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‘Que Sera, Sera…’: Doris Day and her lively life (April 3 is Doris Day’s 95th birthday)

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Her famous Oscar-winning song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” could well describe the life of this prolific and popular Hollywood actress. Entering showbiz as a singer after an accident cut short her dancing career, Doris Day, who turned 95 on Monday, went on to achieve greater fame onscreen in a wide range of films, though musical comedies were her forte.

Known most for youthful, blonde, blue-eyed look and effervescent personality that made her a quintessential “All-American Girl”, she portrayed feisty but principled career women in a number of hit films opposite the likes of James Cagney, James Stewart, Clark Gable, Rock Hudson and Cary Grant.

And while she never won an Oscar for acting, she is immortalised in a number of songs by the Beatles, Elton John, Wham, Billy Joel (She is the second to be mentioned in his Grammy-nominated “We Didn’t Start the Fire”) and a half a dozen other singers.

After changing social mores about love and sex in the 1960s made the sorts of roles she did best outdated and following the death of her third husband, who managed her career and finding he had left her nearly bankrupt), she reinvented herself as a TV star. She also picking an interest in welfare of animals, a cause still dear to her heart after retiring from the entertainment industry in the mid-1970s.

Doris, who had long believed she was only 93, only last week found she was actually two years older, as per her birth certificate issued in her native Ohio.

“I’ve always said that age is just a number. I have never paid much attention to birthdays, but it’s great to finally know how old I really am.” she said in a statement on Sunday.

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Born Doris Mary Ann Von Kapplehoff on April 3, 1922, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in a German-origin family (her grandparents were immigrants), she was raised by her mother after her parents separated. She loved dancing and when 14, formed an act with a local boy. They even decided to move to Hollywood but the night before they were to leave, she had the accident which left her confined to a wheelchair for some time.

Amusing herself while recovering by singing along with the radio, she found she had a rare talent for singing and her mother signed her up for singing lessons. Singing on a local radio programme and a restaurant, she caught the attention of jazz orchestra leader Barney Rapp, who signed her up in 1939. He also convinced her to change her surname based on her rendition of song “Day after Day”.

Working with other bandleaders including Les Brown — with whom she had her first hit recording, “Sentimental Journey”, she was soon convinced by a pair of songwriters to audition for films. She auditioned for famed director Michael Curtiz, who to her shock, selected her despite she admitting to her lack of acting experience. But he said he liked her honesty and always held her to be his best discovery.

There was no looking back. Her first starring role was in “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, but what made her name was her title role in western musical “Calamity Jane” (1953).

She broke from her musical comedy roots to take on more dramatic roles to broaden her range, especially as a singer in “Love Me or Leave Me” (1955), which she called her best film performance, and in Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) — which has the famous “Que Sera, Sera…” (It was during this she concerned at the treatment of animals on set, resolved to take up the cause of pet rights, which she went in full fledged after retiring from showbiz in the 1970s).

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Her subsequent hits included “Pillow Talk” (1959) with Rock Hudson, who became a lifelong friend. Of him, she said: “If there is a Heaven, I’m sure Rock Hudson is there because he was such a kind person”.

She also became known for refusing the role of Maria in “The Sound of Music” (1965), holding she was “too American to play a nun from Austria” and of Mrs Robinson in “The Graduate” (1967) as she was uncomfortable with playing the role of a professor’s wife who seduces his younger student.

In all, it was an eventful life for Doris, who had in 2014, said: “All I ever wanted in my life was to get married, have kids, keep house and cook, and even though I did all these things, I still ended up in Hollywood. It was a great trip. I’ve had an amazing life and wonderful times. And I’m happy!”

“Que sera, que sera'”

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])

By Vikas Datta

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