Vanity Fair (May/2008) - Doris Day’s Vanishing Act
(c) Vanity Fair (May/2008)
- keywords: "Que Sera, Sera" - by Doris Day, Academy Awards, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Doris Day, James Stewart, Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, New York City, New York, Rear Window (1954), Rod Taylor, San Francisco, California, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Thelma Ritter, Universal Studios
Doris Day's Vanishing Act
When she made Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, in 1959, Doris Day was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history. But after the death of her third husband a decade later, she devoted herself to animal-rights work, withdrawing more and more to her pet-filled Carmel estate in the wake of new financial and personal disappointments. In an excerpt from his forthcoming biography of the 86-year-old singer-actress, David Kaufman charts the divide between Day's private struggle and the sunny, champagne-bubble glamour her fans adored.
Doris Day, the bouncy, fresh-faced, blonde singer who had been born Doris Kappelhoff, had her first hit song, "Sentimental Journey," in 1945, when she was 23. Like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, both of whom she worked with, Day parlayed her success as a big-band vocalist into a career in Hollywood (where two years would get shaved off her age). Her first picture, Romance on the High Seas — in which she plays a singer on a cruise ship — was released in 1948, and she was immediately acclaimed. Like Judy Garland, she was a natural; the camera loved her. When Michael Curtiz, her director, learned that she wanted to take acting lessons, he admonished her against it. "You have a very strong personality," he said. "No matter what you do onscreen, no matter what kind of part you play, it will always be you. What I mean is, Doris Day will always shine through the part. This will make you a big, important star."
Over the next two decades, Day made 38 more films. In 1956, when she worked with Alfred Hitchcock on The Man Who Knew Too Much, she kept asking her co-star, James Stewart, why she was not getting any direction. Was Hitchcock unhappy with her work? Though Stewart assured her that Hitchcock usually spoke up only when an actor was doing something wrong, Day finally confronted the man himself, who put her mind at ease. "Dear Doris, you've done nothing to elicit comment from me," he said. "You have been doing what I felt was right for the film, and that's why I haven't told you anything."
Norman Jewison, her director on The Thrill of It All (1963) and Send Me No Flowers (1964), was also bemused by Day's insecurity. "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."
Besides James Stewart, Day's leading men included James Cagney, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, David Niven, James Garner, Louis Jourdan, and Jack Lemmon. Cagney, who co-starred with her twice, in The West Point Story (1950) and Love Me or Leave Me (1955), about the 20s-and-30s singer Ruth Etting, told her, "You know, girl, you have a quality that I've seen but twice before." He named Pauline Lord and Laurette Taylor, two of the greatest American stage actresses. "Both these ladies could really get in there and do it with everything. They could take you apart playing a scene. Now, you're the third one."
James Garner, who acted with Day in The Thrill of It All and another light comedy, Move Over, Darling (1963), considered her the perfect co-star. "I'd rather have Doris than Liz Taylor," he remarked. "Everything Doris does turns to box-office gold... I think Doris is a very sexy lady who doesn't know how sexy she is. That's an integral part of her charm. One other thing about acting with Doris — she was the Fred Astaire of comedy Whether it was Rock Hudson or Rod Taylor or me or whoever — we all looked good because we were dancing with Clara Bixby." (That was the famous nickname bestowed on Day by her friend the comedian Billy De Wolfe.)
After making It Happened to Jane, a comedy about a young mother in the lobster business, with Day in 1959, Jack Lemmon raved, "I think she is potentially one of the greatest actresses I'll ever work with, because in every scene she is so open, simple, and honest that I found myself in the position of having to play up to her. Which, in the parlance of actors, means she's so good that I automatically reacted to her."
Her ideal acting partner, however, turned out to be Rock Hudson, with whom she made three movies and forged a lasting friendship. Many consider them the greatest man-woman comedy team in the history of film. Though Hudson had been under consideration as a co-star for Day in the past, the first time their names were linked in public was when they were declared the top box-office attractions for the 1957–58 season in the 10th annual International Laurel Awards poll. This doubtless precipitated their pairing in Pillow Talk, about antagonistic neighbors who share a party line. It was producer Ross Hunter who recognized Day's potential to play a sensual character and cast her in the picture. And what better way to punch up that aspect of Day's nature than by pairing her with the six-foot-four hunk Rock Hudson, who had just been nominated for an Oscar for Giant?
In addition to helping redefine Day's image, Hunter had the insight to perceive Hudson's ability as a comedic actor. Hudson must have had some misgivings about playing a character who creates an alter ego with gay tendencies in order to win the heroine. Certainly everyone involved with Pillow Talk was aware that Hudson was gay. But in the same way the studios had colluded in preserving Day's bright-young-thing image — despite her two failed early marriages and a teenage son, Terry, who had been raised by her mother — they had a vested interest in maintaining Hudson's status as a virile heterosexual. Having Hudson play a character only pretending to be gay ultimately was not viewed as a threat.
Tony Randall was featured in the film as the foil who fails to get the girl. The other principal player was Thelma Ritter, whose tough, straight-talking characters had graced many films, including All About Eve and Rear Window.
Before shooting began, Day and Marty Melcher, her third husband, launched weekly informal dinner parties for the cast and crew at their house on North Crescent Drive, in the flats of Beverly Hills. "We became a family," recalled Hunter. "We began to know one another well, to react to the same family jokes." In her efforts to make the insecure Hudson feel more at home in a comic role, Day remained on the set when he filmed their split-screen telephone scenes to read him her lines, and during the pre-recording session for the title song, in which Hudson was to join her in the chorus, she spontaneously suggested, "Why don't you sing a verse?"
