Publicity added much spin & gloss to what was already a positive record
CARMEL, California––Doris Day, 97, died from pneumonia on May 13, 2019.
Day was remembered worldwide as a singer who recorded more than 650 songs between 1939 and 1967; an actress who starred in more than 40 films between 1947 and 1968, as well as her own television situation comedy, 1968-1973; and an animal advocate, for whom the Doris Day Animal Foundation, the Doris Day Animal League, and the Doris Day Equine Center were all named.
Distinguishing the real Doris Day, however, from the legend manufactured by publicists, gossip columnists, and the roles she played was never easy.
Composer Oscar Levant (1906-1972) in 1965 famously remarked on the Perry Como Show that he knew Doris Day before she made her first film, “before she was a virgin.”
Careers in show biz & for animals began with a train wreck
Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, her name appears to have first appeared in print on January 13, 1939, in connection with an incident she later remembered as indirectly kindling her interest in animal welfare, as well as beginning her ascent to stardom by changing her career direction.
Reported the Hamilton Daily News Journal, “The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, joint defendant with the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, & St. Louis Railroad company,” had elected to contest lawsuits filed as “result of a crossing accident on October 13, 1937.”
“The suits were instituted,” the Hamilton Daily News Journal said, “by Doris Kappelhoff, age 16, professional dancer, who seeks $20,000; Albert Schroeder, who asks $10,500; and Marian Bonekamp, age 18, who seeks $5,000. The trio, all residents of Cincinnati, were riding in Schroeder’s car when it collided with a locomotive.”
Changed both her name & her age
Turning from dancing to singing as result of her injuries, winning her first singing job from big band leader Barney Rapp, Doris Kappelhoff became Doris Day, according to her official biographies, because “Kappelhoff” was too long to fit on marquees.
But, six years before recording her first hit, Sentimental Journey, in 1945, the future Doris Day was still far from becoming a headliner. More likely, “Kappelhoff” sounded too Germanic, with the U.S. close to war with Germany.
Official biographies also contend that, as Wikipedia has it, “For most of her life, Day believed she had been born in 1924 and reported her age accordingly; it was not until her 95th birthday — when the Associated Press found her birth certificate, showing a 1922 date of birth — that she learned otherwise.”
The 1939 Hamilton Daily News Journal item about the railway crossing accident, however, establishes that Day knew her actual age all along.
Tiny the dog?
Leaving the subsequent facts of Doris Day’s singing and acting careers, and her frequently complicated personal life, to mass media and entertainment media to untangle, ANIMALS 24-7 perused several books, many obituaries, and approximately 3,000 articles at NewspaperArchive.com to try to discover the truth of her involvement in animal advocacy.
According to a posthumous remembrance by Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block, “Her beloved dog, Tiny, was her closest companion and a comforting presence while she recovered from injuries sustained in a car crash that ended her budding career as a dancer. When they were out for a walk together, Tiny uncharacteristically bolted away and was struck by a car and tragically killed. Tiny’s death left Doris with a strong determination to help animals.”
The 1939 Hamilton Daily News Journal item affirms that the car crash occurred. The rest of the story, though media documented practically everything of note that Doris Day said and did during her eight decades of fame, does not appear to have surfaced until the 1970s.
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Day recalled in 2015 that “she first became interested in animals on the set of a 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film,” Nick Thomas of the Victorville Daily Press wrote in a feature entitled “A Christmas message from Doris Day.”
“One of my first profound experiences working with animals in my films was in Morocco on the set of The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Day told Thomas. “I was never one to make waves when working on my films, but was appalled at the condition of the local animals used in this film.”
Because The Man Who Knew Too Much was made abroad, there apparently was no on-set supervision by the American Humane Association, which had begun monitoring the sets of U.S.-made films through a contract with the Screen Actors Guild in 1940.
Day “refused to continue,” she continued to Thomas, “until we made sure they were all well-fed, well-treated, and happy. I think this was one of the instances where I truly realized how my celebrity could help improve animals’ lives.”
Day must have told the same story to someone else earlier, because then-Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle blogged on her birthday in April 2014 that “as a young actress, she had the courage to stand up to the formidable Alfred Hitchcock on the set of The Man Who Knew Too Much, saying she wouldn’t work unless the emaciated animals on the set received proper care.”
