Remembering Doris Day

Show business and the world lose an entertainment legend

“Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” was more than the title of one of the most enduring tunes Doris Day recorded. It really was how she lived her life.

An icon of both screen and song, the legendary performer — who died Monday (May 13) at age 97 – will be remembered for her perpetually sunny public demeanor and her dedication as one of the most famous advocates for the animal world, but she also was renowned for coping with her share of challenges. Among those were the deaths of her son Terry Melcher (who helped guide her career in later years) and her close friend Rock Hudson, plus the financial trouble that her late husband and business overseer Martin Melcher had left her in … and that brought her to weekly television.

The Doris Day Show
The Doris Day Show

One of the deals he made without her knowledge (and which she learned about only after his passing) was for a CBS series that became “The Doris Day Show,” which ran from 1968 to 1973 and helped her meet monetary debts she had been saddled with. Still shown occasionally on the nostalgia-oriented Decades channel, it cast her as a widow who initially brought her young sons (Philip Brown, Tod Starke) to live with her on her father’s (Denver Pyle) Northern California ranch.

The homespun approach of the lighthearted show suited Day’s image perfectly, but a second-season makeover (the first of several the series would get) saw more of it given a cosmopolitan feel by having her character commute to work as a secretary at a San Francisco-based magazine. Rose Marie and a pre-“M*A*S*H” McLean Stevenson were added to the cast as new associates for her.

In Season 3, Doris Martin (Day) and her sons left the ranch completely and took up residence in the City by the Bay, with Bernie Kopell (before he set sail on “The Love Boat”) and Kaye Ballard as their landlords and Billy DeWolfe as a troublesome neighbor. For whatever changes came during that year of the show, it was nothing compared to the overhaul that came with Season 4 and lasted for the rest of the series’ run.

The change that has gotten the most comments over the years is that the two sons … well, disappeared. They were never seen nor referred to again, consigning them to the ranks of such other here-today-gone-tomorrow characters as Chuck Cunningham of “Happy Days” and Judy Winslow of “Family Matters.” Day had a new boss played by veteran character actor John Dehner plus a friend and co-worker portrayed by Jackie Joseph, who had appeared as a particularly chatty party guest in the last movie Day made, 1968’s “With Six You Get Eggroll.”

Thanks also to Turner Classic Movies, Day remains a frequent television presence. An Oscar-winner for its script, “Pillow Talk” (1959) earned her her only Academy Award nomination and is a particularly popular attraction for her appealing teaming with her then-frequent co-stars Hudson and Tony Randall, not to mention her crooning of the bouncy title song. Day’s “Move Over, Darling” has gotten TCM showings very recently, and that channel will offer a marathon of her films in memory of her on Sunday, June 9.

Unfortunately, not included in that is “The Thrill of It All,” a hugely funny 1963 satire of overnight fame written by comedy legends Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart. Day plays a doctor’s wife who suddenly becomes a TV star when she’s enlisted to be the pitchwoman for “Happy Soap” in live commercials, to the dismay of her husband (James Garner, another fine screen partner for Day who worked with her multiple times). We won’t detail here how she comes to say on the air, “I’m Beverly Boyer, and I’m a pig,” but it’s sidesplitting.

Movies may have been her mainstay, but TV also had a place in the career of Doris Day. And in any medium, she absolutely was – and surely will remain – one of a kind.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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