On May 13, 2019, Doris Day — adored for her nonpareil career as a singer and actress, and equally admired for her dedication to animal welfare — passed away at 97. In 2006, Bark had the opportunity to interview Ms. Day by phone, and was joined by singer Nellie McKay, an incredible singer and animal activist in her own right.
She said "Call me Doris," and my heart leapt with joy. How do you describe her voice? A smoothie cocktail with a southern inflection—warm, rounded and welcoming. I was dying to tell her about my Uncle Patrick, who entered adolescence listening to her records because he thought her purring voice was the sexiest sound on earth.
There was also the time I fled a screening of G.I. Jane to escape to a better place, courtesy of my Young Man with a Horn LP. Doris Day was always a refuge for me, transporting me to a time of innocent romance, when there were no bad hair days, men had good manners, and the music was pleasant and sweet.
These days, I have fewer illusions, but Doris Day continues to inspire me, because even though the world can be ruthless and inhumane, we still have people like her working to help those less fortunate. Through her Animal League and Foundation, Doris Day is a beacon of hope for the animals who need our help so badly.
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Talking to her was a dream come true—there's no one I admire more.
—Nellie McKay, Recipient of the 2005 Doris Day Music Award
Cameron Woo: I must tell you that I’m quite a fan of yours. Some of the first films I recall are the movies you made with Gordon MacCrae…
Doris Day: Silvery Moon and Moonlight Bay—I loved doing those. You know, if life could be like it was in those movies, it would be beautiful, wouldn’t it?
Nellie McKay: Every time I hear one of your records or see one of your movies, the world becomes that way for me, if just for the length of the record or movie. It’s that transporting.
DD: Oh, what a compliment. I had the best costars you could ever have, and I miss them so much. We had such a great time working together. Some years ago, I made a special with John Denver and was asked to sing Memories, Barbra Streisand’s song, which she did so beautifully. Then I was told that huge pictures of all of my leading men would be shown as I sang, and I said, “Oh my God, how do you expect me to get though that?” But I did it.
NM: Your autobiography is incredible—you have such heart.
DD: Well, I’ve been through everything. I always said I was like those round-bottomed circus dolls—you know, those dolls you could push down and they’d come back up? I’ve always been like that. I’ve always said, “No matter what happens, if I get pushed down, I’m going to come right back up.”
CW: You’ve been such a success in an amazing range of careers, from singer to actress to animal activist. What moved you to begin speaking out for animals?
DD: You have to do things, you have to step out and stick up for animals, because they can’t do anything for themselves. And really, I’ve been led by God to everything I’ve done in my life. I’ve been put here and put there—out of Cincinnati and into a band, then to Hollywood, and now, the foundation and animal league.
CW: Can you talk a little bit about the Katrina rescue effort? I know your group was instrumental in one of the airlifts; I understand those animals went to Santa Cruz.
DD: Yes, right to Santa Cruz. Some were quite ill and couldn’t be put on the plane, so people drove to the Gulf Coast and brought the sick ones back by car. Both groups were accompanied by a veterinarian. They’re coming in every few days from Santa Cruz and whenever they’re brought in, I’m there. The hard part is that I want them all!
There’s another thing I’d like to mention here. People sometimes say, “Oh, Miss Day, I can’t take another animal, I just can’t replace my darling little dog.” Many people, when they lose their pet, can’t face getting another. I felt like that once, and then I realized my baby would understand, and would want me to give a home to another animal. I want people to know they’re not replacing the one they lost. They’re giving another wonderful little soul a home. I’ve done this over and over again, and have never regretted it. I’ve only been rewarded.
CW: When you were a child, did you form a bond with animals?
DD: Immediately! I always had pets. We had a puppy, and I adored this little dog, a little Manchester Terrier. My father said, “The puppy has to be in the basement,” and I never forgave him for that. I realized he didn’t like animals. But I put up such a fuss that that little dog wound up in my bed. And they still are!
CW: People certainly develop intuitive connections with their animals—scientific studies have demonstrated that. But I imagine that as an animal lover, you know that.
