HOLLYWOOD (CNS) – Legendary actress Doris Day died today at her home in Carmel Valley in Monterey County, her animal foundation reported. She was 97.
The actress was surrounded by friends, said the Doris Day Animal Foundation.
“Day had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia, resulting in her death,” the foundation said in an statement.
No funeral plans were immediately announced.
A former big-band singer and recording star who walked away from Hollywood in the early 1970s to concentrate on animal rescue, Day had spent most of the last years in Carmel, where she was an outspoken animal rights activist.
When light musicals began falling out of fashion in the late 1950s, she began portraying working women in romantic comedies in such films as “Pillow Talk” (1959) and “Lover Come Back” (1961), two of the three films she made with Rock Hudson. She received her only Academy Award nomination for “Pillow Talk.”
“Her persona hit a cultural mother lode, tapping into what the average postwar woman was about,” Drew Casper, a USC film professor, told the Los Angeles Times. She “was way ahead of her time, a feminist before there was feminism.
“Every female wanted to be Doris Day and every male wanted to marry somebody like her,” Casper said.
From 1948 to 1968, Day appeared in 39 films, most often as the wholesome girl next door. At 46, she made her last film, “With Six You Get Eggroll.”
Day’s body of work shows “how much of an icon she was, how much she became in her own way, the female equivalent of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood,” Times film critic Kenneth Turan once wrote.
She was such a natural that when director Michael Curtiz caught her taking acting lessons while making her first movie, “Romance on the High Seas” (1948), he told her to stop, she recounted in “Doris Day: Her Own Story,” her 1976 as-told-to autobiography by A.E. Hotchner.
She was at her best in films that allowed her sultry voice and “wonderful way with a song” to carry some of the dramatic weight, Turan wrote, including “Calamity Jane” (1953) and “Young Man With a Horn” (1950) in which she played a band singer opposite Kirk Douglas’ trumpet player.
Half a dozen times songs she sang were nominated for Academy Awards. Two won: “Secret Love” from “Calamity Jane,” her favorite film; and “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” from “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 movie, which cast her against type as a neurotic American mother abroad. “Que Sera, Sera” was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, in 2012.
Day’s insistence on making mostly sunny, upbeat films earned the rancor of some feminists in the 1960s who thought Day’s roles glorified an ideal woman who never really existed.
Novelist John Updike disclosed his deep-rooted crush on Day in a 1976 New Yorker essay: “Singing or acting, she manages to produce, in her face or in her voice, an “effect,” a skip or tremor, a feathery edge that touches us.”
Her co-stars included leading men of her era — Frank Sinatra in “Young at Heart” (1954), Clark Gable in “Teacher’s Pet” (1958) and Jimmy Stewart in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”
Of the hundreds of songs Day recorded, “Que Sera, Sera” became her trademark. She adopted its refrain — “whatever will be, will be*” — as her philosophy for dealing with a turbulent personal life.
“I’ve had a perfectly rotten life,” she told Hotchner.
Married four times, Day was beaten when she was pregnant by her trombonist first husband, Al Jorden, and was divorced by 21; he later committed suicide. Her second husband, saxophonist George Weidler, abandoned her within months and said he did not want to be known as Mr. Doris Day.
When husband No. 3, Marty Melcher, the manager and architect of her career, died in 1968 after 17 years of marriage, she learned that he “had secretly contrived” to wipe out her fortune, Day told The Times in 1976.
He had lost $20 million of her earnings, possibly through bad investments, and left her $500,000 in debt. He also committed her to star in a television series without telling her.
“Just about the best thing Marty did for my mother was to die when he did,” her son, Terry Melcher, said in her autobiography.
She sued Melcher’s business partner, lawyer Jerome Rosenthal, for fraud and malpractice and was awarded almost $23 million in 1974. She settled for $6 million rather than drag out the case on appeal.
Although she had sworn off marriage, Day married Barry Comden, a restaurant manager, in 1976. When they divorced in 1981, he claimed she preferred the company of dogs.