On May 13th this year, the world lost an icon, a huge Hollywood star, chart-topping chanteuse, feminist force, animal rights pioneer, and international sensation. And the Peninsula lost a local.
Worldwide, news of Doris Day’s passing at 97 brought forth myriad tributes from celebrities, friends and fans, and a flurry of articles detailing her illustrious career as a big band, swing and jazz singer and top box office actress who’d starred in 39 films and released 28 studio albums. And that was just by 1968.
Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Day appeared on the small screen in her own shows and specials, and as a guest on popular variety shows and talk shows, using that platform as an ardent animal rights activist. Day worked on behalf of “four-leggers” since even before founding the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF) in 1978, and she’d go on to participate in the organization’s advocacy and fundraising efforts right up until this year. Two of DDAF’s local grantees include SPCA for Monterey County and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.
Her stardom and impact cannot be overstated. Her striking smile, natural beauty and go-getter grit inspired generations. At the Golden Globes in 1989, Peninsula neighbor Clint Eastwood presented Day with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement, saying, “You were the girl every man wanted to marry, and the woman every girl wished she could be.”
And in 2004, bestowing on her the nation’s highest civilian honor, President George W. Bush closed his remarks with, “Doris Day is one of the greats, and America will always love its sweetheart.” Details of her awards and nominations, influence, and unsurpassed positivity in times of triumph and tragedy have filled chapters and entire books, including one she herself authored with Hemingway biographer A.E. Hotchner.
The morning of her passing, a wreath of roses adorned the Hollywood Walk of Fame’s Doris Day Star. Meanwhile in Carmel, flowers filled the steps to the Cypress Inn, the “dog-friendliest” hotel she co-owned with Denny LeVett for 34 years. Inside, friends and admirers gathered in Terry’s Lounge—named after her only child, the late music producer/songwriter Terry Melcher—to reminisce and raise a glass to Day.
Day fell in love with the area while here filming the 1956 thriller, “Julie.” When she moved from Beverly Hills 35 years ago, she told TV hosts and friends, “I just want to be a local!” With the same gusto she gave each of her endeavors, she quickly became quite the local, forging friendships, running daily errands, even writing an animal-centric column for The Carmel Pine Cone.
“I was a fan from the time I could watch movies, says Joanne Storkan. “When I moved here, I’d always hoped I’d run into her. One day at the grocery store I heard ‘Que Sera Sera’ over the speakers, and thought it was so cool they were playing her music. Then as I moved through the store, the voice got louder and louder. Could it be? I peeked around the corner and there she was, trying to decide on some product, singing to herself,” says Storkan. “I floated out of the store and no, I didn’t bug her for an autograph!”
“Grocery shopping at Safeway was always a real kick,” says Lea Price, director at DDAF and Day’s friend of over 45 years. “She enjoyed visiting shops and restaurants and chatting with everyone from the owner to the busperson.”
Harry Khani, 15-year proprietor of Café Stravaganza, a favorite of Day’s, has fond remembrances of her buoyant personality. Recounting her manager picking up a usual takeout order and insisting he accompany her outside to greet a favorite dog Day had sent along in the car just to “meet” him, Khani laughs warmly, and continues, “then one time a lady came in and just kissed me and said, ‘Doris told me to go kiss Harry for her!'”
As years passed, Day’s humor and humility remained intact, as did her voice. Carmel post office clerk William Manning recalls requesting her signature for registered mail and Day, in a large hat and sunglasses, thanking him. “Wow, that voice! I said to her, ‘Your voice has not changed one bit,’ and she answered, ‘Well, unfortunately, everything else has!’ She was just that quick, and so nice and funny just like in her movies.”
Asked to share some laugh-out-loud moments, Price says, “I can’t remember an occasion when we didn’t wind up in stitches about one thing or another. As some people know, Doris loved funny names and didn’t hesitate to bestow them upon her friends after Billy DeWolfe dubbed her Clara Bixby. Kaye Ballard was Melba Nerle, another dear friend was Assie Lee. Most of these were real names she spotted in the newspaper or the TV news.
“One of our enduring laughs began during a visit about 10 years ago, when my husband spontaneously danced with Doris in her living room to a Count Basie CD. I jokingly suggested that they get an act together and take it on the road, and I would be their road manager. Doris promptly dubbed their new blond-haired, blue-eyed dance team, Dorita and Raoul. I returned with a map in hand, routing them through every Podunk town imaginable—Slickpoo, ID, Nothing, KS, Knockemstiff, OH, Hell for Certain, KY and Butzville, NJ. The tour became a running joke through the years, and Doris never stopped laughing about it.”
Day’s own nicknames included D-Day—prior to the historical 1944 day and the release of her first #1 hit, “Sentimental Journey,” which would become the unofficial homecoming anthem for US troops returning from World War II—and DoDo, given her by her son. “I remember going over to DoDo’s house almost every day after school with my dad,” says Day’s grandson Ryan Melcher. “She and my dad would hang in the kitchen opening fan mail and telling jokes, while I played with the animals. Those were the best times, and I miss them both terribly.”