DD: Oh, I know this so well. My dogs are sensitive...when I pick up my bag, they know I’m going out, and they walk around and around. Before I come home, I call to say I’m on my way, and by the time I ring the gate bell, they’re all at the door. I get this big greeting, and I’ve only been gone 45 minutes! You can’t beat that. And now, as I’m speaking with you, they’re all gathered around me. I’ve always found inspiration and comfort in animals.
CW: I was reading your letter in the Doris Day Animal Foundation magazine, and in that, you noted that when you were on the set of The Man Who Knew Too Much, you demanded that animals used on the set be better taken care of.
DD: Oh, well, I didn’t want to act like a big shot; it wasn’t like that. But I did go to Mr. Hitchcock, whom I loved dearly, and we had a long talk about it. I said “Hitch, I can’t bear it, I can’t bear to see what goes on here with animals.” The horses were so thin, the donkeys were overburdened, and I was just horrified at the dogs running loose and starving. I told him I really couldn’t work unless we fed these animals. And he said, “We’re going to do that, I want you to just relax and know that they will be taken care of.” But then I thought, once we leave, it will go right back to the way it was.
CW: I think that was very courageous of you to take a stance like that. I also recall reading that there still are problems in Hollywood in terms of the treatment of animals.
DD: Yes. Though I understand there are actors and actresses who really care and are letting the studios know their position on this issue. Cameron Diaz said that she will never work with animals again because of the way they’re treated.
CW: Our readers have pointed out that there seems to be trend in movies to victimize animals in the name of humor. Dogs are thrown out windows, cats are flushed down toilets, and that’s considered amusing. Even in these mainstream, family-oriented movies, it’s somehow acceptable to use animals as the butt of jokes.
DD: Everything’s acceptable in Hollywood now, it seems. I’m glad I’m not there, because I would be screaming. I hope and pray that the Hollywood stars who are making so much money really take a stand. It’s hideous to have families watching these movies, and children seeing this portrayed as though it’s okay.
CW: One of your costars, Jimmy Stewart, wrote a touching poem about his dog and read it on the old Johnny Carson Show ...have you seen that?
DD: Oh, have I seen it? I have that poem. He loved his dog. That was the thing that we really had in common. He was with me all the way on the movie—he adored them, he adored all animals and they adored him.
CW: You were also a pioneered in another groundbreaking effort, pet-friendly hotels. Carmel’s Cypress Inn, with which you’re involved, was among the first to make this available, I believe.
DD: Well, thank you, but really, I consider that an inspiration from God. The man who owned the inn was looking for a partner, and my son spoke with him; our only condition was that the hotel had to be animal-friendly. After he got used to the idea, he agreed, and we were ecstatic. Carmel is so dog-friendly, and now many of the hotels allow guests to bring their pets.
NM: I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but what you put forth on film… you’re very strong, yet very personable, and that’s such a rare combination. You’re the perfect person to hear about animal issues from, because people really like you.
DD: I want to tell the truth, and maybe that’s why they trust me. When I was acting, I believed what I said ... every line. I’m so grateful to my fans and donors and friends, people who do trust me. When people donate, I write to them and say, “I love you for caring,” because that’s what it is in life, caring.
NM: When you’re working to have people care about animals, do you think it’s best to start with companion animals, rather than, say, farm or lab animals?
DD: Companion animals are what I know best, but it all needs to be addressed. We’re involved with Greyhounds and the dog-racing issue, and we’re finally getting the bill banning the slaughter of wild horses passed. And puppy mills—we’re really involved with that issue. We’re putting what we can into stopping them.
CW: Speaking of companion animals, tell us about Spay Day.
DD: Well, spaying and neutering are the most important things you can do for animals. Everything is cause and effect—the cause: people don’t alter their animals; the effect: the SPCA is filled with animals that are euthanized weekly. It really is the most important thing we can do.
CW: We thank you for your time, and are happy to support Spay Day. We hope it’s bigger than ever this year.
DD: I loved meeting both of you, and I hope to meet you in person some day. That would be great fun!
Check for the date of the next Doris Day Animal Foundation Spay Day.