Doris Day loved to take long car rides along the California coast from her home in Carmel.
“We’d do the scenic drive, watching people walking and playing with their dogs along the beach,” recalls her friend Meg Howard to Closer. “Then, we would pick up sandwiches and sit in the car in the parking lot of the Mission Ranch and listen to music while watching the sheep graze in the pasture.”
In the last decades of her life, after she’d quit acting and was devoting herself to animal welfare with the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Doris didn’t lack for company.
The divorced actress and singer, who lost her only child, Terry Melcher, to cancer in 2004, nurtured a circle of close friends, many of whom joined her in her crusade to make the world a kinder place for animals.
“She was a survivor who made her own happiness,” Lea Price tells Closer. “She took pleasure in the simple things: her home, seeing friends, and helping animals and the people who love them.”
Many of Doris’ friends started off as fans and fellow animal lovers who wrote to the star about her remarkable career. Doris began singing in big bands in 1939, became a movie star in hits like Calamity Jane and Pillow Talk, and entered viewers’ living rooms on TV’s The Doris Day Show.
Yet she responded to fan letters personally and struck up many friendships with regular people. “She never had an ego and was so humble,” recalls Mary Clark to Closer. “She was a mother figure to all of us in the beginning,” adds Lea. “But she was truly a wonderful friend who you could share anything with.”
As Doris grew older, Lea, Mary and Meg came around often to make responding to her volume of fan mail easier.
“We’d have an assembly line, like I would open a letter with Doris, Doris would read it. Then she would dictate to Lea a response,” Mary says. They walked the dogs, ran errands and moved Doris’ furniture when inspiration struck.
“She loved to rearrange — a lot!” Lea recalls. Doris had a great eye and a knack for interior design. “She would just look around a room and go, ‘Let’s move this over here,’” says Mary. “She really enjoyed it. She would go into fabric shops and little stores actively looking at furniture.”
But, of course, the one thing that got Doris the most inspired was her work with her “four-leggers,” as she liked to call them.
She felt that calling attention to the plight of animals was her highest calling. “Before she started doing her animal work, most people didn’t think about going to the pound or a rescue group to adopt. She did some public service announcements, and it opened up people’s eyes,” Mary says.
This April would have been Doris’ 100th birthday. To celebrate, a year of tributes and fundraisers is being planned to honor her life and work.
There are two special releases: a limited edition of her 2011 album My Heart and a book of rare photos, Doris Day: Images of a Hollywood Icon.
The Doris Day Animal Foundation is also turning to social media with #DorisDay100 to raise $100,000 toward Ukrainian relief efforts. Later this year, there will also be a sale of her personal memorabilia through Julien’s Auctions. “Doris believed that animals offered unconditional love,” says Lea. “Their welfare really was her heart’s greatest passion.”