She was the top female box office draw of the 1950s and early ’60s. Her hit songs at the time were radio mainstays. She defined sunny, all-American wholesomeness. And on Monday, May 13, at age 97, Doris Day died after contracting a serious case of pneumonia, she left behind a legacy of some 600 songs, 39 feature films, and five seasons of her own television show. Summing up her buoyant persona many years ago, she said: “I like joy. I want to be joyous. I want to have fun on the set. I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.”
Born Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff in 1922, Day began singing as a teenager, touring the country with big bands and, among others, comedian Bob Hope. Her talents scored her a role in the 1948 comedy Romance on the High Seas. A slew of successful musicals followed, including Calamity Jane in 1953 (her recording of Jane’s “Secret Love” became a No. 1 hit; the song went on to win an Academy Award) and The Pajama Game in 1957. Day’s best-known film was 1959’s Pillow Talk, which earned the star her only Oscar nomination, for Best Actress, and kicked off the first of three collaborations with her lifelong friend Rock Hudson (1961’s Lover Come Back and 1964’s Send Me No Flowers). Day also starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), in which she famously sang “Que Sera Sera.” The Oscar-winning tune became a massive hit and remained Day’s signature song throughout her career.
By the late ’60s, Day’s squeaky-clean persona fell out of step with the times and her appeal waned. Staunchly conservative, she turned down the Mrs. Robinson role in The Graduate on what she called “moral grounds” and became increasingly critical of the changing mores reflected in Hollywood movies. Her last feature film was 1968’s With Six You Get Eggroll, but the following year she received a Golden Globe nomination for her eponymous sitcom, which ran from 1968-73. Married and divorced four times, Day had one son, record producer Terry Melcher, who died in 2004. Up until her death, the actress remained an active animal rights activist, founding the Doris Day Animal League in 1987.