Legendary Singer-Actress Doris Day Passes Away at 97: Her Thoughts on Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, and Paul McCartney
Doris Day has died at age 97, just a few weeks after her birthday. There really should be a national day of mourning. She achieved what so many singers even today cannot: at one point she was the most popular pop star and movie star in the world. For years I tried to interview her, but she refused everyone. Then suddenly in 2011 a publicist called and asked if I were still interested? Doris gave four interviews that month for the release of an album of unreleased material. I was honored to be one of the outlets they chose.
One funny thing that happened: during our interview, the Grammys announced their annual list of songs and albums going into their Hall of Fame. “Que Sera Sera” was included. I told Doris this while we were talking. She was just thrilled, and asked what else got in. I said, “Bruce Springsteen got in with Born to Run album.” Doris paused and said, “Isn’t that wonderful? Who is he?” It was the most charming response ever.
Doris never got an Oscar. Year after year this column and others, particularly Liz Smith’s, begged the Academy to give her an honorary statue. Doris didn’t care, but her fans did. In the end, she didn’t need an Oscar. She leaves an enduring legacy, one that will shine for the ages.
from December 2011:
RF: Paul McCartney interviewed you recently for a British newspaper about My Heart. What was that like?
DD: I think it went well. I’ve known him for quite a while now.
I was out walking my dogs. And the man who works here came and out said, it’s Paul McCartney on the phone.
I said, Alright, tell me who it really is. I didn’t believe it, I thought it was someone playing a game. He said, Will you please tell her that I am, that I want to know her and want to come and see her.
It was Paul and he did come. He came 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 happened. He said Hey, what are you doing? I said, Well, I was sleeping. He would call all hours of the morning just to say hello. He got a big kick out of that.
RF: The album, My Heart, was mostly produced by your son, Terry. Most people don’t know he co-wrote Kokomo for the Beach Boys.
DD: And they didn’t win [the Grammy] that year. That was a crime. [It lost in 1988 to Phil Collins’s “Two Hearts”]. That year, that was so terrible. I thought was an insult. I loved Kokomo. It was so popular
RF: And you covered his song, Disney Girls. How was that?
DD: I loved it. I enjoyed it. If it’s a good song, I love singing so much. It just love it. I get so involved.
RF: Do you sing much now?
DD: 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. That’s why I sound different.
But sometimes I sing along with something, and I think that wasn’t bad. I wonder sometimes if I could start vocalizing.
RF: I’m interested in your technique as a singer. Your phrasing is so elegant and simple. Did you think about what you were doing?
DD: No. I knew the song that we were going to do. We would put them together at my house. We would all decide what to do. The words were there, and the words told a story. I can’t say any more than that except I loved singing.
RF:Were they always suggesting songs to you?
DD: They used to tell us what to do. The album I did with Andre Previn, I picked my own then.
RF: A great favorite is Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps, from the Latin for Lovers album
DD: I love that. I loved making that album.
At first I thought I’m going to do this? Me? But I fell in love with all the songs. It maybe one of my favorites of all time.
RF: Were there songs you weren’t thrilled with?
DD: (Thinks about it) The Purple Cow. Oh my god! When they tagged that one on me, that was it. ‘I never thought I’d ever see a Purple Cow.’ Isn’t that terrific? Great idea. Oh lord! I don’t like to fight with people and say I won’t do that! But you get a long of good things to do. And you do your best with that.
RF: How about some other favorites? How about Que Sera Sera?
DD: I was wondering why it was going to be in that film [Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much]. That was a real mystery. Then I read the script. But at first I thought this was kind of a silly song to be in that movie. But it was good for the movie. And the people liked it anyway in or out of the movie. People could sing it. They could sing it to their children.
RF: What was it like to sing with Les Brown and His Band of Renown? What was it like singing with a big band?
DD: It feels good. And if you know your song, and you like the song, it’s wonderful because people come right up to the bandstand. And it’s great fun. They want to say hello to you.
RF: Did the band kid around with you a lot?
DD: I had a great time. The guys were so nice to me.
They looked after me and helped me, they took all my baggage. They were all like my brothers.
RF: Was it a big change for you when you went solo?
DD: The first time I ever worked alone, I had two shows a night at The Little Club on East 55th St. in New York. I opened it. My mother was with me and my little baby. It was something so new for me. I thought, what am I doing? I was so used to having the guys behind me. But it turned out to be really nice. The people kept coming back! I was surprised!
A lot of the women were the Vogue types, models. They were all dressed up like crazy. They would say, Come on over and have a drink. But I wasn’t drinking. I would go back to my apartment between shows.
RF: You were not a drinker?
RF: All these other singers—Billie Holiday, Judy Garland—had terrible substance problems. How did you avoid it?
DD: Easy. I didn’t do it.
RF: Many other performers would party all night
DD: Party all night? Oh lord! No, no no! I don’t even like parties.
RF: Tell me about your co-stars. What was Jimmy Cagney like?
DD: I loved him. He as a wonderful person, just adorable. Not in that film [Love Me or Leave Me], he wasn’t. Oh he was nasty!
RF: Tony Randall?
DD: He was so superb, so funny. He was always in New York after that. I just loved him. Did we ever [have fun]. We laughed.
RF: Cary Grant?
DD: I enjoyed Cary, He was very different. Very nice. But you don’t sit around and talk a lot between scenes. I think he went outside with that thing you put under your chin, for the sun. Because he didn’t want to wear makeup. All the men hated makeup. At lunch time, I didn’t see him. I used to eating in my trailer. But we didn’t really sit around and talk.
RF: Who did you hang around with? Rock Hudson?
DD: He was always around, he was funny. He named me Eunice, just for fun. I was always Eunice with him.
RF: You had such great chemistry.
DD: We really liked each other.
I was up here—filming the show we had here [Doris Day’s Best Friends, July 1985]—all of a sudden he appeared. At first I didn’t know who he was. I looked at him and I was almost in tears. He was so thin, and just gaunt. It was just unbelievable.
We would walk and laugh together. He was so seriously ill, but he was still funny. It just about put me away. It’s so hard to be funny when you know what’s going to happen.
RF: Jimmy Stewart?
DD: Wonderful. I had a great time with all the gentlemen I worked with. Really.
RF: Looking back, all your co-stars were men. Was there ever a woman you would have liked to be in a movie with? An actress you thought was funny? Or like a Thelma and Louise?
DD: No. Yes if there was a really great script and a reason. But I always thought the women should be with the men.