As a girl, Mary Clark started writing Day fan mail and received a response to a letter she still remembers. “I had a Collie and she did too. I proclaimed I was her biggest fan and told her I was volunteering at my local humane society.” Four years later, Clark would travel from Pennsylvania all the way to California to attend a Day benefit for animals, where she’d meet up with fellow fan Price and, through some luck and a little magic, meet the star who said she’d call them. “Sure enough,” says Clark, “she called the next day and said, ‘Let’s have breakfast!'”
Day rode her bike to meet the girls at the famed Nate ‘N Al’s Delicatessen. Rather than show business, the conversation revolved around books, gardening and life, Clark says and, she gasps, “She wanted to know about me! Where I grew up, my parents, my dog. Doris Day wanted to know about me! That night before, she was still a movie star to me. Then, after that first breakfast, that was it. We were friends. She was just Doris after that.”
That was 44 years ago, and Clark would remain fast friends with Price and Day. Rounding out what they called their “gang” was Meg Howard, who’s also known Day for 44 years and worked for her for 10 years in the ’80s and during her move to Carmel, and Nancy Parsons of Carmel Valley, who’s known Day a mere 35 years since Day moved here.
It always was Day’s love of animals that made the biggest impression on those with whom she crossed paths. Some years ago, local Amanda Carter answered a call at a shelter. “A woman asked what animals had been there the longest. She wanted one cat and one dog, and specifically asked for the least adoptable.” Taken aback by the caller who didn’t need to see the animals first, Carter asked her name to put her on hold. “She said, ‘Honey, my name is Doris Day. I’m known for my work with animals.'” Carter wasn’t familiar with Day, but her coworkers quickly educated her. “They told me those were about to be the luckiest animals in the world,” she laughs. “She was so bubbly and optimistic, and wanted to know how all the animals were doing. I smiled the whole call.”
That call was tame compared to Day’s more uproarious antics. Howard recalls a time in L.A., before cell phones, when she called a service station, where Day was dropping off her vehicle, to let the attendant know she was on the way to pick up her friend. “I call the number and Doris picks up shouting, ‘Gas station!’ in a voice just like a character in one of her films. Who knows how many times she’d answered the phone like that that morning before I called!”
Howard and Day often laughed together while opening abundant mail from fans of all ages. “One that still stands out was from a little boy in Holland,” Howard says. He wrote, ‘If you would marry my dad, my grandmother would give you a windmill and so much cheese that you could eat.'”
Besides her generosity with fans, reading every single letter, what stood out to Day’s closest friends was reading the same three words so often: You saved me. “She was so humble,” says Parsons, who thinks Day never grasped the depth of her impact. I’d tell her, “the world loves you! And she didn’t seem to get why.”
DDAF CFO and longtime friend Bob Bashara agrees, “Doris was a very guileless person. I don’t know if she ever recognized the difference she made. She just considered herself a hard worker. Her philosophy was do your best no matter what.”
Day’s humility and gratitude also stand out to Scott Dreier, creator and star of the tribute show, “Doris and Me.” He recollects providing results of an especially successful fundraising effort, and Day praising the work everyone had done. “I told her, ‘Doris, we do it for you, and we do it because of you!’ And do you know what she said? ‘I don’t think I’ve done enough,'” he sighs.
What prompted Bashara to first contact Day some 25 years ago was, “I wanted to thank her,” he says. “One voice like hers could reach thousands more people than someone like me.” For many years, well-known local DJ, the late Ed Dickinson, would invite listeners to thank Day on her birthday each April 3, fielding calls from fans—whom Day insisted on calling “friends.” Day herself checked in by phone on-air throughout the show, and a fan site even provided live updates to reach a worldwide audience.
Since 2014, Day’s birthday festivities expanded into a weekend affair. Dedicated fans travelled to Carmel to celebrate the star and raise funds for her foundation with tribute shows and memorabilia auctions, including guest celebrities and costars like Day’s friend of nearly 50 years, Jackie Joseph, and photo opportunities with Day’s dog Daisy. And the highlight was always the pilgrimage to sing to Day, who’d wave down from her balcony and take wishes via cellphone.
Day loved her fans and she loved her hometown. Howard says what she’s going to miss most are their drives to look at sheep at Mission Ranch, or to watch dogs coming out of the Cypress Inn or see the Christmas lights.
Parsons, reflecting on her loss, echoes a sentiment spoken by several close to Day. “I have felt so honored to be her friend,” she says. “I loved her dearly and still love her. She was the sweetest, most adorable, kindest person. She never ever spoke ill of anyone. You couldn’t help but just feel good around her.”
To make a memorial donation to DDAF in