The name Doris Day likely conjures up an image of a wholesome, all-American girl smiling her way through Hollywood musicals and singing big band tunes. But in her final years of life, Day was actually reported to be a recluse – hiding away from a harsh entertainment world that had rejected her. Was this really what happened, though? Well, according to a close friend of the star, the truth about how Day spent her last years is far more emotional.
The idea of Day as a recluse is certainly a difficult one to marry with her lasting public persona. In the early 1960s, after all, Day was America’s number one box-office star. The Laurel Awards even ranked her as the Top Female Star in the country for seven years on the spin between 1958 and 1964. But then society began embracing the sexual revolution – and Day’s good-girl image became out of step with the culture.
In her later years, then, Day developed a reputation as a kind of hermit who mostly avoided being seen publicly. In 2013, for instance, Inside Edition noted, “She was the blonde, blue-eyed girl next door who lit up the screen during the ’50s and ’60s.” It then added, “But today, 89-year-old Doris Day is a virtual recluse.”
The website continued, “The last known photo of her was taken in 2008, hiding behind sunglasses and a big straw hat. She rarely leaves her ranch in Carmel, California.” The outlet then claimed, “Doris Day is known in Carmel as the eccentric old lady who serves food on paper plates and lives with dozens of stray animals.” But how much of this was actually true?
In April 2020 Lea Price – a long-time friend of Day – spoke to Fox News about the beloved movie star’s final years. And her revelations could come as quite a shock to the actor’s ardent fans. But then, how much do we really know about those in the public eye? Well, Day’s biography could offer some clues to her mindset. Born Doris von Kappelhoff in 1922, she actually dreamed of dancing as a profession – but these hopes were dashed in 1937.
That’s because Day was traveling in a car with her friends when a train slammed into the vehicle. Her right leg was severely injured in the collision – putting an end to her ambitions as a dancer. But it was while she was recovering in hospital that Day found something else to pour her devotion and hard work into: singing.
In 1975 Day told biographer A.E. Hotchner, “During this long, boring period, I used to while away a lot of the time listening to the radio, sometimes singing along with the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. But the one radio voice I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald.”
Day was completely enamored with Fitzgerald’s singing, too. She told Hotchner, “There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I’d sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.” And when Day’s mother, Alma, saw her daughter discovering this talent, she decided to take her to singing lessons.
According to Day’s official website biography, “Alma took Doris to see vocal coach Grace Raine, who was so impressed with Doris’ natural talent that she offered her three lessons for the price of one. Doris credits Raine with impressing upon her the importance of delivering a lyric.” Day also apparently felt that Raine had the most notable influence on her singing.
Those lessons paid off, too. After several years of performing with bandleaders such as Barney Rapp, Bob Crosby and Les Brown, Day had her first significant hit song with 1945’s “Sentimental Journey.” The track became an iconic song for the troops of World War II who were returning home to America. Day also went on to experience six other top-ten hit songs on the Billboard charts in 1945-46.
Then, in 1948, Day made the transition to Hollywood when she starred in Romance on the High Seas. To secure the role, though, she’d auditioned in front of director Michael Curtiz – and had reportedly been shocked when he’d cast her. She’d even told him that she was a singer with no real acting experience to speak of.
Fortunately, Curtiz – who was only a few years removed from winning the Best Director Academy Award for Casablanca – had appreciated Day being upfront with him. He’d been looking for a freckle-faced all-American girl for the role and felt that she was ideal. Curtiz would allegedly boast about being the man who discovered Doris Day in his later years.
In 1951 I’ll See You in My Dreams was released, and it would go on to become Day’s most commercially successful film. Two years later, she starred in Calamity Jane – another iconic comedic musical. During this period, too, Day would record albums for the musicals she starred in. And of those, three charted at number one.
In fact, Day reached the pinnacle of her box-office drawing power in the late 1950s/early 1960s. She starred in the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson, for instance, and received her only Academy Award nomination for her performance. Day and Hudson would form a beloved cinematic double act and make two more films together as well.
By the middle of the 1960s, though, it seemed that Day’s squeaky-clean image had caused audiences to move away from her. Her personal beliefs also didn’t align with Hollywood at this time. For example, she famously turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in 1967 hit The Graduate, which was nominated for six Academy Awards – including Best Actress for Anne Bancroft. Day would reveal in her memoirs that she had found the script to be vulgar and offensive.
Then, after her third husband, Martin Melcher, died in 1968, Day discovered that he had pilfered away her money through bad investments. She then wound up bankrupt and even suffered a nervous breakdown. And on top of that, the actor found out that Melcher had signed her up to a starring role in a TV series without her knowledge.
