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'Fresh Air' Remembers Hollywood Legend Doris Day

The singer and actor, who died May 12, made nearly 40 movies over the course of her career. In 1968, Day walked away from performing and began rescuing animals. Originally broadcast in 2012.

27:01

Other segments from the episode on April 2, 2012

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 15, 2019: Interview with Howard Stern; Obituary for Doris Day.

Transcript

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Howard Stern described my interview with him as exhausting. We talked a long time because there was so much to talk about - too much to fit in one show. Yesterday we heard Part 1. Today we have Part 2 of my interview with Howard Stern. The occasion for the interview is the publication of his new book collecting some of his favorite interviews from his Sirius XM radio show. The book is called "Howard Stern Comes Again." Let's pick up where we left off yesterday.

So we were talking about...

HOWARD STERN: Could I say something?

GROSS: Yes.

STERN: I love when you say Howard Stern comes again, and I'll tell you why.

GROSS: (Laughter) Tell me why.

STERN: I wanted to write...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STERN: ...A really good book that...

GROSS: Where I could say the title, and it would have dealt two meanings. (Laughter).

STERN: Well, in a way, yes. It definitely has two meanings. Possibly three. But what's really interesting to me is that somehow - I didn't want to imply in the book that somehow the whole show has changed, and you're going to tune in and you're going to hear, you know, this serious broadcast that - blah, blah, blah. We still employ tons of second-grade humor. And "Howard Stern Comes Again" is such a juvenile title. I wanted to make sure we got that in there so - and nothing pleases me more to hear on NPR, "Howard Stern Comes Again."

GROSS: OK. So what you just said. How does it feel to be doing second-grade humor, as you just called it, when you're 65?

STERN: I thought maybe I'd grow out of it, but I haven't. There - I still love fart humor. You know, I was Fartman on MTV. I love...

GROSS: Do you know I have trouble saying that word? Like, (laughter), I find it so interesting that you played this character, Fartman, and I have trouble just even saying the word. I don't know.

STERN: Well, why is that?

GROSS: I don't know.

STERN: Why?

GROSS: I ask myself that...

STERN: We all do it.

GROSS: ...All the time. The whole thing's embarrassing.

STERN: You know?

GROSS: Yeah.

STERN: Well, that's what I loved about it because it is embarrassing. And to my great shame, even to this day, I can't look at old pictures of me as Fartman. My belly's hanging out.

GROSS: (Laughter).

STERN: My cellulite...

GROSS: Your tuchus is hanging out.

STERN: My tuchus is so filled with cellulite. What was I thinking? You know what I mean?

GROSS: (Laughter).

STERN: But yet, what - MTV played that over and over again for years and years. And I - you know, that's the thing; I let it all hang out. And I always made myself the brunt of humor, too. I think that's important. And I think even to this day, the reason people relax with me when I do these interviews in the book and on the radio, they know that I'm willing to go there, too. They know I'm willing to discuss the small size of my penis. They know I'm willing to be Fartman and let my buttocks be out there with the cellulite. You know, I remember the look of disgust that people had for me when they saw that buttocks. Not good.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK, so...

STERN: But I still - listen...

GROSS: Yeah.

STERN: I still love phony phone calls. We are the major manufacturer at Sirius XM...

GROSS: That's right (laughter).

STERN: ...Of phony phone calls.

GROSS: Well, you know, as somebody in radio, one of the things that I found so kind of educational about your show it's that it was people just talking to each other, like, you and your regulars - you know, Robin and Gary and Fred and the whole crew - just talking to each other about sometimes really trivial things, kind of like office gossip. But you were talking in your own voices. And of course, you're all really smart and funny, so it was, like, lively and interesting. But it showed that you can make anything interesting if you're interesting enough in telling it. And if you were just - sounded like people talking to each other, it could be really gripping, as opposed to sounding like announcers or, like, scripted.

STERN: Well, that's - and that's the weird thing. Back then, people weren't doing that on the radio, which was what - that was the real revolution; people talking like people. And you know, it's funny. Having written this new book as an interview book, people say, well, what are you most proud of on the radio? Well, yeah, I guess I'm most proud of the interviews. I like how it's presented in the book and all that. But really, there are days for me, with the radio show - and now we put the show on three days a week - I'll turn to my people and say - you know, all the people who work with me - and I'll say, look - for the next two weeks or three weeks, don't have any guests.

