The legendary singer and actress who lit up the screen passed away early Monday at 97. The Doris Day Animal Foundation told Fox News in an emailed statement she died surrounded by close friends and “had been in excellent physical health for her age, until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia.”
And while Day is celebrated as one of the most popular entertainers in the United States, people who knew her say singing and acting were two things Day didn’t plan to pursue. Instead, she “fell into it.”
“Her screen test was being directed by Michael Curtiz, the director of ‘Casablanca,’ so you’ve got the biggest director in Hollywood and all she did was cry during the screen test,” claimed Santopietro.
“When he said to her, ‘Don’t you want to be a movie star?’ All she said was, ‘I want to go back to Cincinnati.’ “Which is hilarious, because her marriage was breaking up and she wanted to see her little boy,” continued Santopietro.
“But when he put her tests on film, instantly he saw the star quality. You either have it or you don’t. She did. Instinctively. She was never wildly ambitious. But the interesting thing is she became the biggest star in the world.”
But Santopietro stressed that Day also had a lasting impact on the music industry as a powerhouse who could act and sing seemingly effortlessly.
“Doris Day literally became the biggest star in the world and that overshadowed an extraordinary recording career,” he explained. “I mean, it was over 600 songs and she was publicly praised as a singer by Paul McCartney, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, among other people. That says a lot about what a great singer she was, too. It’s extraordinary.”
Santopietro revealed that as a singer, Day offered something completely different for audiences, whether they were fans or curious listeners.
“What I talk about in my book is that she made these concept albums for Columbia,” he shared. “Each one had a theme. One was Broadway show tunes, one is called ‘Day by Night’ and it just consists of songs about nighttime. You listen to those and you realize that she had the most intimate singing voice imaginable. It’s like you felt she was singing out to you, never to a theater full of people. That was her genius.”
Back in 2017, Day’s business manager and close friend Bob Bashara told Fox News that the star was a child dancer in her native Cincinnati whose career was interrupted in 1937 at age 14 when a train struck a car she was riding with friends. Her right leg was completely shattered and she was in a cast for nearly two years. Consequently, Day took singing lessons to occupy her time.
Day became associated with a number of recordings, but her most famous and signature song was “Que Sera Sera” (“Whatever Will Be, Will Be”) from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 film “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”
In a 2012 interview with NPR, Day admitted her initial reaction was, “I didn’t think it was a good song.” But when it became wildly popular, she said, “I realized maybe it isn’t a favorite song of mine but people loved it. And kids loved it. And it was perfect for the film. So I can’t say it’s a favorite song of mine, but boy, it sure did something.”
Day would go on to leave behind Hollywood in 1973. She lived quietly near Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., where she was an animal welfare activist and founded the Doris Day Animal Foundation.
Over the years, Day was asked several times to come out of retirement and scripts were sent her way. And while Day didn’t return to the spotlight, her love of music persevered.
“She loves singing,” Bashara told us in 2017. “She sings around the house a lot and her voice is terrific. We keep telling her she could record again if she wanted to. But she’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m rusty.”
And despite her lasting success, Day was perfectly content focusing on rescuing animals and had zero plans to slow down.
“She’s said this before… she never really wanted to be a movie star,” said Bashara. “She wanted to get married, have a family… She loves living the simple life. I don’t think she was ever really interested in the celebrity side of it. She wanted to work with animals and she wanted to do that in a more private setting.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.