WASHINGTON • Actress Doris Day, who became one of the greatest box-office attractions of her time as the cheery, freckle-faced personification of wholesomeness, died yesterday at the age of 97, her foundation said.
Day, who co-starred with 1950s and 1960s superstars, such as Rock Hudson and Cary Grant, died at her home in Carmel, California, after a bout of pneumonia, the Doris Day Animal Foundation said.
Her shiny girl-next-door image was built on a series of innocent romantic comedies, including 1959's Pillow Talk, for which Day received an Oscar nomination, That Touch Of Mink and The Thrill Of It All.
Day also had hit records, most notably Que Sera, Sera from the 1956 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. It became her theme song, even though she had initially been reluctant to record it.
The actress' life was not always as sunny as her movie roles. She married four times, was divorced three times and widowed once, suffered a nervous breakdown and had severe financial trouble after one husband squandered her money.
"My public image is unshakably that of America's wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness," she said in a memoir. "An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt and that's all there is to it."
"She's the girl every guy should marry," a critic wrote in the Saturday Review. "Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak? They'd all be trouble. Doris Day would be true blue, understanding, direct, honest, and even a little sexy."
Day was born Doris von Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati and headed to California at age 14 to be a dancer. She abandoned that dream after her right leg was broken in a car accident.
She concentrated on singing and at 16 had a job with Les Brown, one of the top orchestra leaders of the day, and recorded her first hit, Sentimental Journey, with him.
She changed her surname at the suggestion of a band leader who heard her sing Day By Day.
At 17, Day married trombone player Al Jorden, who she later claimed beat her. Her only child, son Terry, was born in 1942, and the couple divorced the following year.
Day's movie debut, Romance On The High Seas, in 1948 was a hit, in part because of the Oscar-nominated song she sang in it called It's Magic.
In 1951, Day married agent Martin Melcher and, after his death in 1968, she found he had left her nearly penniless. She had a nervous breakdown in 1974 and then won US$22 million in damages from Melcher's attorney and other associates who had mismanaged her money. Day was last married to restaurant owner Barry Comden in 1976, but they later divorced.
She largely retired in 1973, after starring in The Doris Day Show, which ran for four seasons.
After retiring, Day worked mainly with her foundation, helping abused animals. In 1989, she received a lifetime achievement honour from organisers of the Golden Globe.