March is Women’s History Month. Ohio has been home to many extraordinary women, in many different fields. One of them was Cincinnati’s Doris Day. Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in 1922, she was a talented singer who began appearing on local radio while still in her teens. She sang with several big bands – changing her name to “Day” along the way – and got her big break when she signed with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. On March 29, 1945 – 75 years ago today – their recording of “Sentimental Journey,” with Day as the vocalist, was released. It soon reached the Number One spot on the charts, and became the favorite of service men and women returning from World War II.
The song also helped launch Day on a solo singing career, and she was soon a top attraction on radio and recordings. In 1948, Day made her screen debut in Romance on the High Seas. Over the next twenty years, Day would make 39 films, including classics such as Calamity Jane (her favorite role), the musical biopic Love Me or Leave Me, and the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which she introduced what later became her television theme song, the Oscar® winning “Que sera, sera.”
Day appeared opposite many of the top leading men of the day – James Cagney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. But her most celebrated screen partner was actor Rock Hudson. They made three comedies together, the first of which, 1959’s Pillow Talk, brought her a Best Actress Oscar ® nomination. At the height of her career, Doris Day was ranked by Hollywood exhibitors as the Number One box-office star in the world four times, a record equaled by only one other female film star – child actress Shirley Temple.
In 1968, Day made the switch from films to television, starring in her own eponymous series for five years. After that, Day retired from entertainment to devote her life to her greatest passion – animal welfare. A lover of cats and dogs, she founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation and the Doris Day Animal League to care for and protect the rights of animals. She even made a brief return to television in the early 1980s with Doris Day and Friends, a show about animals.
Because of her sunny disposition and wholesome personality, Doris Day was often called “The Girl Next Door.” But her 1975 memoir, Doris Day: Her Own Story, revealed a life that was not all sunshine: her parents divorcing when she was young, a childhood accident that crushed her right leg and ended her early dreams of becoming a dancer, an abusive first marriage, and a later marriage to a man who squandered her considerable fortune and left her deeply in debt (something she never knew until after his death).
Day received many honors over her long career. And in 1994, the Ohioana Library honored Day with its Pegasus Award in recognition of her lifetime achievement. By that time, Day no longer traveled from her home in Carmel, California. She sent a beautiful letter and signed photo, which today are among the treasures in the Ohioana Collection. The letter displays all of Day’s warmth and charm, and recounts her favorite childhood memory of Cincinnati – riding the roller coaster at Coney Island!
When Doris Day died last May at the age of 97, it was the passing of a true Hollywood legend. She was a phenomenal success in every field of show business she entered – recordings, films, radio, and television. And her philanthropy and devotion to animal welfare was as renowned as her entertainment career.
We hope you enjoyed taking this “Sentimental Journey” celebrating a remarkable woman.
You can hear Doris Day perform that song with Les Brown at this link: