Long before Julia Roberts or even Barbra Streisand, the Cincinnati-born Day was the reigning queen of the box office—the No. 1 money-making star for four years in the early to mid 1960s. Nominated for an Oscar for the comedy Pillow Talk (costarring her buddies Rock Hudson and Tony Randall), Day has some knockout dramatic performances on her resume, too: Love Me Or Leave Me (which Martin Scorsese later used as the inspiration for New York New York) and Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, with Jimmy Stewart. Many of her films were made at Warner Bros., which, unlike MGM, was not known for its musicals.
"At Warner Bros. they had serious films," Day tells me. "All the dramatic actresses were there. When they hired me, they didn't know what to do with me. The first thing they put me in was Romance on the High Seas, a little comedy. The next one was My Dream Was Yours—I don't even know what that was about."
She did know about singing, and she had hit after hit for two decades.
This month, Day released a new album in the US, already a Top 10 hit in Britain in the fall. My Heart—all the proceeds from which go to the Doris Day Animal Foundation—features 13 tracks, 9 of which were produced in the 1980s by her late son Terry Melcher, famous for his work with the Byrds and the Beach Boys. Two highlights of this sterling collection are "You Are So Beautiful" and the Beach Boys classic "Disney Girls." On the day I spoke to her, Day's most famous song, "Que Sera, Sera," was selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame, where it joins her recordings of "Secret Love" and "Sentimental Journey." She also has a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Day was married four times. After her third husband, Marty Melcher (also her manager), died in 1968, she learned she was in financial straits and went ahead with a TV series Melcher had committed her to, which became the top-rated Doris Day Show. After five seasons, she bowed out and went into semi-retirement.
The star has lived for 40 years in Carmel, California, where she's a well-known animal rights activist and owner of a popular inn. Fear of flying has kept her from going to New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. to accept the many awards she's been offered. Her return to the spotlight with My Heart could not be more welcome. Modest to a fault, Day—who continues to receive hundreds of fan letters each week—doesn't seem to fully appreciate her place in popular culture. But recently a visit from a Beatle provided further evidence of her vast influence.
PARADE: Paul McCartney interviewed you recently for a British newspaper about My Heart. What was that like?
I think it went well. I was out walking my dogs, and the man who works here came out and said, "It's Paul McCartney on the phone." I said, "All right, tell me who it really is." I thought it was someone playing a game. He said, "Will you please tell her that I want to know her and want to come and see her." It was Paul, and he did come, with his new wife. We had hours here. It was really nice. And he's really cute.
One night the phone rang around 2:30 in the morning; I thought something terrible had happened. He said, "Hey, what are you doing?" I said, "Well, I was sleeping." He would call at all hours just to say hello. He got a big kick out of that.
Your new album, My Heart, was mostly produced by your late son, Terry. Most people don't know he cowrote "Kokomo" for the Beach Boys.
And they didn't win [the Grammy] that year. That was a crime. [The song lost in 1989 to Phil Collins's "Two Hearts."] That year, that was so terrible. At the table we were really....I thought was an insult. I loved "Kokomo." It was so popular.
And you covered the band's song "Disney Girls," which he produced. How was that?
I loved it. If it's a good song, I love singing so much. I get so involved.
Do you sing much now?
I can't now. I could still sing until I got bronchitis. I had a very, very bad attack a couple of years ago; I thought I would never get over it.
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