Day told OK! magazine in 1996, “It was awful. I was really, really not very well when Marty passed away, and the thought of going into TV was overpowering.” Her son, Terry, had then explained to her that the situation was even worse than she’d thought. “I had also been signed up for a bunch of TV specials, all without anyone ever asking me,” Day said.
As it turned out, The Doris Day Show lasted five seasons and was a relative success. But by the time the show ended in 1973, Day’s screen persona was even more passé than it had been in the late 1960s. So she seemingly retired from acting in 1975 and chose to focus her life on something that had long been a passion for her: helping animals.
Yet Day’s desire to do all she could for animals was born out of tragedy and guilt. You see, when Day was recovering from her leg injury at the age of 15, her mother bought her a dog that she named Tiny. But when Day was still using crutches, she took Tiny for a walk with no leash – and the animal was struck and killed by a car.
Day later told biographer Hotchner that she felt she had betrayed Tiny with her carelessness. She therefore wanted to atone for her mistake by rescuing animals in need and campaigning to end animal testing. She admitted to Hotchner, “During the painful and bleak periods, my animal family has been a source of joy and strength to me.”
Day co-founded Actors and Others for Animals in 1971 and established the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978. She then started the Doris Day Animal League in 1987. All three are non-profit rescue organizations. The Pet Foundation is actually now called the Doris Day Animal Foundation, and it gives out grants to other organizations that share its goals.
As Day focused on her animals and turned down repeated offers from the movie industry, though, her reputation as a recluse began to grow. And it wasn’t until a year after Day’s death in 2019 that a close friend of 40 years disagreed with how she had been presented in the media. Speaking to Fox News, Lea Price – who served on the Board of Directors for the Doris Day Animal Foundation – said, “There were some articles published in the tabloids that said, ‘She’s a recluse. She doesn’t go out,’ which was totally untrue.”
In fact, Price was adamant that Day had been far from a recluse. She said, “She loved going out and going shopping. She loved her grocery shopping, and she would go out to eat every once in a while.” Price also said that Day hadn’t shirked her responsibilities. “And she still kept busy with her two animal charities, which are both thriving and continuing today. She was actively involved until she passed away,” Price said.
Price believed that Day’s bond with her fans was incredibly strong, right until the end. “Oh my gosh, I don’t think any other celebrity stayed as connected with her fans as she did,” said Price. “She loved her fans. She called them her friends, and she made everyone feel as though they were her friends.”
According to Price, then, Day would endeavor to personally write back to as many of her fans as she possibly could. Yet there was a common message that ran through much of the fan correspondence she received that perplexed Day slightly. “The recurring theme was, ‘You saved me,’” said Price. “She never quite understood that.”
Yes, the ever-modest Day couldn’t quite wrap her head around the fact that she had been so vitally important to people’s lives. “She always felt, ‘I didn’t do anything,’” revealed Price. “She appreciated the sentiment, but she was always amazed at all the love that she would receive from all over the world.”
Throughout her interview, Price repeatedly pointed out how content Day had been in her later years. “Really, what you saw was what you got with Doris,” she said. “She was just a happy, positive person.” Regarding the star’s day-to-day life, Price said, “She loved her home. She loved her pets. She loved answering all her fan mail.”
As mentioned, Day had been courted by Hollywood long into her later years, too. “She continued to get offers,” claimed Price. “She never said that she was retiring or leaving Hollywood. I think it was something that just sort of evolved. She just moved on to other things. She always said, probably more so in the ’80s and ’90s, ‘I might work again. You never know.’”
However, nothing offered by Tinseltown was tempting enough to tear Day away from the life that she was happy leading. “I think she was just content doing what she was doing,” admitted Price. “She said at one point she felt like today’s movies were for the young people and no longer relevant to what she had been doing.”
Price believed that Day had known that her sensibilities weren’t suited to the movies that Hollywood was making as she got older. But that was no bad thing – as Day was in a different place in her life. Price said, “She appreciated [modern movies], but she just thought, ‘Okay, I’ve moved on. I’m doing something else now.’ And she was happy.”
Day’s friendship with co-star Rock Hudson had also been something that she had looked back very fondly upon, according to Price. “She always said that they loved to laugh. They had a great time together. They bonded when they did Pillow Talk together. She said that the director would get mad at them because they would just start laughing,” she said.
But while Day and Hudson’s giggly relationship may have frustrated the director, it led to amazing chemistry and at least one hugely successful film in Pillow Talk. Day went on to star with Hudson in two further romantic comedies: Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. Regarding Hudson, Price said, “She just loved him so much, and apparently he felt exactly the same way.”