I need to groove - meaning, I still think my audience appreciates the most, to this day, when I walk in - and yeah, I have an agenda, kind of - but I let things unfold. And it just morphs into this great kind of experience where you're sitting in a room with your friends and being funny. And I have to tell you, the days I know I have a guest coming in, I have knots in my stomach sometimes because I know I'm not going to be doing that thing, that groove.

GROSS: You talk with Jerry Seinfeld in one of your interviews about how...

STERN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...He and you are always constantly thinking in your head, how do I make what's happening now funny for the show?

STERN: Yeah.

GROSS: Or for stage?

STERN: Yeah.

GROSS: So that's - that means, I think, that you're always removing yourself from the situation. I mean, that's basically what Jerry Seinfeld says. Actually, what you point out to him, I think, that if you're doing that, you have, like...

STERN: Right.

GROSS: ...One part of yourself in the world, in the moment, and the other part analyzing it and thinking, how do I make this funny tomorrow?

STERN: Yeah, Jerry and I have a fundamental disagreement about this. My whole life has been walking around, and sometimes I'm really there, but most times I'm mining some situation for radio. And my methodology for doing that is, when it hits me - you know, I always have a pad and a pen around. And when it hits me, I then write to one of my producers, Jason Kaplan, and I go, notes for air, and I quickly get this stuff down, and I start to develop what it is I want to talk about.

But as I described in the book, I'm never fully in the moment, and when I point it out to Jerry, Jerry goes, oh, I'm never in the moment; I'm always mining for material. But I said, isn't that terrible? Is - he goes, no, I don't care; I love it. He has no problem with it whatsoever. And I say to him, how can that not affect your life? How does it not affect your relationship with your kids and your wife? And he goes, no - you know, he's fine with that balance or lack of balance.

I know it affected my life and not always in a good way. And I had to learn more balance. I have to tune it out sometimes because I'm telling you - I don't know if this is true of you, Terry, but I have a radio show going on in my head all the time, all the time. I can - I just - I hear it all the time, and I just quickly write it down, and then I go and do it on the air.

GROSS: So what's going through your mind right now?

STERN: Well, I mean, I'm focused on what we're doing, but - and I know when it'll hit me. I'll leave here. I'll go home. I'll do - I do transcendental meditation. I'll be doing it. I'll be getting into it, and then that show's going to start working its way into my head.

GROSS: I'm glad you brought up TM.

STERN: Yeah.

GROSS: Because you've been meditating since you were 18.

STERN: Right.

GROSS: You explained that your mother taught you.

STERN: And it was a profound change with my mother that got me into it. My mother was a depressed woman, suicidal. She had a horrible life, terrible, terrible life. Lost her mother at 9, was sent away from home, her father sent her to - tried to put her in an orphanage, the orphanage was filled, so he found a family to stick them with; it was her and her sister. It was a real saga - really, really bad. And you know, listen - I was raised by a traumatized woman. She had terrible, terrible trauma and overcame a lot in her life, but she became very sad when her sister died, who was really her only family. And she was in her 40s.

And I'd come home from school, and my mother was just distraught. Didn't know what to do with her. I come home from school, and she'd be sobbing. I'm going to go upstairs; I'm going to kill myself. And my father would even say to her, how can we cheer you up? He says, I tell you what - I'll become an alcoholic with you. I understand alcoholics get rid of the - he didn't even know what to do. He would've become an alcoholic for the woman. My parents are very close to one another. He was saying, I'll do anything. But nothing worked.

And I went off to college, and I was worried about her. But she called me on the phone one day, and, like, all of a sudden, I'm talking to, you know, the cheeriest - sounded like a Miss America pageant winner or something. You know, hi, how are you doing? And I'm like, who the hell is this? And she told me she saw the Maharishi on "The Johnny Carson Show." And she went to a TM meeting, and I'm telling you, this was profound change. You can't change like that. And she had tried medication. She had even tried psychotherapy. None of it appealed to her. But this did, and it worked. So I said, how could I not do this? And I'm glad I did.

GROSS: You know, your mother was - or maybe was suicidal; did you ever feel that way yourself?

STERN: I hesitate to say that. But I was pretty down. I've been pretty depressed in my life. And most of that occurred at the time that my marriage fell apart.

GROSS: Right.

STERN: And you know, it was tough. And I was lost, and that's when psychotherapy came into my life. And then...

GROSS: What was it like to have a mother who put the idea of suicide on the table? Do you know - yeah.

STERN: Because, in my family, words meant nothing, that we didn't have real, serious conversation, I thought it was all kind of maybe...

GROSS: Right.

STERN: ...Just for drama.

GROSS: Yeah.

STERN: I didn't know how real it was. You know, again, everything in my family seemed that - the real conversation - you know, sex, we could talk about. Race, we could talk about. Homosexuality, we could talk about. You name it, we could talk about it. But it was always in a joking way. We could talk about the news of the day in a joking way. But to really address something in a serious way, that was difficult.

GROSS: My guest is Howard Stern. His new book of interviews is called "Howard Stern Comes Again." We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN AURBACH'S "HEARTBROKEN, IN DISREPAIR")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Howard Stern. His new book of interviews is called "Howard Stern Comes Again."

I want to play an example of how you draw on your life for your interviews. So what we've just been talking about, your mother's depression, her need to be cheered up - this comes into play in one of my favorite moments of your interviews, and this is with Stephen Colbert from 2015. And you're talking to him about how he lost his father and two of his siblings, two brothers, in a plane crash. And I forget how old he was - 9 maybe? I forget his age.

STERN: Yeah, something like that. Yeah.

GROSS: And so you're asking him about that and what it was like for his mother. So I just want to play a short excerpt of that.

STERN: Sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW")

STERN: How did it change...

STEPHEN COLBERT: But the thing...

STERN: ...Your mother? Did she - was she able to have a strong face in front of you, or would she break down a lot?

COLBERT: Both. You know, a little mix of everything. It wasn't - there's no clean description of what life was like.

STERN: Is it difficult for you to be around a crying woman now because of your mother?

COLBERT: Wow, that's deep, man.

STERN: Well, seriously.

COLBERT: Yeah. Deep, Howard.

STERN: Well...

COLBERT: You're getting deep. No, seriously, that's a very deep question, Howard.

STERN: But when women are difficult - because your mom had to be difficult. She was going through a crisis.

COLBERT: Not difficult. But you know...

STERN: Upset.

COLBERT: I think there's no doubt that I do what I do because I wanted to make her happy - no doubt.

STERN: You're used to cheering up a woman.

COLBERT: Yes.

STERN: Yeah.

COLBERT: Yes.

STERN: I know of this.

ROBIN QUIVERS: Did you cry? Were you...

COLBERT: Really? Did you cheer up - what?

QUIVERS: Were you able to cry?

COLBERT: No, not publicly.

STERN: Well, speaking of...

COLBERT: But hold on. Wait a second.

STERN: Yeah.

COLBERT: How do you know to ask that question?

STERN: Because I spent many years cheering up your mother, as well. I didn't want to tell you this.

(LAUGHTER)

STERN: No, no. What happened - my mother lost her mother when she was 9. And my mother became very depressed when her sister died, and I spent a lot of years trying to cheer up my mother. And I became quite proficient at making her laugh and doing impressions and doing impressions of all the people in her neighborhood. It made her feel - so I - I wonder - and even to this day, when I see a woman in distress, I feel like I have to...

COLBERT: Sure.

STERN: ...Jump in and solve her problem.

COLBERT: That's not a bad impulse, though.

STERN: Well, it certainly makes for a career. But I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I just love hearing how stunned Colbert is when you ask him about, you know, having to cheer up his mother, and if it's hard for him to see women cry because his mother had cried so much.

STERN: Well, I love that moment. I'm so glad you pulled it because I'm proud of that moment. Because only someone who had to cheer up a mother would know to ask that question.

GROSS: Exactly, exactly.

STERN: And you know, again, I've explored the fact that this is a terrible burden on a kid, to have to cheer up a mother. I remember doing, you know, very, very elaborate impressions of all the mothers in the neighborhood. And what I was doing is not only was I doing impressions of them, but I was also ripping them apart, and my mother loved it. Because what it meant was she was the best mother. It meant that when I would sit there and make fun of these other mothers, it meant not only was it funny and not only did it make her cheered up, but what was really cheering her up was, you see? I'm the best mother. And I knew that on some level.

Now, that's too much for a kid to know. So when Colbert - I had to go there with Colbert, and I think what really shocked him is, well, wait a second. Here is Fartman, and all of a sudden, maybe there's something a little deeper behind Fartman, you know? Maybe this guy gets me. And so that's a real moment.

GROSS: I have a question for you about confronting demons. You've talked about - in several of your interviews, about weed and how you can't smoke because it makes you paranoid.

STERN: Right.

GROSS: And you also say in the book that you think LSD triggered your OCD, your obsessive-compulsive disorder.

STERN: Yeah.

GROSS: What are your OCD rituals...

STERN: I took too much. Oh, my God. When I really suffered badly from it, and I still do to a degree, but it's not as bad. But I would - it was magical thinking. It would be - oh, geez. Let's say I was listening to your radio show, and I would be, oh my God, I have to be better than her. So I would tap on the radio three times above where - above the speakers, so that I was better than you. Or like this - it's magical thinking to think that you can - it was my attempt to control the world. And so, you know, this became a thing with me that - and I don't know how it crept up on me. But I would find myself sometimes for, like, an hour, kind of caught up in these rituals. And now I realize they were all about control.

GROSS: So you've talked on the air - recently, too - about the idea of retiring. But you're so obsessive about work, do you worry about how your OCD would respond if there wasn't work to focus on? What would you be obsessing on if you're not obsessing on your show?

STERN: Yeah, I'm kind of afraid of retirement, and then all it is - I think about it, and I want it. It's, like, on any given day, I don't know. And this disturbs me that I don't know myself well enough - that my contract is up in two years with Sirius XM, and I don't really know what it is I want and what I want to do. I know for the next two years, I'm going to be doing this show. And this show provides me with a lot.

And especially on those days that I'm just riffing on the radio and I'm getting out my thoughts and I'm able to make people laugh - I mean, you know, at the end of the day, no matter what I did in my career, no matter what you might think of me, I wanted an audience to love me and to laugh along with me and have a great ride and be just part of a scene that just was a lot of fun. That was my intent - to entertain. And so if I walk away from that, what would that look like?

You know, I woke up the other day. I was angry about something. I can't even tell you what it was. But I - you know, I had a whole point of view. And I said, oh, I've got the show today. I'm going to go do a whole bunch of material on this. That's a tremendous outlet. Now, if that's gone, you know, my poor wife - is she going to sit there and listen to me rant and rave and carry on? I - you know, I - she's going to probably quiet me down. So I don't know. I don't know what it would look like without that. But I - at some point, I have to hang it up.

GROSS: One of the things you reveal in your book is that the big sick day that you took, you know...

STERN: Yeah.

GROSS: You actually had a really big health scare. You'd had low white blood cell count that turned out to be from eating too much fish and having too much mercury in your system - less fish, better blood cell count. That - but in the process of checking all that out, you had a body scan. And there's a little shadow on your kidney, so you had to check that out and have exploratory surgery.

Everything was fine, but it gave you a lot of chance to contemplate, like, what if it wasn't fine? What if you had cancer? What if the end was near? I mean, it was a cyst. Took a year to recover from the surgery and really feel like you'd fully gotten back to yourself - so do you feel like that made you think more about like, gee, what if I were dying? Like, what am I really afraid of or not afraid of about what that would mean?

STERN: Oh, my God. That's why I wrote the book. I really - I did not react well being told by a doctor that, 95% chance, you have cancer. I freaked out. And you want to know how unrealistic, again, and unprepared I am for life. I somehow assume, because my parents are 96 and 91 and have experienced very good health, that I'm entitled to this, that nothing bad should happen to me, which is, again, a ridiculous notion. But, man, if that doesn't rock your reality and get you into a frame of mind where, like - wow. How much time do I have left? And what is it I'm really trying to accomplish with that time?

GROSS: Are you afraid about death or afraid about suffering before death?

STERN: I think now it's more about the suffering before death. Boy, are we dark today, huh?

GROSS: Yeah (laughter). You know, I think you are really dark, you know?

STERN: I am.

GROSS: That beneath all your humor is, like - your therapist said, beneath your humor is sadness. And I think beneath your humor is a lot of real darkness. And I think that's part of what a lot of us respond to, not - it's not just, like, the shock of what you're saying. It's, like, the darkness and how deep you go with that darkness in plumbing your own depth.

STERN: That's what I think people like in terms - and that's what I was trying to describe to you with trying to unleash your id, whether it's about women or about, you know, myself and myself in terms of my own image or whatever or the experiences I've had in my life where people are just, you know, mean and downright - you know, whatever it is, there is that darkness. I mean, you should interview my wife. I mean, she can tell you what it's like to live with me.

GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.

STERN: It's not a picnic, and she knows it.

GROSS: You - with you and a lot of cats (laughter).

STERN: Oh, my God. My wife is the opposite of me. She is light and bright. There's, like, a glow in the room. And it's - I love her for being such a bright light, but I am dark. And I think what audiences responded to is that I was willing to unlock it in front of them and pull my pants down, so to speak, and show it to them.

GROSS: Well, kind of almost literally (laughter).

STERN: I did it literally, although not all the way.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, I'm going to let you go 'cause I know you got to go. It's been...

STERN: Well, a pleasure.

GROSS: ...Really, really wonderful to talk with you. I want to thank you for staying in radio all of these years and not using radio just as a stepping stone to TV or movies. You've turned down so many offers, and you've stayed in radio. You've done a lot of, like, kind of pioneering work in radio. And thank you. As a radio person, thank you for staying in radio...

STERN: Oh, thank you for saying that.

GROSS: ...And for acknowledging, like, the greatness of radio.

STERN: I love radio. Radio is the best. And that's it. We'll end on that. Radio is great.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, thank...

STERN: And thank you.

GROSS: Thank you so much.

STERN: I think you're a terrific interviewer. And thank you for giving me access to your audience, which, you know - like I said, that's a good audience.

GROSS: My interview with Howard Stern was recorded Friday. If you missed part one of the interview, which we broadcast yesterday, you can listen on our podcast. Howard Stern's new book of interviews is called "Howard Stern Comes Again." After we take a short break, we'll remember Doris Day and listen back to my interview with her. She died Monday. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE'S "VOODOO CHILD (SLIGHT RETURN)")

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to listen back to the interview I was lucky enough to record with Doris Day, who stayed out of the public eye for decades after giving up her movie career. She died Monday at the age of 97. As film critic Carrie Rickey wrote in her obituary for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Doris Day was beloved for her popular songs, films and wholesomeness. It's hard to name another figure whose sunny persona was so at odds with her stormy life.

I spoke with Doris Day in April 2012 after TCM, Turner Classic Movies, released a DVD box set of four of her films and a double CD of her recordings. We first broadcast this interview one day before Day's 88th birthday. Here's our broadcast from 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: I'm thrilled to be able to celebrate Doris Day's birthday with an interview that I just recorded with her. Before we hear it and before I tell you why I love her singing, let me tell you why when I was young I didn't. This is the reason.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUE SERA, SERA (WHATEVER WILL BE, WILL BE)")

DORIS DAY: (Singing) Que sera, sera. Whatever will be will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera. What will be will be.

GROSS: Although that song is from a Doris Day movie I like, Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much," I hadn't yet seen the film when the song played constantly on my parents' radio station for years, the station they tortured me with when what I wanted to hear was rock 'n' roll. Day's romantic comedies of the '60s also seemed like they were for my parents, not for me. Then I grew up and started listening to jazz and jazz singers, and I heard some of Doris Day's recordings with just a pianist or trio. Her voice is so beautiful. You'll hear what I mean on this 1962 track with Andre Previn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOOLS RUSH IN")

DAY: (Singing) Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. And so I come to you, my love. My heart's above my head. Though I see the danger there. If there's a chance for me, then I don't care. Fools rush in where wise men...

GROSS: So the next step for me was going back and watching her early movies and finding songs like this one with the Page Cavanaugh Trio from her first film "Romance On The High Seas" released in 1948.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S YOU OR NO ONE")

DAY: (Singing) It's you or no one for me. I'm sure of this each time we kiss.

PAGE CAVANAUGH: (Singing) The lady's in love.

DAY: (Singing) Now and forever and when forever's done, you'll find that you are still the one. Please...

CAVANAUGH: (Singing) The lady said please.

DAY: (Singing) ...Don't say no to my plea.

GROSS: Pretty good, right? In 1954, Doris Day starred opposite Frank Sinatra in the film "Young At Heart." He played a songwriter, and at the end of the film, they duet on the song his character writes. And if you're a fan of Day and Sinatra, watching and hearing them together is something special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU, MY LOVE")

DAY: (Singing) Yes and because of you, my love, my wishful dreams came true, my love.

DORIS DAY AND FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) In my uncertain heart, I am only certain of how much I love you, my love.

GROSS: So I've told you some of the reasons why I love Doris Day. I guess everyone who loves her has their own reasons. And when I say everyone, I mean lots of people. Doris Day is the biggest female box office star in Hollywood history. She started singing in big bands when she was a teenager, made her first film when she was 24 and, after making about 40 movies, walked away from that part of her life in 1968. After that, her mission was rescuing and caring for animals. Doris Day ended her public life many years ago. We phoned her at her home in California.

Doris Day, welcome to FRESH AIR. I know you rarely give interviews, so let me start by saying that even if we only get to speak for a few moments, I'm so excited that I get to wish you a happy birthday and tell you how much your work means to me.

When I grew up, your movies were very popular, but I kind of thought of them as my parents' generation, likewise with the recordings. But when I started making my own taste, I fell in love with your early recordings, and that led me to your movies - your early movies, your later movies. And I just love your work.

DAY: Thank you so much. I can't believe it.

GROSS: Now...

DAY: You're so sweet to say all those nice things.

GROSS: I have to say your voice still sounds like Doris Day's voice.

DAY: Does it?

GROSS: Yeah.

DAY: Well that's good, huh?

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Did singing always feel more pure to you, like, 'cause I always think, like, when you're in a movie, you're playing a part. But when I hear you singing, I just feel like that is you; that is, like, just cutting to your essence. There's something so beautiful and also naked about it. Like, there's no - you're not - I don't feel like you're playing a character. Do you know what I'm saying? I feel like I'm hearing your essence.

(LAUGHTER)

DAY: Well, that sounds good to me.

GROSS: But did you feel different as a singer than as an actress?

DAY: No, not at all. I just - you know, I was put in a film. I had never acted. And then I discovered that we were - that I would be singing in that first film. And it was just natural. It was - it just came so natural.

GROSS: And that was "Romance On The High Seas."

DAY: Yes.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded with Doris Day in 2012. She died Monday at the age of 97. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTURO SANDOVAL'S "TEE PEE TIME")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Doris Day. She died Monday. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with her in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: So a lot of people may already know this story, but when you were a teenager and Paramount offered to bring you from your home in Cincinnati to Hollywood, you had a going-away party. And on the way home, the car you were in was hit by a train, and one of your legs was shattered. And that ruined what your dream was at the time, which was to be a dancer. And it's only after that that you discovered you could sing. And when I hear that story, I think, how could Doris Day possibly have known that she couldn't sing until (laughter) - until she was a teenager and laid up after this accident?

DAY: When that accident happened, I was a dancer with a boy partner. And I was very young, but we used to sing together, and then we would dance. So I was used to singing. But then when that accident happened, it was a bad thing for my - I - my leg was hurt badly and my right foot so much so that I couldn't walk, and I had to lie down.

And I was just lying down all of the time, and a couple of years went by because the bones in my right leg from the knee down were not healing. And so that went on for a few years. And I did nothing but just lie there because they had to wait until the bone - and the bones would come together.

GROSS: Did that give you a sense of patience or anxiety, I mean 'cause you must have been really nervous about healing at the time. Only patience can see you through something like that.

DAY: Well, my mother didn't go into the details about the bones not knitting. She just said, you know, we have to take our time with this, and you understand that. And I said, sure, whatever I have to be will be. And that sounds like "Que Sera"...

GROSS: It sure does. I was going to point that out.

(LAUGHTER)

DAY: No, but I didn't mind. I wasn't upset, and I wasn't anxious to get out of bed. I knew that I had to lie there and be quiet. And suddenly it pulled together, and I was able to stand. And then before too long, I was singing with a band in Cincinnati at the age of 16. But the man who brought his band into the place was well-known in Cincinnati and loved by everybody.

And my mother told him about 16. And she said that she's not supposed to be singing anywhere and getting paid at 16. And he said, we'll put a pretty gown on her. We're going to fix her hair really beautiful, and she's going to sing the way I like her to sing. And then we go on from there, and she's 18 (laughter).

GROSS: Aha. So you had a lie a little bit (laughter).

DAY: Oh, he did. He did it. I kept that - the two years older - for years. It was really funny. I was always two years older than I really was. And so then, you know, as the years go on and my mother said to me, do you know what? She said, it just occurred to me. You've been whatever the number was that she'd talked about it - maybe, like, 30 - she said, you know what? You're not really 30. You're 28. And I looked at her, and I said, oh, my gosh, I forgot all about that. (Laughter) We both did.

GROSS: So what birthday are we actually celebrating now?

DAY: Eighty-eight.

GROSS: OK, so that's the real number, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So you became famous for your romantic comedies in the '50s and '60s, but there was this image of you that became formed that the characters you played were kind of, you know, like, bland and a little stereotyped or something. But really when you look at the roles you played, like, you're a working woman and - you're an independent, single, working woman in some of those, like, really classic films.

You know, like, in "Pillow Talk" in 1959 with Rock Hudson, you're an independent interior decorator. In "Lover Come Back To Me," 1961 with Rock Hudson, you worked in the advertising industry. In "Touch Of Mink" with Cary Grant 1962, you're a career woman. So you know, you're actually playing these independent, working women.

DAY: That's what I was.

GROSS: (Laughter).

DAY: For real.

GROSS: For real, right. For real, you must have been pretty tough, actually.

DAY: Oh, I don't know.

GROSS: No?

DAY: I don't know about being tough. But what we were doing was something that I was just loving. You know, I just loved my work. And whatever they wanted me to do, I wanted to do.

GROSS: Did you get the sense that there was this, like, image of who Doris Day was that was sometimes not really who either your characters were or who you were?

DAY: No, no, I didn't. I just did what it wanted me to do. I didn't compare, in other words, and say, oh, God, I'm not like that. Whatever - when I read the script, the words told me what I was. And I never had a problem with that. I played me doing that.

GROSS: Is that the way you saw it - playing yourself but as somebody else?

DAY: Playing myself no matter what it was.

GROSS: Playing yourself as if you were in that position of your character.

DAY: That's right. It had to be done like that. I had to say things like that. It was fine.

GROSS: What was the biggest stretch for you, the character most unlike you?

DAY: Oh, they were all different, though I didn't feel different in any of them even though they were different. I loved, you know, being married, and I love not being married but working on it...

GROSS: (Laughter).

DAY: ...And doing what I was supposed to do and be. That's the way I worked.

GROSS: So you left the movies after 1968. Your last film was "With Six You Get Eggroll." And it was the same year that your husband of the time died. Why did you leave movies then?

DAY: I don't know. I thought that I had done all the different things, and I loved doing them. And then I had a feeling of just quieting down. And I came out to Carmel, and it was so nice. You know, and I have so many doggies. And I thought, this would really be nice - to get out of Los Angeles because it was changing down there quickly. And it wasn't good.

And I came up, and we redid a home. And I just moved in, and that was it. And to be in films - when I think about that, then I thought I should have stayed because I love that so much. But there were all kinds of new people coming up, and I thought, I've done mine; I've had a great time, so now it's their turn. And that's the way I felt.

GROSS: But it didn't have to be, like, one or the other. You could have lived in Carmel and still made movies, maybe fewer movies. But you could have.

DAY: Yeah, I could have but I have so many dogs that I love dearly, and I was working and helping the SPCA. I was - I rented a place that I could have dogs not in my house. I rented a big place. And I was able to have the SPCA every end of the week bring many, many dogs to me.

They all were in nice places, clean - everything was fine. I took good care of them. And so many people called. Darling ladies came and said, I want to help you. I'll work for nothing. I love dogs, too, and cats. And I said, well, that's great. And so that's what I started to do right away. And I just loved it. I placed dogs with wonderful people and lovely homes, and the dogs were just precious.

And then one day, a woman came out where we always did the work and said that, you're to get off the property or - who's Doris Day here? You're out of here in two weeks. It was just rude, and we managed to get out. And I kept all the dogs that I had there.

GROSS: Where? Where did you keep them?

DAY: In my house.

GROSS: Oh, gosh.

DAY: I had a big, big house.

GROSS: How many dogs was that?

DAY: (Laughter) Oh, at once about 30.

GROSS: Oh, my God, are you kidding?

DAY: No, and I kept them.

GROSS: You kept them all.

DAY: Yep.

GROSS: Thirty.

DAY: Mmm hmm. