When Doris Day released her most recent photo, unveiled in honor of her 92nd birthday, she didn’t break the Internet a la Kim Kardashian — few mortals can. However, Ms. Day did set a record for the most buzz surrounding a nonagenarian posing with a pooch! I am pretty confident that feat will stand on its own two feet until Kim or Kourtney or Khloé reaches her 90s and adopts a canine pal.
Doris Day has been a beloved part of pop culture since the 1940s. She continues to epitomize a time when optimism was second nature to most Americans. Not having acted for quite a few decades, Day has spent her days raising money and awareness about the plight of animals. This is a cause that has always been near and dear to her heart. She has always had animals as important parts of her extended family. Retired from Hollywood for four decades now, she has used her star power and megawatt charisma to fund-raise for her many self-named and self-started animal organizations. These foundations assist in spaying and neutering, rescue, health initiatives, and animal welfare. Like she told the Hollywood Reporter magazine back in the 1970s, “When we make it a better world for the animals, we make it a better world for people, too.” This type of selflessness and animal altruism has earned Day a legion of fans that includes teddy bear collectors, artists, and publishers.
Doris’s awakening as an animal activist happened in 1956 while filming the Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much. Doris was shocked by the condition of the animals she saw in Morocco. She spoke with her co-star Jimmy Stewart, who was also an animal lover, and convinced him to join with her in a proposed walk-off. Doris told the producers that if someone didn’t feed the horses, burros, goats, lambs, dogs, and cats that were on and near the film set, she and Jimmy would leave the picture without a moment’s hesitation. As you can imagine, feeding stations were set up pronto. Doris then oversaw the dietary needs and grooming of the animals, ensuring that they were well cared for and provided with medical attention if needed. Doris and Jimmy finished the movie, which became a classic, and introduced the world to the Academy Award–winning song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” That tune became Doris’s signature number, so it makes sense that years later a teddy bear, made by Chantilly Lane, was created with that song in mind. The singing bear pays tribute to the recognizable melody and to Day’s image as a wholesome “girl next door.”
Doris continued to rule the box office for more than a decade after her Morocco epiphany, and then she transitioned to television. Her comedy series was an enormous hit for CBS, and then in the 1970s she really did walk away. She didn’t do it as a ploy for money or as a gambit to get a bigger, juicier contract. She did it because she wanted to have more freedom in advocating for animals and more time to spend with her four-legged friends at home. In fact, her fourth husband, Barry Comden, suggested that her preference for dogs and cats overrode her affection for him. He held that up as a contributing factor to their marriage’s collapse.
Working behind the scenes to get her myriad charitable funds up and running, Doris also launched a restaurant/lodge in Carmel, California. One of the inn’s hallmark traits was its “Yappy Hour,” where pets were allowed to socialize alongside their humans during happy hour.
When Doris turned 87 years old, five years ago, she gave a rare phone interview to PEOPLE magazine. She told the reporter that she absolutely loved her life: “I have my pets around me and good friends. I’m young at heart and I love to laugh. There’s nothing better.”
In 2014, Doris Day reached a milestone event — her 90th birthday. Her Doris Day Animal Foundation used that day, April 3, as a kickoff to a massive benefit. A glamorous gala was held, and Doris made an unannounced, personal appearance at the soiree. She thanked everyone for coming and spoke about the importance of caring for one’s animals. Her “speaking for those who can’t” had become her life’s most important work, eclipsing even her screen partnership with Rock Hudson, her co-star in several romantic comedies, including the Oscar-nominated Pillow Talk.
Now, in 2016, Doris placed her toe in the waters of social media to see if there would be any reaction at all. She was heartened by how quickly her image got “liked,” “retweeted,” and “Pinterested.” Doris still had the power to get noticed.
In this brand-new image, she poses with one of her adorable dogs, Squirrely, and her flawless complexion and beaming smile are instantly recognizable. Day sent a statement along with her photograph. She acknowledges that her foundation is once again using her birthday as a springboard to raise revenue and consciousness. She wrote: “I am so grateful and honored that fans and friends come from all over the world to help support the precious four-leggers.”
We all have to hope that we can continue to live, love, and laugh as Doris Day has through her life’s ups and downs. She has endured heartbreak (the death of her child), disappointments (her marital strife), and sorrow (her many Hollywood friends’ deaths and illnesses). Still, she has a sunshiny outlook that could best be described as Doris Day-ish.
Artists and admirers from all over the world, like the United Kingdom’s Jacqui Wickenden, have been influenced and inspired by Day’s empathy and sincere concern for pets. Wickenden’s Shih Tzu creation, aptly named “Doris Day,” is a miracle in realism and lifelike detailing. You can feel the love for this critter pouring through its paws. Happy belated 92nd birthday, Doris Day! You are an animal lover, and so are we!