And in a rare 2019 interview, with The Hollywood Reporter, Day spoke lovingly about Hudson when asked about her memories of Pillow Talk. “I had such fun working with my pal, Rock,” she beamed. “We laughed our way through three films we made together and remained great friends. I miss him.”
Price felt that her friend Doris Day was someone who would never let life get her down – no matter what trials she faced. “Doris was very down to earth and had a great sense of humor, but she was also a survivor,” stated Price. “She went through so much in her life, and yet she always had a positive attitude.”
Regarding the animals that Day loved so much, Price believed that she had wanted to inform the public about the terrible mistreatment that they could face. Price said, “She and a group of actors started Actors and Others for Animals here in Hollywood, and it was because they could use their celebrity to bring awareness to the animal welfare issues that weren’t really being addressed back in the ’70s.”
Price revealed, “So many animals were being euthanized in shelters. And so she brought awareness to spaying and neutering and the whole homeless pet population and really just devoted the latter part of [her life] to it.” In 1971 Day also campaigned against animal furs being made into clothing items.
Price believed that Day actually wanted to be memorialized as someone who fought for animals’ welfare, rather than as a singer or a movie star. “What she wanted to be remembered for was making this world a better one for animals,” claimed Price. “Hopefully, that legacy will continue on through the Doris Day Animal Foundation.”
In the 2019 Hollywood Reporter interview, Day also spoke about her work with animals. She said, “I started my animal foundation in 1978 when more than 17 million homeless pets were being euthanized every year and spaying and neutering was practically unheard of.” She believed that awareness had improved by leaps and bounds over the years.
Day stated, “Animal-welfare awareness has improved tremendously over the last four decades, and euthanasia rates are down to approximately 2.5 million, but there is still much work to be done. DDAF’s grants support non-profit organizations and programs across the country that directly help animals and the people who love them.”
Overall, then, Price was optimistic that her friend’s impact on the world would be felt for a long time. “Hopefully, her legacy will be able to live on for generations to come,” she said. “I’m grateful that we have all of her recordings and films so younger people can get acquainted with her and hopefully see all the good she did in the world.”
Another celebrity who passed away after a long and successful career was Peter Fonda, who died in August 2019. And, naturally, the star’s passing at the age of 79 affected not only his legion of fans but also his family. Famously, Peter had come from an acting clan, following in the footsteps of his father, Henry, at around the same time that his elder sister, Jane, entered show business. Now Jane has opened up about her brother’s last days before he died – and her words may just bring tears to your eyes.
Since Peter’s death, it’s been revealed that he passed away as the result of respiratory failure brought on by lung cancer. The veteran actor was at his Los Angeles home and had family by his side when he succumbed to his condition, and he left behind wife Margaret “Parky” DeVogelaere and children Bridget and Jason from his first marriage to Susan Brewer.
And, of course, plenty of tributes were paid to the actor following his passing. After the sad news broke, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that flowers would be left on Peter’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for example. Many big names, including Kathy Griffin, Ava DuVernay, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mia Farrow, also took to Twitter to give their sympathies.
Rob Reiner, for one, tweeted, “My heart goes out to Jane over the loss of her brother. Peter Fonda was a revolutionary filmmaker during a revolutionary time. [He was] born in the house I now live in, [and] his spirit will be missed.” Matilda actress Mara Wilson wrote, meanwhile, “Peter Fonda was one of the oddest people I’ve ever met, and honestly I think he’d be thrilled to know I remembered him that way.”
And it’s fair to say that Peter’s career in Hollywood was a fascinating one. During the 1960s he even became a countercultural icon of sorts after his star turn in biker classic Easy Rider. More prestigiously still, Peter helped inspire the Beatles song “She Said She Said” after informing John Lennon, “I know what it’s like to be dead.”
That statement wasn’t mere hyperbole, either, as Peter really did nearly die in childhood. Aged just 11, he shot himself by accident – an incident from which it took the young boy months to recover. That almost-fatal mishap, moreover, came only a year after Peter and Jane’s mother, Frances Ford Seymour, had ended her own life.
Frances had been in a psychiatric hospital when she died by suicide, although initially her children weren’t told the whole truth. In his 1998 memoir, forebodingly named Don’t Tell Dad, Peter detailed the moment when the news had been broken. “I went to Grandma, and she told me [that] Mother had died of a heart attack in a hospital,” he wrote.
And the aftermath of the tragedy was particularly horrible for Peter, it seems. “After that, no one ever talked about Mom. No one seemed to miss her. It was almost as if she had never lived,” he wrote in Don’t Tell Dad. “Jane and I never went to a funeral or service for her; I didn’t know where she was buried.”
In fact, Peter didn’t actually learn what had happened to his mom until he was 20. On that occasion, he had gotten talking to a diner owner in New York when the man showed him a newspaper cutting announcing his mother’s death. And according to the actor, the report read, “Frances Seymour Fonda, wife of the actor Henry Fonda, committed suicide yesterday at the Craig House.”
Peter dealt with his trauma, however, by concentrating on becoming a star. To that end, then, he started taking small roles in television shows such as The New Breed and The Defenders. He made a jump to movies, too, performing alongside Sandra Dee in 1963 romcom Tammy and the Doctor. And thanks to these screen appearances and others, Peter began to make a name for himself.
Somewhat inevitably, though, Peter had always grown up in the shadow of his famous dad. And while Henry was often away filming movies, his son saw him as a frightening figure. Henry had been “embarrassed” by his offspring being so small and skinny, Peter wrote in his book, and so he had tried to make Peter stronger.
In Don’t Tell Dad, Peter also recalled the punishment he had received for taking candy from his father’s room. “I told him [that] had just found [the candy]. [Dad] bellowed that I was a liar,” Peter wrote. “I jumped off the couch and ran for my life with Dad in hot pursuit… He picked me up by my small, terrified neck and carried me into my bedroom, giving me the spanking of my life.”
Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that Peter grew up to become estranged from his father. As an actor, meanwhile, he appeared to be the archetypal rebel – not least because of his long hair and drug consumption. Movies such as The Wild Angels and Easy Rider similarly marked him out as not being afraid to go against the grain.
And against all odds, Easy Rider had been a massive hit, grossing $60 million on a budget of just $400,000. In 2007 Peter mused on the film’s success to the Los Angeles Times. “Nobody knew how to approach the youth market. I knew it was there,” he said. “No one was making movies for that group.”
Peter also suggested that “the hippies” – a group of which he considered himself to be a part – had helped Easy Rider along. “We had our own art, we had our own poetry, we had our own songs, we had our own clothing [and] our own attitude,” he added to the newspaper. “All this stuff that was ours. It didn’t belong to the older generation… What didn’t we have? We didn’t have our own movie.”
And while Peter did nod to convention by marrying Susan Brewer in 1961, he nevertheless “dove headlong into the era’s sea of drugs and sexual freedom,” as he later admitted in his memoir. In 1966 the star was even arrested during the Sunset Strip curfew riots. And even though his relationship with his father wasn’t good, he nevertheless found an ally in his sister Jane.
Jane released her own memoir, My Life So Far, in 2005, and in its pages she revealed of her brother, “Peter is all deep sweetness – kind and sensitive to his core. He would never intentionally harm anything or anyone. In fact, he once argued with me that vegetables had souls (it was the ’60s).”
Jane went on, “[Peter] has a strange, complex mind that grasps and hangs on to details ranging from the minutiae of his childhood to cosmic matters with a staggering amount in between. Dad couldn’t appreciate and nurture Peter’s sensitivity – couldn’t see him as he was. Instead he tried to shame Peter into his own image of stoic independence.”
Yet Peter and Henry did eventually reconcile. In 1979, you see, Peter offered his father an olive branch with a role in the film Wanda Nevada, and things went from there. In time, the older man even expressed his affection for his son. Speaking of one such moment in his memoir, Peter revealed, “Slowly and choking on the high-powered emotion, [Dad] said, ‘I love you very much, son. I want you to know that.’”
The actor added, “Tears streaming down my own cheeks, I told [Dad that] I loved him very much and kissed him on his lips – something we had never done before.” Naturally, Peter was deeply touched. “I quickly drove off, stopping at a nearby park to have the good hard cry I needed. Years of frustration fell off my heart like melting snow sliding off a roof,” he said in Don’t Tell Dad.
Unfortunately, Henry would pass away just a few years later, in 1982. “He looked at me, pinning me with both of his beautiful blue eyes,” Peter wrote in his memoir. “‘I love you so very much, son. I want you to know that.’ And he closed his eyes and lay his head back on the pillow. These were the last words he spoke before he died.”
Jane had a similar experience when Henry passed. “He didn’t know how to be close,” she said of her father when she appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in 2005. “I was able, when he was dying, to tell him what I wanted to say, but he couldn’t reciprocate. I felt grateful I was able to do that.”
Despite their troubled childhood, Jane and Peter remained close both before and following their father’s death. While Peter was filming Ulee’s Gold in 1997, for example, he spoke to The Baltimore Sun about how he had modeled his character on Henry. And during the conversation with the newspaper, he added, “Jane’s been very supportive of me and is really excited about this film.”
People noticed how much Peter’s character in Ulee’s Gold resembled Henry, too. “We look at the screen, and there’s Peter, wearing little round glasses and doing a Henry gesture. He looks up, winces a little, smiles a little and looks shy, dignified and quiet,” noted the San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s when we realize we’ve been missing Henry Fonda all this time and just didn’t know it.”
What’s more, Ulee’s Gold earned Peter a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars – proof, if any were needed, that he had lived up to his illustrious family name. That would be his last such honor from the Academy, though, as many of the movies that followed were not so critically well-received.
And in Peter’s later years, Jane spoke to People about her brother and their shared childhood. In the 2014 interview, the veteran star claimed that her sibling had spent his early years troubled about the loss of his mother; he was also perturbed by the way in which his father barely acknowledged her death. Jane added that Peter had been “much more affected by the fact that no one talked about our mom” than she had.
The actress explained, “It was like [our mom had] just been erased. [The Christmas after she died], Peter filled a chair with presents and a letter for her. He couldn’t stand that there was no acknowledgment of her. He was such a sensitive, sweet, vulnerable kid.” And upon Peter’s death, she used similarly touching words to describe her brother.
Following the actor’s passing, Jane released a short statement to People. “I am very sad,” she revealed. “[Peter] was my sweet-hearted baby brother, the talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days.” In addition, she said, her sibling “went out laughing” – although she kept the cause of that laughter private.
The wider Fonda family would also release a message via People. This read, “It is with deep sorrow that we share the news that Peter Fonda has passed away. [Peter] passed away peacefully on Friday morning, August 16 at 11:05 a.m. at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family.”
The statement went on, “In one of the saddest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy. And while we mourn the loss of this sweet and gracious man, we also wish for all to celebrate his indomitable spirit and love of life. In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”
Nor were the Fonda family the only ones to speak out about Peter and his life. The late actor’s former Easy Rider co-star Toni Basil told The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, how she thought Peter’s difficult childhood may have helped shape his career.
Basil revealed to the publication, “As much turmoil as [Peter] had in his younger years, it gave him insight into the business that enabled him to have a big picture of the whole Hollywood scene. He was so sweet, so laid-back [and] so drop-dead beautiful. He was this ultimate movie star; he didn’t act like it, but he looked like it.”
The actress added of her one-time colleague, “He had such a gentle nature. You didn’t get this crazy ambitious feel from him, which is maybe part of the reason people didn’t know him for being as extraordinary as he was. He was very generous and very helpful [on the set]. He was very interested in what people were doing. ‘What is your life like? How are you doing?’”
And Jessica Biel, who appeared in Ulee’s Gold with Peter when still young, also wrote a touching message in tribute. “I had the honor [of] working with #PeterFonda on the first movie I ever made (as an angsty teenager with a nose ring),” she said on her Instagram account.
Biel went on, “Ulee’s Gold was a huge opportunity, and [Peter] believed in me. I’m forever grateful for him and the impact he had on me and my career. I’m sure countless others can say the same. Rest in paradise.” An old photograph showing the two stars standing together accompanied Biel’s heartfelt message.
It seemed, in fact, that none of Peter’s former co-stars and friends had a bad word to say about him. Diane Ladd, who appeared with the actor in Wild Angels, spoke out to say, “Peter was a friend, a wonderful actor and a great humanitarian.” She added to People, “He rang a bell for culture. He will indeed be missed.”
Ladd continued, “We recently had the privilege of working in a new film together to be released this year that will not only entertain but lift up humanity: The Last Full Measure,” And she went on, “I remember when we were filming Wild Angels – my very first film. We were practically children back then.”
The Last Full Measure was directed by Todd Robinson and also stars Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris and William Hurt. The war movie is set to be released on October 25, 2019, and it’ll give fans of Peter a chance to see him on the big screen posthumously.
Meanwhile, Jane is remaining quiet about the death of her brother, with her most recent posts on social media being mostly to do with activism work rather than Peter. Seeing as how her family asked for privacy after Peter’s passing, however, it seems that she’s sticking to that.
Yet Jane’s previous statements about her sibling act as their own testament to his life. Musing on how she had raised her own children, the star told the Liverpool Champion in 2018, “My brother suffered more from being the son of my father than I did.” Luckily, Peter was at least able to amend that before he died.