Lindsay Pollard-Post of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told essentially the same story in her posthumous remembrance of Doris Day.
But ANIMALS 24-7 was unable to find any published trace of the Morocco story predating 2014––not from Day herself, not from other members of The Man Who Knew Too Much cast and crew, not from the publicists who continually bolstered her image, and not from the gossip columnists who detailed her every move.
Doris Day v. Shirley Temple
And it was not as if actresses maintaining a wholesome all-American image––or their agents––had not already made a point of promoting kindness toward animals for generations.
Shirley Temple, for example, a film star from 1933 to 1950, at the height of her popularity posed as cover girl for the June 1935 and March 1936 editions of the American Humane Association magazine, The National Humane Review.
Shirley Temple, however, while playing late career roles similar to those of Doris Day, and though seven years younger, was done as an actress by age 21.
Doris Day, 25 when she made her screen debut, enjoyed her peak of success during her thirties and early forties. During that time Day played many roles which, while not overtly inhumane by the standards of the era, were not especially sensitive toward animals, either. Her on-screen romantic opposites included cowboys, ranchers of species from cattle and poultry to lobsters, rodeo performers, and a circus elephant trainer in Jumbo (1962).
That Touch of Mink (also made in 1962) both borrowed from and amplified a sales slogan used to promote mink coats.
“Be Kind to Animals Week”
The earliest clips that ANIMALS 24-7 found furnishing any evidence that Doris Day had any more than ordinary awareness of animal suffering or sentience were media releases published in May 1965, when the American Humane Association named Day and actor Fred MacMurray, the leading man in several Day films, as co-chairs of “Be Kind to Animals Week”––a role that Shirley Temple filled in 1936.
After that, the next mention of Doris Day in the same article as the word “humane” came in April 1969. That was when a dog named Lord Nelson Again was nominated for a Performing Animal Television Star of the Year award for his work on the Doris Day Show.
The “Patsy” awards, as they were known, were presented from 1951 to 1986 by the American Humane Association. After the AHA dropped the program, the concept was revived and expanded as the Genesis Awards by Broadway actress Gretchen Wyler (1932-2007), initially under the auspices of the Fund for Animals, founded in 1968 by TV Guide and Parade columnist and author Cleveland Amory (1917-1998).
The Genesis Awards were later hosted by the Ark Trust, founded in 1991 by Wyler herself, merged into the Humane Society of the U.S. in 2002.
Cleveland Amory introduced Doris Day to activism
Doris Day appears to have become involved in animal advocacy in earnest at age 48, in mid-1970, after Amory asked her to become a member of the Fund for Animals honorary celebrity board.
Making a publicity appearance on behalf of the Fund for Animals, Day in October 1970 told Joan Crosby of the Newspaper Enterprise Association that “They call me the dogcatcher of Beverly Hills. If I find a dog wandering loose, I check his collar, then take him home.”
Day also told of rescuing two dogs, at different times, from busy streets.
Posed in opposition to fur
Day, a longtime frequent fur-wearer, stepped into controversy on behalf of animals for the first time when Amory in July 1971 persuaded her and fellow actresses Mary Tyler Moore, Angie Dickinson, Amanda Blake and Jayne Meadows to pose in a glossy magazine ad headlined “Five Women Who Can Easily Afford Any Fur Coat in the World Tell Why They’re Proudly Wearing Fakes.”
The two-page ad was placed by E. F. Timme & Son, a leading maker of faux fur garments.
Reported The New York Times, “The ad will appear The New York Times and the New York Times Magazine, Look, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, New York and Esquire. It will not appear in Vogue because, according to the Levine shop, the magazine turned it down and has not as yet given an official reason.
“In 1970, according to the Publisher’s Information Bureau, Vogue carried 36 pages of advertising from the real fur folks,” the New York Times item finished.
Doris Day’s most influential, yet least known role for animals
By November 1971, Day had also begun fundraising for Actors & Others For Animals. Actors & Others For Animals both then and now promoted spay/neuter surgery and adoptions of pets from animal shelters. Day took up both causes.
“I feel so deeply about this and I’m getting more intense about it all the time,” Day told syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist Margaret McManus in December 1971.
