With the sad news today of the passing of Doris Day, one of America’s legends and treasures, it would be difficult if not impossible to add anything to the flood of remembrances and anecdotes of one of truly iconic figures in film and music.
In looking for something that might not be all that familiar to you, I dipped into the vault and ran across this early guest appearance as a solo artists on the local New York radio program Barry Gray’s Nightclub, a show featuring talent performing at the various nightspots around Manhattan. This one, from February 5, 1946 features Doris Day before her transition to Hollywood, when she was still a singer with Les Brown’s band and was making waves as a rising talent in her own right. She is briefly interviewed by Gray and sings two numbers. Sadly, her appearance lasts about 10 minutes, but it’s Doris Day at her beginnings.
While working with Brown, Day recorded her first hit recording, “Sentimental Journey”, released in early 1945. It soon became an anthem of the desire of World War II demobilizing troops to return home. The song continues to be associated with Day, and she rerecorded it on several occasions, including a version in her 1971 television special. During 1945–46, Day (as vocalist with the Les Brown Band) had six other top ten hits on the Billboard chart: “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time”, “‘Tain’t Me”, “Till The End of Time”, “You Won’t Be Satisfied (Until You Break My Heart)”, “The Whole World is Singing My Song”, and “I Got the Sun in the Mornin'”.
While singing with the Les Brown band and for nearly two years on Bob Hope’s weekly radio program, she toured extensively across the United States.
Her performance of the song “Embraceable You” impressed songwriter Jule Styne and his partner, Sammy Cahn, and they recommended her for a role in Romance on the High Seas (1948). Day got the part after auditioning for director Michael Curtiz. She was shocked at being offered the role in the film, and admitted to Curtiz that she was a singer without acting experience. But he said he liked that “she was honest,” not afraid to admit it, and he wanted someone who “looked like the All-American Girl,” which he felt she did. Day was the discovery of which Curtiz was most proud of during his career.
The film provided her with a #2 hit recording as a soloist, “It’s Magic”, which followed by two months her first #1 hit (“Love Somebody” in 1948) recorded as a duet with Buddy Clark. Day recorded “Someone Like You”, before the 1949 film My Dream Is Yours, which featured the song.
In 1950, U.S. servicemen in Korea voted her their favorite star. She continued to make minor and frequently nostalgic period musicals such as On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and Tea For Two for Warner Brothers.
Her most commercially successful film for Warner was I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951), which broke box-office records of 20 years. The film is a musical biography of lyricist Gus Kahn. It was Day’s fourth film directed by Curtiz. Day appeared as the title character in the comedic western-themed musical, Calamity Jane (1953). A song from the film, “Secret Love”, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became Day’s fourth No. 1 hit single in the United States.
The rest, of course, is history and her career in Hollywood took off in the later 1950s until her retirement from the film business in the 1970s.
But in the event you aren’t all that familiar with Doris Day the Big Band singer, here’s a reminder and a tribute to a remarkable and enduring talent. She was Americas sweetheart.
And probably always will be.