He later said he had been expecting someone "as warm as a December night on an ice floe." But, as Day herself recalled, "the very first day on the set, I discovered we had a performing rapport that was remarkable. We played our scenes together as if we had once lived them." Their compatibility should have been foreseeable, for they had much in common. Like Day, Hudson was riddled with doubts and insecurities, stemming from a miserable childhood. When he was still Roy Harold Scherer Jr., his father abandoned him, and his mother and stepfather abused him emotionally and physically. At bottom, Hudson was no more the All-American Male than Day was the Girl Next Door.
They soon came up with nicknames for each other. He became Ernie; she was either Eunice or Maude. In the course of shooting, Day adopted Hudson's habit of doing crossword puzzles during downtime on the set. She, in turn, wanted to teach him how to play tennis, but he didn't take her up on the offer. Hudson later recalled, "They had to add a week on to the shooting schedule because we could not stop laughing I used to think about terrible things, to try not to laugh, but I think that's the wonderful part about when you see two people on the screen — if you like them, if they like each other, and you sense that they like each other."
When Pillow Talk opened, in October 1959, the reviewers welcomed it as a new modern comedy and embraced Day and Hudson as a natural team. It was the No. 1 film for a couple of months. Made for $2 million, it grossed around $7.5 million in the United States and confirmed Day's star status throughout the world.
At its annual Golden Globes event in 1960, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association declared Hudson and Day the "world's favorite" actor and actress. Later that year Day was chosen to receive the "Star of the Year" award by the theater owners of America. While previous winners included Rock Hudson, Jerry Lewis, William Holden, James Stewart, and Danny Kaye, Day was only the second woman to be so honored, following Deborah Kerr, who had won in 1958.
She did not fare as well with her nomination for Pillow Talk at the 32nd Annual Academy Awards. She did, however, present an Oscar that year. "Doris, you've come a long way since our radio days," host Bob Hope said as he greeted her onstage. While Day was minutes away from losing the one and only Oscar she would ever be nominated for, Pillow Talk managed to win one of the few awards that did not go to Ben-Hur — for best story and screenplay (by Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene, Stanley Shapiro, and Maurice Richlin). Hudson presented the Oscar for best actress in a leading role to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top.
Yet Day's stardom emerged brighter than ever. Right after Christmas, the Associated Press announced that she had been named "Screen's Top Moneymaker" by "the men who run the nation's theaters." Given her three blockbuster pictures that year — Pillow Talk, Midnight Lace (with Rex Harrison), and Please Don't Eat the Daisies — she "won the honor by a wide margin." Those three pictures had already grossed around $37 million worldwide. Her runners-up, in order, were Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis, Sandra Dee, Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, and John Wayne. "Miss Day is the first woman to win the top spot since 1943." She was also, in 1960, "the world's best-selling female vocalist." (With The Man Who Knew Too Much, two years earlier, she had laid claim to what would become her trademark song: "Que Sera, Sera.")
Billed as "a champagne chaser" to Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back did all it could to duplicate the formula. Not only did it pair Day and Hudson but also it teamed them with Tony Randall again. Though Hudson continued to adore Day as much as she did him, he grew to resent her husband, who was billed as a producer on her pictures. Hudson's manager, Henry Willson, who referred to Marty Melcher as Farty Belcher, won an important battle for his client, getting him a million-dollar share of the profits on the film. Willson had also given Rock his zinger screen name, as he had other clients, including Tab Hunter (born Arthur Kelm), Guy Madison (Robert Mosely), and Troy Donahue (Merle Johnson).
As Hudson and Day began work on Lover Come Back, in which they play advertising executives competing for the same client, their playful affection only deepened. New pet names for each other included Zelda and Murgatroyd. They also had a shared fantasy life, pretending to be a couple on a bowling team. Whether they realized it or not, another game they played spoke directly to why they identified so strongly with each other. They started sending each other letters with false signatures, as if they had been written by fans. Randall recalled that when they watched the rushes of the beach scene in the film, "there was one take, where [Rock] leaned over and one ball came out of his trunks. And then went back in. We said, 'Hey, play that again!' We were just shrieking and screaming. It nearly got into the picture."
As reported in Variety, when Lover Come Back opened, in February 1962, it took in $440,000 in a single week: "Some idea of how much biz this means is seen in the fact that it is about $200,000 ahead of its nearest rival ... West Side Story." Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times, "Mr. Hudson and Miss Day are delicious, he in his big sprawling way, and she in her wide-eyed, pert, pugnacious, and eventually melting vein Pillow Talk was but a warm-up for this springy and spirited surprise, which is one of the brightest, most delightful satiric comedies since It Happened One Night."
They had another huge hit with their last picture, Send Me No Flowers, playing a wife and her hypochondriacal husband. Tony Randall was once again in the cast. Julius Epstein created the screenplay. With his brother, Philip, he had co-written the screenplays for Casablanca as well as Day's first film. But Epstein's dialogue lacked the sparkling wit of Day and Hudson's earlier hits. "Right from the start I hated that script," Hudson later said.
