Doris Days husband cost her sanity and riches: No way he would let her give up work

Doris Day performs 'Que Sera Sera' in 1956

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Day, who sadly passed away in 2019, was one of Hollywood’s greatest — an actress and singer who became known for her animal welfare activism. She began her career as a big band singer in 1939, achieving commercial success in 1945 with two No.1 recordings, ‘Sentimental Journey’ and ‘My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time’ with Les Brown & His Band of Renown. In 1947, she left Brown to embark on a solo career, recording more than 650 songs from 1947 to 1967.

Her acting career ballooned alongside her music, beginning during the Golden Age of Hollywood with the film, Romance on the High Seas.

Not a one-trick pony, she starred in films of many genres, including musicals, comedies, dramas and thrillers.

Her most well-known role came in 1953 when she played the title role in Calamity Jane, a spirited cowgirl who brings a glamorous singing star to the Deadwood saloon, which viewers have the pleasure of being transported back to this afternoon on BBC Two.

While Day’s career was an illustrious one, it was not without its controversies.

In 2008, a biography said that, behind her girl-next-door image, lay a fatal weakness for violent and unsuitable men.

These claims came during a piece by the Daily Mail titled, ‘How Doris Day’s third husband cost her sanity – and her £66million fortune’, which serialised showbiz biographer David Bret’s book, ‘Doris Day: Reluctant Star’.

Aged just 27, Day married Marty Melcher, her third husband.

Mr Bret wrote: “On the face of it, everything certainly looked perfect: she and her new husband Marty Melcher bought a beautiful home in Los Angeles, where Doris’s son from her first marriage, Terry, then seven, lived with them.”

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Melcher doubled up as Day’s agent, with Mr Bret claiming that this meant: “There was no way he was ready to allow his money-making wife to give up work.”

He continued: “She made movie after movie, while he negotiated higher and higher fees for her, which everybody suspected he was siphoning away for himself.

“She refused to listen to anyone who said so, and was determined to show everyone she had a blissful marriage – and that’s how it seemed when Marty legally adopted Terry, who took his name, but behind the scenes things were grim.

“Marty became jealous and controlling, never allowing Doris out alone and deciding who she was or wasn’t allowed to star with.

“Doris’s film career was also taking something of a dip at the box office.”

Suggestions soon emerged that Melcher was embezzling Day’s work money and transferring it to tax-free accounts in Switzerland.

Mr Bret wrote: “All of Doris’s considerable earnings were being handed over to Melcher and his lawyer and business partner Jerry Rosenthal without question.

“Doris never really knew what she was paid.

“Her husband signed the deals and looked after the books and she said she had no reason not to trust him.”


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As a result, Day and Melcher’s marriage became fraught, especially over his treatment of her son Terry.

But the two stayed together, even when Melcher fell ill.

Mr Bret continued: “When Doris received an unexpected tax demand for more than $500,000 (£372,000), an investigation revealed her coffers were empty: aside from personal possessions, her husband had left her broke.

“It subsequently emerged that his crony Rosenthal had been milking her fortune for up to 15 years.”

Melcher died of a heart attack in 1968, with Day soon bowing out of the film scene — but finding out that Melcher had committed her to a CBS situation comedy, The Doris Day Show, without consulting her.

It took almost a decade of investigation before Rosenthal was found guilty of embezzling not just Doris’s money.

He was also found to have embezzled the money of stars like Zsa Zsa Gabor and Kirk Douglas.

The judge estimated that Day was owed £66million.

Around this time, Day announced she was going to marry husband number four, Barry Comden, a restaurant manager who was 11 years her junior.

Their marriage lasted from 1976 to 1982, the two having bonded over their love of dogs.

However, he later complained that she cared more for her “animal friends” than she did for him.

Day never received the sum she was entitled to because Rosenthal declared himself bankrupt.

The pair’s respective legal teams finally settled on what was just a fraction of the initial figure, with Day receiving instalments that totalled £4.4million.

Calamity Jane airs at 1:55pm on BBC Two.

Doris Day: A Reluctant Star is published by JR Books.

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