Day soon thereafter took on arguably her most influential, yet least remembered role on behalf of animals, speaking out against the use of decompression to kill animals in the Los Angeles shelters.
Decompression at the time rivaled carbon monoxide gassing as the most common method of shelter killing throughout the U.S.––and the humaneness of it was rarely questioned.
Doris Day herself might have raised questions about decompression much earlier, if she had thought much about it; but few people did.
“The chambers must go!”
At least twice, in February and June 1950, Associated Press distributed news items about Doris Day in proximity to items about the introduction of decompression to kill dogs and cats by Richard Bonner, then director of the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation. The method was promptly endorsed and promoted by the American Humane Association.
Bonner and the AHA believed, at the time, that decompression would be a less painful and frightening death for animals than gassing. Even today, nearly 70 years later, the AHA continues to promote decompression as a “humane” slaughter method for poultry.
But, demanded Doris Day in a March 10, 1972 interview with “Hollywood Hotline” columnist Marilyn Beck, “The chambers must go! The needle is the only humane way of putting animals to sleep.”
Stumped as to solution
Wrote Beck, “Asked what potion that needle might contain, she said she did not know.”
That might have been of concern. At the time several lethal injections were widely used which were, and are, no less painful and frightening to the victims than decompression, including strychnine, magnesium sulfate, and T-61, a paralytic mix of three drugs developed for use by fur farmers. (The three drugs are Embutramide, Mebezonium iodide, and Tetracaine hydrochloride. The combination has been banned in the U.S. since 1986.)
Family Weekly, a nationally distributed weekend newspaper supplement, in August 1972 published a single-paragraph denunciation of decompression by Doris Day.
But had national influence
Within days the city of Berkeley, California abolished the use of decompression to kill pound animals, the first city to do so, after months of pressure on the city council led by George and Diane Sukol of the Committee for the Protection of Domestic Animals and Julie Stitt and Martha Benedict of Friends of the Berkeley Dogs.
San Francisco and Portland, Oregon abolished decompression in 1976. The movement became a wave. Houston and Austin, Texas, the last U.S. cities to use decompression, both quit by mid-1985.
Doris Day appears to have never claimed credit for starting the wave with her 1972 interviews. Neither does she appear even to have been aware of her influence against decompression, or, indeed, to have ever mentioned it again on the record.
National Cat Protection Society
Also in 1972, Doris Day lent her name to the grandiosely named National Cat Protection Society, a local cat shelter founded in Long Beach in 1968 by humane officer Richard Calore. Day does not appear to have remained involved for long.
Calore died in 1988, leaving the organization to his widow Gerri, shelter manager Denise Johnston, and attorney Richard Tanzer.
The National Cat Protection Society in 1993 paid $26,500 in civil penalties and costs for allegedly providing misleading information about euthanasia policies and adoption rates to donors and people who surrendered cats.
Denying that the society had done anything wrong, Tanzer said the settlement was reached to avoid the cost of fighting the charges, brought by the Los Angeles County district attorney.
The National Cat Protection Society subsequently closed the Long Beach shelter, opened others in Newport Beach and Spring Valley, and currently claims net assets of about $7.5 million, paying Gerri Calore $147,000 a year, Johnson nearly $148,000, and Tanzer $108,000, according to the most recent available IRS Form 990 filings.
Founded her own organization in 1978
Most of Doris Day’s work on behalf of animals throughout the rest of her life involved fundraising and allocating grants to various projects.
“Recognizing the need to stop animal homelessness at its source, she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978,” wrote Lindsay Pollard-Post of PETA, “which later became the Doris Day Animal Foundation.”
The focal Doris Day Animal Foundation programs, Pollard-Post mentioned, have been “providing grants for spaying and neutering, funding humane education in schools, and helping senior citizens pay for their animal companions’ food and veterinary care.”
The Doris Day Animal Foundation also “supported Alley Cat Rescue’s Guide to Managing Community Cats and other programs,” recalled Alley Cat Rescue founder Louise Holton.
Probably the best-known Doris Day Animal Foundation project was and is Spay Day USA, designated in 1995 “to encourage each American to have at least one cat or dog spayed or neutered.”
Animal shelters, rescues, and veterinary clinics around the U.S. continue to build spay/neuter promotions around Spay Day USA.
