rest of my Facebook feed was humming “Que Sera Sera.”
Doris Kappelhoff was born in 1922 in Cincinnati. She began as a singer at legendary station WLW in Cincinnati, and had her first pop smash in 1945 when, at the age of 23, she sang the lead on Les Brown’s “Sentimental Journey” – a 78 that I have owned since I was in high school. That went to the top of the charts, as did the follow-up single, “My Dreams are Getting Better All The Time.” In all she put eleven songs in the Top Ten before 1950 and several other discs went on to be moderate hits as well.
By that time Doris was crossing over to film. Noticed after appearing in musical shorts with Les Brown’s Band of Renown, she landed bigger roles. Her breakthrough role in 1951’s I’ll See You In My Dreams broke at-the-time box office records for Warner Brothers, and the jobs kept coming. Her performance in Calamity Jane yielded an Oscar for Best Song for “Secret Love.”
But when we think of Doris Day’s film roles, we think of the later 50s. Her performance opposite Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, which gave us “Que Sera Sera” is most memorable, as was her work in The Pajama Game and, of course, all those films opposite Rock Hudson. She kept singing the whole time, and went back to work on television in the late Sixties after the death of her husband Melcher left her effectively bankrupt due to poor investments. (Doris Day was also the mother of Terry Melcher, who Martin adopted as his son. It’s believed that Melcher, who was part of Bruce and Terry alongside Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, may have been the target of the Manson Family; the home where Melcher lived when he passed on signing Manson was later rented to Roman Polanski and was the site of the Sharon Tate murder.)
Though Doris Day stopped making films in 1968, she remained a popular figure. She released an album in the UK at the beginning of this decade, and she was a well-known animal rights advocate. And, a whole new generation of music fans recognize her as the second name in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” (It was shared by Twitter user @imjasondiamond that the death of Doris Day now leaves only Bob Dylan, Brigitte Bardot, Chubby Checker, the two surviving Beatles, and Bernie Goetz as the only living people sung about on that record.)
In total Doris put a pile of singles on the charts. For this piece, I wanted to reflect on her last Top Ten single, but that depends where you are. In the UK, she managed to hit #8 in 1964 with “Move Over Darling,” a record that didn’t even chart in the US. For here, we go to 1958 and “Everybody Loves a Lover” – a song that made it to #6. In Chicago, WJJD played it as high as #11, leaving it behind Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, and other teen idols. At WKBW in Buffalo, a guy named Dick Biondi was playing it a lot more; it was a #6 hit just behind Elvis’ “King Creole” on August 16, 1958.
You can hear “Everybody Loves a Lover” by clicking here.