Ms. Day turned down the part of Mrs. Robinson, the middle-aged temptress who seduces Dustin Hoffman, in the groundbreaking 1967 film “The Graduate,” because, she said, the notion of an older woman seducing a young man “offended my sense of values.” The part went to Anne Bancroft, who was nominated for an Academy Award.
By the time she retired in 1973, after starring for five years on the hit CBS comedy “The Doris Day Show,” Ms. Day had been dismissed as a goody-two-shoes, the leader of Hollywood’s chastity brigade, and, in the words of the film critic Pauline Kael, “the all-American middle-aged girl.” The critic Dwight Macdonald wrote of “the Doris Day Syndrome” and defined her as “wholesome as a bowl of cornflakes and at least as sexy.”
But the passing decades have brought a reappraisal, especially by some feminists, of Ms. Day’s screen personality, and her achievements. In her book “Holding My Own in No Man’s Land” (1997), the critic Molly Haskell described Ms. Day as “challenging, in her working-woman roles, the limited destiny of women to marry, live happily ever after and never be heard from again.”
Ms. Day in fact was one of the few actresses of the 1950s and ’60s to play women who had a real profession, and her characters were often more passionate about their career than about their co-stars.
“My public image is unshakably that of America’s wholesome virgin, the girl next door, carefree and brimming with happiness,” she said in “Doris Day: Her Own Story,” a 1976 book by A. E. Hotchner based on a series of interviews he conducted with Ms. Day. “An image, I can assure you, more make-believe than any film part I ever played. But I am Miss Chastity Belt, and that’s all there is to it.”
An Aspiring Dancer
Doris Day was born Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff in Cincinnati on April 3, 1922. (For years most sources gave her birth year as 1924, and so did she. But shortly before her birthday in 2017, The Associated Press obtained a copy of her birth certificate from the Ohio Office of Vital Statistics and established that she had been born two years earlier. After Ms. Day was shown the evidence, she said in a statement, “I’ve always said that age is just a number and I have never paid much attention to birthdays, but it’s great to finally know how old I really am.”) She was the second child of Frederick William von Kappelhoff, a choral master and piano teacher who later managed restaurants and taverns in Cincinnati, and Alma Sophia (Welz) Kappelhoff. Her parents separated when she was a child.