Doris Day dedicated her final years to being a tireless animal rights advocate, but she never forgot her fans.
Day, who was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the ‘50s and ‘60s, passed away in 2019 at age 97. At the time, her Doris Day Animal Foundation confirmed her death at her Carmel Valley, Calif., home.
Julien’s Auctions is presenting “Property From the Estate of Doris Day,” an auction taking place online on April 4th and 5th. All of the proceeds of the auction will benefit The Doris Day Animal Foundation, the icon’s charity she founded in 1978, which funds nonprofit causes that need assistance in their work, caring for and protecting animals.
Day would have turned 98 on April 3.
Lea Price, a close friend of Day’s for over 40 years who is on the board of directors for the Doris Day Animal Foundation, told Fox News the actress was always in awe of the love she received from fans over the years.
“Oh my gosh, I don’t think any other celebrity stayed as connected with her fans as she did,” said Price. “She loved her fans. She called them her friends and she made everyone feel as though they were her friends. When they wrote to her, she would try to answer as many letters as she could.”
Price, who helped Day with her mail shortly before her death, remembered the one message the star received from her faithful followers.
“The recurring theme was ‘You saved me,’” recalled Price. “She never quite understood that. She always felt, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ She appreciated the sentiment, but she was always amazed at all the love that she would receive from all over the world. And really until the day she died, she would get hundreds of letters every month.”
“Really, what you saw was what you got with Doris,” shared Price. “She was just a happy, positive person.”
Day’s final film was “With Six You Get Eggroll,” a 1968 comedy about a widow and a widower who blend families. With movies trending toward more explicit sex, she turned to television. “The Doris Day Show” proved to be a moderate success during its 1968-1973 run on CBS.
While Day didn’t return to Hollywood, Price insisted she was far from a recluse.
“She loved her home,” Price explained. “She loved her pets. She loved answering all her fan mail. There were some articles published in the tabloids that said, ‘She’s a recluse. She doesn’t go out,’ which was totally untrue. She loved going out and going shopping. She loved her grocery shopping and she would go out to eat every once in a while. And she still kept busy with her two animal charities, which are both thriving and continuing today. She was actively involved until she passed away. She was very content.”
Still, Hollywood kept calling in hopes that Day would eventually make a comeback.
“She continued to get offers,” said Price. “She never said that she was retiring or leaving Hollywood. I think it was something that just sort of evolved. She just moved on to other things. She always said, probably more so in the ‘80s and ‘90s, ‘I might work again. You never know.’ But I think she was just content doing what she was doing. She said at one point she felt like today’s movies were for the young people and no longer relevant to what she had been doing. She appreciated them, but she just thought, ‘OK, I’ve moved on. I’m doing something else now.’ And she was happy.”
Price admitted she still misses her beloved pal’s laughter — and the stories they shared behind closed doors. According to Price, Day still very much treasured her friendship with the late actor and former co-star Rock Hudson.
“She always said that they loved to laugh,” Price recalled. “They had a great time together. They bonded when they did ‘Pillow Talk’ together. She said that the director would get mad at them because they would just start laughing. The director would huff and puff and go, ‘OK, we have to finish the film here. Let’s get it together.’ She just loved him so much and apparently he felt exactly the same way.
“Doris was very down to earth and had a great sense of humor, but she was also a survivor,” Price continued. “She went through so much in her life and yet she always had a positive attitude. She always said that she was like one of those dolls with the round bottom. When you punch them, they just bounce right back up. That was Doris.”
Day’s career began when she started singing at a Cincinnati radio station, followed by a nightclub in New York. A marriage at 17 to trombonist Al Jorden ended when, she said, he beat her when she was eight months pregnant. She welcomed a son named Terry in 1942.
When Day sang at a Hollywood party in 1947, she soon found herself in front of the camera and appeared in 1955’s “Love Me or Leave Me.” However, her greatest success came in comedy, beginning with 1959’s “Pillow Talk.” In the 1960s, Day discovered that failed investments by her third husband, Martin Melcher, left her deeply in debut. She later won a multimillion-dollar judgment against their lawyer.
Melcher passed away in 1969. Terry, who later became a songwriter and record producer, died in 2004.
Day devoted her life to helping animals in need — and Price said she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“She and a group of actors [originally] started Actors and Others for Animals here in Hollywood, and it was because they could use their celebrity to bring awareness to the animal welfare issues that really weren’t being addressed back in the ‘70s,” said Price. “So many animals were being euthanized in shelters. And so she brought awareness to spaying and neutering and the whole homeless pet population, and really just devoted the latter part of [her life] to it.”
Before Day’s passing, Price said she wanted to be remembered for more than just her talents on screen.
“What she wanted to be remembered for was making this world a better one for animals,” said Price. “Hopefully that legacy will continue on through the Doris Day Animal Foundation… Hopefully, her legacy will be able to live on for generations to come. I’m grateful that we have all of her recordings and films so younger people can get acquainted with her and hopefully see all the good she did in the world.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.