Norman Jewison, directing Day for the second time, recalled his reunion with her: "Doris and I had become comfortable with each other. But working with Doris meant once again brushing up against her husband, Marty Melcher. This time Marty billed himself as the movie's executive producer and again collected his $50,000 fee for performing no visible service. I neither liked nor trusted Melcher and stayed out of his way as much as possible."
When Send Me No Flowers opened at New York's Radio City Music Hall, it received mixed reviews. However, one Hollywood executive proclaimed Day and Hudson "the greatest box-office team in the history of the industry — greater than Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino, greater even than Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. What these two have that the others lacked is a sense of humor. They make sex funny — not tragic."
Rock Hudson and Norman Jewison were not the only people who disliked and mistrusted Marty Melcher. Frank Sinatra had Melcher banned from the set of Young at Heart (1954), his only film with Day, telling studio head Jack Warner that he would leave the picture "if that creep Melcher is anywhere on the Warners lot. I've heard too many rotten things about him, and I don't want him around." Louis Jourdan, who was rumored to have become romantically involved with Day when they made Julie (1956), about a woman whose husband is trying to kill her, said, "Both Doris and I hated the director [Andrew L. Stone]. I also disliked her husband, and I was surprised to discover she did, too."
James Garner said of Melcher, "Marty was a hustler, a shallow, insecure hustler When we were making Move Over, Darling, he was bragging a lot about money he had just borrowed from the Teamsters to finance some big hotel or other. A wheeler-dealer businessman, but of course we all knew where his clout came from, and without Doris he couldn't have driven a truck for the Teamsters. I never knew anyone who liked Melcher."
In the course of their 17-year marriage, Melcher took over Day's career completely. Long before prenuptial agreements became standard among Hollywood celebrities, the Melchers entered into something even rarer: a post-nuptial arrangement. Dated December 28, 1955, the document underscores that, after four and a half years, the Melcher union had become more professional than conjugal. In it, Day is referred to as "the Artist" and Melcher as "the Manager." When Melcher died suddenly, in 1968, Day discovered that he and his business partner, Jerome Rosenthal, had lost or misappropriated all of her $23 million fortune. Terry Melcher (Marty had adopted Day's son from her first marriage) would spend the next decade fighting a legal war with Rosenthal to get some of his mother's money back.
The year Marty Melcher died, Day retired from films. For the next five years, she starred weekly on television in The Doris Day Show, a sitcom which began with her as a single mother raising two young sons in the country, and later took her to San Francisco, with a job on a magazine. All during this period, animal rights were becoming a larger and larger part of her life. After hearing about a kennel in Burbank that mistreated diseased and abandoned animals, Day helped mobilize a group to liberate the ailing creatures. "I stood there, covered in dirt and blood, while they handed each dog to me in a towel," she said, "and the tears just started streaming down my face."
After a special report on KABC-TV revealed the "Auschwitz-like" conditions at animal shelters in Los Angeles, Day phoned California governor Ronald Reagan. She later recalled, "Of course, they said it was impossible to speak to the governor, and I said, 'You tell him it's his co-star from The Winning Team, and he'd better call me back if he knows what's good for him.' Well, he was on the phone in four minutes flat. I said, 'Ronnie, this is Doris, and we're in big trouble down here in L.A.' And he said, 'It's a city problem.' He hates Mayor Yorty, and all those politicians do is shift the blame. But the animals suffer. Animals don't vote."
According to female impersonator Jim Bailey, the night he met Day — at a dinner party in 1972 at her friend the comedienne Kaye Ballard's — she wasn't interacting with anyone until the subject of pets arose. "It was a few days before I was going to have my first big concert in L.A., at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion," recalled Bailey, who was celebrated for his Judy Garland impersonation. "I really didn't want to go out and party. Kaye said, 'Oh, kid, come on over.' So I went with a friend of mine, and there were about six of us. I was suddenly aware of someone sitting on the couch in the living room. She was dozing off. I said, 'Who is that?' And Kaye said, 'It's Doris.' I said, 'As in Day?'"
Bailey remembered, "She had no makeup on. Her hair wasn't blonde blonde. It was sort of a dishwatery blonde, and she had it in a twist. She was wearing a paisley-patterned granny dress, with a little lace collar, lace cuffs, and shapeless all the way to the floor." When Ballard introduced Bailey to Day, she struck him as "very laid-back." But later, when he was talking to someone by the piano about his schnauzers, Day suddenly lit up. "She said, 'What! You have a schnauzer?'?" When he told her he had three, Day jumped from her chair and spent the rest of the evening discussing pets with him. "I idolized Doris Day and wanted to talk to her about her movies," said Bailey, "but Kaye had warned me not to bring up anything from the past."
"Where do you take your dogs?," Day asked Bailey. When he mentioned Miller Animal Hospital, she said, "No, no, no, no, no. Take them to my vet, in Beverly Hills." Bailey continued, "About a month later, she called me to say, 'I had one of my dogs in, and they said you had been there. How did you find them?' We'd chat every so often, and it was always about our animals. She called hers her 'kids.' They slept with her at nighttime, and once a week she covered herself with Vaseline before going to bed, and it was a mess because of the dogs' hair on the sheets mixing with the Vaseline. She told me that the maid really hated it."
Bailey later met Terry Melcher at a party and told him "how wonderful" his mother was. "You must have dogs," said Terry. When Bailey asked why he said that, Terry replied, "She probably wouldn't have spoken to you if you didn't have dogs. It's all about animals now."