The name echoes that of Spay/USA, a national spay/neuter information hotline begun by Esther Mechler several years earlier, sponsored by the North Shore Animal League America since 1992, but the projects have never been institutionally related.
Terry Melcher & the Doris Day Animal League
More widely known than the Doris Day Animal Foundation, if only because of the voluminous amount of direct mail fundraising appeals it generated, was the Doris Day Animal League, a nonprofit lobbying organization begun in 1986 by Day’s son Terry Melcher.
“The son of actress and singer Doris Day and her first husband, the trombonist Al Jorden, Melcher was known for his role,” primarily as a record producer, “in shaping the sounds of the folk and surf music scenes in California,” wrote New York Times obituarist Jeff Leeds after Melcher died of cancer at age 62 in November 2004.
Melcher worked with musicians including the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mamas & the
Papas, and Ry Cooder at various times. Melcher was also executive producer of The Doris Day Show, 1968-1972, and a later program called Doris Day’s Best Friends.
Refusing to produce music for Charles Manson, Melcher was reputedly Manson’s primary target when in July and August 1969 his followers murdered nine people at four locations––but Melcher was not actually present when any of the murders were committed. He later testified against Manson, who died in prison in 2017.
Who was Bill Wewer?
Melcher hired tax lawyer and direct mail entrepreneur Bill Wewer to incorporate and build support for the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL). Previous Wewer ventures had already brought two Congressional investigations and a Justice Department reprimand.
Wewer hired another attorney, Holly Hazard, as the lobbying face of the Doris Day Animal League. Wewer himself became a contract attorney for the 1990 March for the Animals, but left both DDAL and the March staff in early 1990 to join the anti-animal rights group Putting People First, begun by his wife Kathleen Marquardt in 1989.
A columnist for Fur Age Weekly in 1990-1991, Wewer appears to have morphed into an individual who called himself “Rick Spill” while infiltrating at least four animal advocacy organizations in 1993-1997. “Spill” dropped abruptly out of view after ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton exposed his dual roles.
Soon thereafter, in November 1997, Wewer resurfaced, representing the Humane Society of Ventura County, California. Wewer reportedly died from lymphatic cancer in 1999 in San Francisco, but the San Francisco coroner’s office confirmed that the death certificate was issued based on faxed information from a hospice, without anyone from the coroner’s office ever seeing the remains.
A man named Rick Spill, whose appearance and biographical details resembled those of Wewer, died in Vallejo, California, in October 2014.
Merged into Humane Society of the U.S.
Hazard in August 2006 merged the Doris Day Animal League into the Humane Society of the U.S., though HSUS continued to use the DDAL name in fundraising appeals until after Hazard retired in mid-2018.
In 20 years of independent operation the Doris Day Animal League never spent less than half of its revenues on fundraising and administration, cumulatively spending more than two-thirds of all the money it ever raised on direct mail, raising as much as $2.5 million per year from approximately 180,000 donors.
Doris Day Equine Center
The Doris Day Equine Center originated after the Morill County, Nebraska sheriff’s department in April 2009, acting on information provided by Habitat for Horses founder Jerry Finch, discovered about 200 severely neglected horses in custody of Jason Charles Medina, 43, at a quasi-rescue facility called the 3-Strikes Mustang Ranch.
Medina had obtained many of the horses from the Bureau of Land Management. Convicted in 2010 on four counts of felonious neglect, Medina eventually served five years in custody of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. He was discharged in February 2015.
Habitat for Horses and various other sanctuaries took in about half of the 3-Strikes horses. The Doris Day Animal Foundation then granted $250,000 to encourage the Humane Society of the U.S. to accommodate the rest at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.
Founded by Amory in 1979 as a project of the Fund for Animals, the Black Beauty Ranch was acquired by HSUS when the Fund for Animals was absorbed by HSUS in 2005, seven years after Amory died in 1998.
Doris Day’s last major appearance on behalf of animals appears to have been the April 2014 celebration of what was billed as her 90th birthday at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, of which she had been part owner, with other partners, for about 30 years. It was actually Day’s 92nd birthday.
Associated Press television writer Lynn Elber reported that the event “included a
doggie fashion show, adoption event and a tribute dinner for fans and friends. Items autographed by Day and celebrity pals including Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett were auctioned off online and at the dinner.”