During the final season of her TV show, 1972–73, Day appeared on the cover of the June 10 issue of TV Guide, surrounded by four of her "furry friends." In the article inside, "The Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills," animal activist Cleveland Amory reported that Day had 11 dogs. "But don't put that in You're only allowed four, you know," she explained to Amory, referring to a Beverly Hills ordinance. Day said she was on a daily mission to place strays in good homes. Terry had 18 cats at the time, and Don Genson, the producer of Day's TV show — who "used to have just one little poodle" — now had a large number of dogs.
When Doris Day first dined at the Old World Restaurant, in Beverly Hills, sometime in 1975, Barry Comden, the maître d', recommended the eggs Benedict and the coffee ice cream. "I don't know if she fell in love with the hollandaise, the ice cream, or me," Comden later recalled, adding that Day returned frequently during the next month with various friends. Day was then 53. Comden, 12 years her junior, was divorced and had a young son and a stepson.
He always gave Day special treatment at the Old World (which has since closed). "Whenever Doris visited the restaurant, she was never presented with a check," said Valerie Andrew, an officer of Day's British fan club who, along with her partner, Sheila Smith, worked for Day on North Crescent Drive during what they later called "the Comden years." "He would always have her favorite wine chilled and waiting for her, and he'd always be bringing 'round leftovers from the restaurant for the dogs to eat," added Andrew.
Comden asked Day out, and on their first date he took her to Trader Vic's, in the Beverly Hilton hotel. When he drove her home after their second date, Day rebuffed his advances in the car, and he thought their budding romance was over. But Day continued a flirtatious mating dance by appearing for brunch at the Old World the next day.
Comden again tested his luck when he accompanied Day home after another date, which he would describe in a 1997 proposal for a memoir: "I sat on the end of her bed while she took a quick shower. On an impulse, and as a joke of course, I opened the shower door. She let out a yell, and for the first time I laid my eyes on the most beautiful body I had ever seen." They made love that very night, Day asked him to move in, and he did.
Sometime before or shortly after they met, Comden conceived of a line of pet food that would use Day's name. Since Actors and Others for Animals, the organization to which Day devoted herself, had difficulty coping with the overload of injured and homeless creatures, and since Day wanted to establish her own nonprofit foundation for pets, she seized upon Comden's idea as a way of realizing her plan.
In the course of developing the pet-food operation, Comden signed up several business partners, including a man named Sol Amen. Amen called his friend the graphic designer Emanuel "Buz" Galas in the spring of 1975 with a proposition. "We want to make a presentation to Doris Day," Amen told Galas. "I want you to draw up a complete line of products and services under her image, and I want it, like, yesterday."
Galas recalled, "He came back to me and said, 'She signed a seven-year contract, on the basis of what you did to show her. Now we're opening an office in Beverly Hills, and I want you to come and work there.' Barry also had his office there."
Soon the Doris Day Distributing Company grew to encompass far more than just pet food. There would be pet bowls, jewelry, collars, and leashes. Large display units for grocery stores were manufactured as well. "We went scouting for a factory to produce all this stuff and ended up with a 100,000-square-foot facility in Carson," continued Galas. "We started building the displays in the warehouse. There were even going to be pet spas and motels, and veterinary services."
That fall, the writer A. E. Hotchner was just finishing his work on Day's memoir, which he had begun a year earlier with the star's cooperation. When he presented her with a completed manuscript of Doris Day: Her Own Story, Hotchner wasn't sure what to expect. "A person will say a lot of things when poking around in memories, but when they show up in cold hard type, it's easy to withdraw, refuse to acknowledge that those words were indeed spoken," he explained. "But Doris took the whole thing very well. We did make changes for the sake of accuracy or to alter things that might hurt others, but she didn't say of anything, 'I don't want that mentioned in the book.'"
In the prologue, Hotchner played up his own misgivings about doing the book, explaining how he had thought Day's story would turn out to be "all sweetness and light." But if, he said, Day "had always been rather circumspect" about interviews, she now mustered the candor to tell him, "I'm tired of being thought of as Miss Goody Two-Shoes ... the girl next door, Miss Happy-Go-Lucky. You doubtless know the remark dear Oscar Levant once made about me — 'I knew her before she was a virgin.' Well, I'm not the All-American Virgin Queen and I'd like to deal with the true, honest story of who I really am. This image I've got — oh, how I dislike that word 'image' — it's not me, not at all who I am."
Upon the memoir's publication, Hotchner pushed Day to undertake a book tour. She was hesitant, but finally overcame her reluctance when Comden agreed to accompany her. Before the tour began, Day taped The Merv Griffin Show in Los Angeles. There she met Barbara Walters, who later interviewed her in NBC's New York studio for the Today show. When asked about her future, Day responded, "I don't know if I want to get married again. I don't know if I want to work again I'm really enjoying my life, as it is now." Day did not mention that she was living with a man.
In a feature about the memoir for the New York Daily News, Kathleen Carroll homed in on characterizations of Marty Melcher in the book. In Carroll's opinion the book described Melcher "as a weak, venal man, and curiously, this shocked even Doris herself. The information as to Melcher's true character came from sources other than Doris, and when she heard about it, she was astonished. 'Did you consider your husband a fool or a heel?' someone asked. 'I don't know,' said Doris, looking sad for a moment. 'I don't really know. It just proves I never really knew him.' " Day said in the interview with Merv Griffin that she was shocked by what others had said about Melcher in her book and was sorry she had published it.
Her Own Story appeared on the New York Times best-seller list on February 15, 1976, and stayed there for 21 weeks. When Bantam brought out the paperback, the initial print run was a record 700,000.
Shortly after the publication of Her Own Story, Day decided to marry for the fourth time. Having opened a branch of the Old World in Westwood, Comden supervised the construction of yet another restaurant, Tony Roma's, in Palm Springs, and Day attended the grand opening. The couple then left for Carmel. Day had long been in love with the place, and her idyllic time there now with Comden cemented their relationship.
The couple frequently returned to Carmel during their first year together. In April 1976 they checked into the Ventana Inn. During a lunch at the inn's highly rated restaurant, they met its owner, Larry Spector, who invited them to spend time at his cottage nearby. There one morning Day blurted out, "Comden, let's get married!" The wedding took place at Spector's home on April 14. Eight people witnessed Day marry Comden, who were both dressed in clothes fashionable in the 70s, she in a beige pantsuit, he in a light-blue leisure suit.
When they got home to Beverly Hills, they discovered that Terry Melcher had moved into the house on North Crescent Drive to get away from his volatile relationship with his then wife, Melissa. After the failure of his second solo album, Royal Flush, Terry would move to London and try to relaunch his career as a music producer.
A month or so after they married, Day and Comden traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a proper honeymoon. That was when Day invited Sheila Smith and Valerie Andrew to stay at their house while they were away. When Day and Comden returned, they were so pleased with how well everything had been cared for that they invited the pair to move in permanently. "I told them I had to think about it," said Smith. "I was working for a magazine, in accounting. I had friends and all my family in London." Andrew was working for a travel agency.
Before returning to London, the two women accompanied Day and Comden to the Beverly Hilton hotel for a meeting of potential distributors of Doris Day pet food. Whatever hopes Day had had for the operation, she now grew increasingly dismayed about how it was evolving. Comden later acknowledged that only after the discussions at the Beverly Hilton did he realize that the enterprise had grown into a pyramid-type scheme. He recalled feeling "had" when they entered the meeting room and saw "dozens of people" milling around in "ugly green jumpsuits" with Doris Day logos on them. Day shot him an angry look, but once she took the stage to address the employees of the new company, she reverted to her sunny self. She finished by saying, "I hope you will all join with us." "Those eight words," he recalled later, "sealed our fate forever."
The following month, the California Department of Corporations sued the Doris Day Distributing Co. for having "sold more than $150,000 worth of pet food distribution franchises since April 4 without applying for registration required by state law." Since Day was not listed as a shareholder, officer, or director of the makeshift company, she was not named as a defendant in the suit. But her participation in the event at the Beverly Hilton hotel had implicated her in all that transpired.
"The conflict came about between Doris and Sol Amen, over the quality of the dog food — and cat food too," recalled Emanuel Galas. "Doris was testing them on her pets, and it was very frustrating that we kept getting non-approvals from her. But Amen was concerned with the profit factor. He said to me, 'What she wants to do with the dog food will cost us more than we can possibly collect on the retail end.' She wanted people-quality food. They wanted a very broad distribution.
"I got worried at that point," Galas continued, "but we kept on building the display units, and they kept on selling the distributorships. I think some people were paying 50 grand a crack for a distributorship. They all lost every penny."
So did many other investors, who had responded to an ad in the Los Angeles Times inviting them to "make a substantial income from the pet food industry and help your favorite pets" by sending $2,500 to the Doris Day Distributing Co. After $300,000 had been raised, Amen performed what for him was a typical vanishing act. It turned out that he had served a year in prison in 1971 on mail-fraud charges.
Day and Comden eventually filed a civil suit in November 1976, claiming "they unilaterally canceled an agreement with the company because she was not permitted prior approval of the products." It wasn't until the following February that Day, according to Variety, won a court order "to keep a pet food products company from using her name as a sales gimmick, but it could prove costly in the end She and her husband, Barry Comden, have to put up a $1,000,000 bond before the order can go into effect."
"I was lured into it by being told that all the profits would go to my foundation," Day explained years later. "That's the only reason I did it. There was nothing in it for me. It was all going to be for the animals."
Sheila Smith soon agreed to move to Los Angeles. The 39-year-old fan settled into the guesthouse on North Crescent Drive in July 1976. "I share my little abode with five of the Day canine family, namely Schatzie, Rudi, Muffy, Charlie Brown and Bobo," Smith wrote in the next Doris Day Society newsletter. In addition to their "canine family" — or what Day herself had taken to calling her "Canine Country Club" — the household included several felines: Sneakers, Lucy, and Lucky Day.
In November, Valerie Andrew, who was 36, joined Smith. Day had an employment agreement drawn up, providing $800 a month for each, plus room and board. Given their backgrounds as officers of her fan club, the extensive duties listed in the agreement began with responsibilities that drew on their related skills, in order to help them secure green cards: "Answering fan mail; preparing biographies and news releases for newspapers and magazines; writing newsletters; attending to social business and personal affairs of employer; conferring with employer on contemplated social functions; managing financial affairs of household including all bookkeeping responsibility; assist in care of employer's dogs."
"We did absolutely everything: housework, cooking, looking after the dogs — 18 of them — bathing them, taking them to the vet, driving her around sometimes, handling the fan mail," recalled Smith. "There were also the cats, and there was a bird, in Terry's bedroom. You had to cook for the dogs. You never opened a can. You had to make brown rice and ground beef, or cubed chicken and vegetables. [Doris] would go to the markets in the mornings and get all the vegetables and things that they couldn't use at the end of the day, and bring them back early in the morning for us to chop and prepare. It was a daily ritual."
As the pet-food business continued to unravel, Day and Comden did their best to distract themselves with trips to Carmel, where they had decided they wanted to live. Once, while they were there, another British-fan-club officer, Sydney Wood, accepted Smith's open-ended invitation to spend his vacation in Beverly Hills. "I came out for three weeks and stayed with Sheila and Valerie," recalled Wood. "I didn't drive, so I stayed around the house the whole time I was there, playing with the dogs in the yard and messing around in the garden."
At Smith and Andrew's instigation, Day asked Wood if he, too, might like to work for her. After Wood's father died in England, two years later, he accepted the offer. By then the dogs were taking up more and more of Smith's and Andrew's time, and they needed the extra set of hands. "It was totally against the law to have more than three dogs in the house, and part of our job was to keep moving them around," recalled Andrew.
Day's dream of a personal organization that would look after the needs of animals became a reality with the formation of the Doris Day Pet Foundation, in 1977. Its principal goal was "to assist humane organizations by providing funds where they are most needed for the welfare of animals."
"She had this kennel in Canoga Park, because she couldn't keep all of the rescued dogs at the house. I was on the phone all the time," recalled Andrew. "And that's how it started. It was rather small at first, run from the home, without any office or anything. But it was extremely time-consuming. There were days when I was constantly on the phone dealing with pet-foundation things, and didn't have time for anything else."
"I really stopped doing the fan mail for Doris a few months after I came, because of everything else," Smith added. "We used to get our evenings off, but sometimes there were urgent calls to rescue animals and strays under cars, and then we'd stay up with them all night so they wouldn't bark." There were also, routinely, abandoned dogs placed through the house's front gate. "Many a morning, there were fresh strays in the yard to be cared for."
Day and Comden made at least 20 trips to Carmel before they found the perfect setting for their new home, late in 1978. It was a 10-acre hilltop expanse offering spectacular vistas of Carmel Valley. A friend in real estate explained that the land belonged to a woman who had no interest in selling. Several months later, however, the agent phoned Day to report that the property was available after all, for $300,000.
The existing estate included a house perched up on a cliff, much of which Day and Comden tore down in the course of putting up their own complex of buildings. In addition to a guesthouse and yet another house for the dogs — with its own kitchen — Day built a spectacular, glass-encased bedroom cottage with a cathedral ceiling. But Day's marriage to Comden ended long before construction on her dream house was finished. The couple separated in August of that year.
Wood, who by then had moved into North Crescent Drive, remembered that Comden would return to the house late at night, despite the crumbling marriage. Over dinner one evening, Day divulged to Paul Brogan, a childhood fan of hers who had become a friend and confidant, at least one reason she continued to see Comden after they had supposedly broken up. Having met a number of Brogan's potential boyfriends, Day was discussing his problems maintaining a relationship and asked him what he looked for in a man. After Brogan's litany of positive qualities, Day, sipping her third Dewar's on the rocks, said, "Don't you also think he should be well hung? You know, Barry was, and it made up for a lot of other deficiencies."
Though Day's separation from Comden had become public knowledge, the couple spent the better part of a year trying to reconcile their differences. But to all evidence, Day was deeply ambivalent about Comden and may have been tolerating him because, with Terry abroad in London, she needed someone to look after her increasingly complex financial matters. In addition to the construction in Carmel, ongoing court battles with Jerome Rosenthal suddenly required renewed attention.
"Miss Day never got her $23 million and she won't," reported the Los Angeles Times on October 26, 1979. "In this case, Rosenthal's liability insurer settled with Miss Day for about $6 million payable in 23 annual installments, rather than drag the case out on appeal. Rosenthal, however, continues to dispute the ruling, and he has charged that his insurance company settled with Miss Day behind his back. Thus his appeal continues in the 2nd District Court of Appeal."
In the spring of 1980, Day's core staff began to break up when Andrew received an urgent call from England notifying her that her father had fallen seriously ill. Smith moved out a short time later. By mid-July, the stressful revival of Day and Comden's marriage was collapsing anew, and what Day would later call "the biggest mistake of my life" was about to come to its end.
"It was only when Terry came over for a visit that Doris revealed to him that her marriage was through, and that she didn't know what to do about it," recalled Wood. Since his attempts as a record producer in England hadn't amounted to much, Terry was soon back managing his mother's affairs. Wood observed, "If Terry had not come back, it's possible that she would have stayed with Barry for a bit longer, because she had no one else."
Day's divorce petition was filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles in January 1981. Day and her staff moved to Carmel in November of that year. "When they came up, it was with five different cars, with four or five dogs in each car," recalled Wood. Carmel immediately became Day's fortress, her refuge. "Whenever she entered the property and those huge gates closed behind her, she was in her own world," said Wood. "She could do exactly as she pleased. She had the love of the dogs and cats, and all the plants and flowers, which she adored. And she didn't have to get dressed up."
Once she felt comfortably situated in her new home, Day consented to giving interviews again, apparently in a low-key effort to maintain her stardom. A. E. Hotchner visited Carmel for what would become a cover story in Ladies' Home Journal (June 1982). In contrast to the person the tabloids had been describing as a "bitter recluse" and a "ragged and disgusting old lady," he found the 60-year-old Day "as healthy and radiant and beautiful and chic as when last I had seen her. And, incredibly, looking not a day older."
Day was indeed sought for many film and TV projects over the next two decades. In 1984, actor and television producer Jimmy Hawkins proposed a sequel to Pillow Talk. "This is terrific," Rock Hudson told Hawkins. "People have pitched so many ideas for us over the past 25 years, but this is a wonderful project. Let's get Doris involved right away." A tape describing the plot was sent to Day, who was enthusiastic and wanted to proceed. Changes were made according to her wishes, and Hawkins even secured the approval of an executive at Universal.
Tantalizing as it might have been to imagine the mature Day and Hudson in such a picture, it's not surprising that the retired actress never followed through on plans to actually make the film. By 1984, Day had entertained numerous offers, only to withdraw at the last minute. In September of that year, CBS announced that Day would receive $300,000 to star in the pilot of a new show, and then $100,000 per episode if the show became a series. It was called Murder, She Wrote. (Angela Lansbury ultimately starred in the series, with great success.)
If one of the things holding Day back was insecurity about her age and appearance, she decided in the fall of 1984 to remedy that with a face-lift. "They lifted the forehead, around the neck, and under the chin," recalled Wood. "There was lots of scarring." A nurse came home with Day to help her recuperate. "Doris was all very bruised, of course. But within a couple of days, she was cooking breakfast for the nurse," Wood remembered.
At one point, Day entered into negotiations to join the cast of Dallas in order to raise money for her animal advocacy. But then she decided instead to go along with a small TV show called Doris Day's Best Friends. It came about after the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) approached Terry with the idea. As co–executive producer, Terry knew that concessions would have to be made for his mother: the show would have to be shot in Carmel, and there would have to be a focus on animals. The program was, in fact, created as a vehicle to educate the public about pet care and was sponsored by Kal Kan dog food. In addition to Day's guest visitors — past colleagues and familiar faces — the segments featured veterinarian Tom Kendall discussing such topics as health insurance for pets and the need to neuter them.
As Day said in an interview for USA Weekend to promote the show, "If I were on a big ego kick and wanted to start a whole big thing with me again, I certainly wouldn't be doing this kind of show. I'd be doing a network series, which has been offered. But that is not what my goal is." Day told the writer, "I love people and animals — though not necessarily in that order. I've never met an animal I didn't like, and I can't say the same thing about people."
By that time — "at the high point," as Wood phrased it — Day was caring for 48 dogs.
Day reached out to Rock Hudson as her first guest for the show, and he agreed not only to appear but also to help promote the series by attending a news conference. The anticipated reunion of America's real-life Barbie and Ken was major entertainment news, prompting two dozen reporters to come to the sleepy little Monterey community on July 15, 1985, to cover it. The press reps were already assembled when a beaming Day arrived at four p.m.
They were aghast at the sight of Hudson when he finally appeared, more than an hour later. Instead of the gorgeous hunk who had been Day's three-time co-star, the emaciated man who now made his way to her side was cadaverous, his cheeks hollow, with sunken eyes and a gray pallor. He looked far older than his 59 years. He shuffled unsteadily on his feet and appeared exhausted, even dazed, as he tried to banter with his old friend.
Day did her best to maintain a smile as they stood before the media, trying to put a happy spin on the grim affair. They hugged, kissed, and tenderly nuzzled each other. But the news conference only ratcheted up the rumors and frenzy about Hudson's condition to a fever pitch. That night in Carmel, he finally admitted to his friend and publicist, Dale Olson, that he had aids.
Hudson managed to participate in the taping of the show over the next two days, but, given the severity of his condition, the shoot was always stop-and-go. Day invited him to remain with her in Carmel, where she hoped to nurse him back to health. He went to Paris instead, in pursuit of new and promising aids treatments. Though neither knew it at the time, their appearance together at the news conference was the beginning of his final decline. He died two and a half months later, back in California, on October 2, 1985.
Originally intended as the first episode of Doris Day's Best Friends the segment with Hudson was broadcast by CBN nine days after his death. In a special introduction to the program, Day paid heartfelt tribute to her erstwhile co-star. "All his friends, and there were so many, could always count on Rock Hudson," said a lachrymose Day. "His favorite thing was comedy, and he always said to me, 'The best time I've ever had was making comedies with you.' And I really felt the same way. We had a ball."
Best Friends featured 25 additional episodes with celebrities and colleagues who demonstrated their affection for Day by making the trek to Carmel for what amounted to frivolous chatter on a small-cable-network show. They included Earl Holliman, Joan Fontaine, Cleveland Amory, Howard Keel, Kaye Ballard, Angie Dickinson, Tony Randall, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Tony Bennett, and astronaut Alan Shepard. Each episode opened with aerial shots of the gorgeous Carmel coastline as Day sang the banal theme music written by her son.
Day called Terry's second wife, Jacqueline, to help select a gown for the Golden Globe Awards on January 28, 1989, when she was about to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement. Former Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood presented the award to her at the Beverly Hilton hotel. "I don't understand why I got this, but I love it," Day said during her acceptance speech. "This business has given me great happiness. I've worked with the cream of the crop." The event marked Day's last time in Los Angeles.
Sydney Wood stopped working for Day in 1990. "New people came and went, and I felt it was time for me to leave," he said, "because some of them were poisoning Doris against me."
In 1991, the first American TV documentary about Day, Doris Day: A Sentimental Journey, was made by independent producers James Arntz and Glenn DuBose, working with singer Mary Cleere Haran. "We were fishing around for projects for a documentary, and I was such a die-hard Doris Day fan, so I suggested her," said Haran. "They were immediately excited about the idea. But through the grapevine, we expected that she wouldn't participate or be interviewed."
To entice Day, they agreed to focus on animal rights. When they met with her the first time, in the front room of the Cypress Inn, the pet-friendly hotel she co-owns in Carmel, Day was two hours late. According to Haran, "She was so rattled when she arrived. On the way over, she had found two stray dogs on the highway and had to be sure they were taken care of. That's all she talked about when we first met. She was beautiful. She wore a skirt with boots and looked amazing. But it was obvious she didn't want to do the show. She seemed very guarded — and dutiful. And she was so real. She didn't have any movie-star persona at all, or pull any rank. She was battling with doing this. But she was being a good sport about the whole thing."
Nevertheless, Day did not want to talk about her movies. "She said she never watched them," Haran said, adding that when she broached the subject Day became "very nervous" and started "crying a lot." "She had just closed the door to that part of her life, and it was difficult to open it. And when she was uncomfortable, she showed it.
"Around the end of the interview," Haran continued, "when I was setting up a question about Romance on the High Seas, I said, 'Your first movie... You became a star overnight... You were No. 1 on the hit parade... You signed a seven-year contract.' She just became wild-eyed. She said, 'You just don't get it, do you, Mary? It was not a dream come true. All I ever wanted is what you have right now: a baby, a husband who really loved me, a home, all the happiness that they could bring. I never got that, and that's all I really wanted.' And then she started to cry — a lot. I was nursing my baby at the time. And there was some anger and some jealousy in what she was saying. It was as if she hadn't talked about these things in years and years and years."
Not all of the attention Day received in 1991 was welcome. In its July 23 issue, under the headline doris day, 67, lives like a bag lady!, the tabloid the Globe ran a story on the retired star with dotted bulletins at the top: "She's absent-minded and roams the streets in a daze She wears ratty old clothes." A furious Day demanded a retraction from the Globe, and when she didn't get it, she launched a $25 million suit against the publication. The case was dropped after the Globe printed a retraction.
Sydney Wood received a call from Terry in the summer of 2000, inviting him to Carmel. "Doris took me to dinner," Wood recalled. "It was just like our first meeting, with lots of hugs and kisses. Then, when we were saying good-bye in the parking lot of the restaurant in Pacific Grove, she said, 'I'd love for you to come back.' And she started crying. Terry promised me the earth," continued Wood, "health insurance, good salary, my own place on the property. He also said, 'You won't have to do any work. All you'd be doing is just taking Mom to lunch, every day.' Well, who could turn that down?"
Upon his return to Carmel, Wood discovered that much of the dream property was in need of repair. Moreover, Day had seriously injured her back tripping over a mattress in the cat room. She began going to a chiropractor for weekly treatments, but eventually she decided to have an operation. She was in the hospital for more than two weeks. After her release, she continued her recuperation at a nearby nursing home with a couple of her beloved dogs. Terry was concerned about his mother's falling down on the stone floor of her bedroom, so during her convalescence he had the entire area carpeted, along with other renovations. When his mother returned home, she did not like the overhaul and moved into the living room of the main house. She has made her headquarters there ever since.
Early in the fall of 2003, on one of his visits to see his mother, Terry stopped to chat with Wood. "I really didn't recognize Terry at first," Wood confessed. "His neck had become so wide and he had put on so much weight. He was clearly in pain. He started trembling, and I thought maybe it was because he needed a drink. I knew he was an alcoholic. Then Teresa [Terry's third wife] came to get him and take him home." (Wood resigned a year later.)
On June 23, 2004, President George W. Bush awarded Doris Day the Presidential Medal of Freedom. "I am deeply grateful to the president and to my country," Day told the Associated Press. "But I won't fly," she added, explaining why she could not accept the award in person. Day had been approached several times to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, but her unwillingness to appear at the event prevented her from getting one.
After suffering prostate cancer and undergoing surgery, Terry Melcher died from a melanoma on November 19, 2004. He was 62 years old. Though Day had endured disappointments and tragedies through the years, the loss of her only son proved devastating. Terry's various ailments had him slipping away months before his death, and he could no longer fill the crucial role of tending to his mother's needs. Now her friend and protector — if always more a brother than a son — was gone. She proved inconsolable and failed to attend his private funeral, as well as the subsequent memorial that his son, Ryan — Day's only grandchild — held for him.
'Oh, for heaven's sake. You're always calling me on my birthday," Doris Day said to Liza Minnelli on April 3, 2007, as the world listened in on their conversation. Magic 63, a Monterey-based radio station, was celebrating Day's birthday — her 85th, though that was not said — by playing her songs and taking calls from friends and fans. "All of us are so damn lucky you were born," Judy Garland's daughter responded to Day. "I've been thinking about you the last few days and hoping you're as happy as you've made all of us." Minnelli then reported that she had mated her schnauzer with the dog of actress Arlene Dahl, "and she's now in labor." She added that she planned to name one of the "girl puppies" Doris.
"Everything is fine," Day told her, "and it's sweet of you to call."
David Kaufman is a lifelong Doris Day fan.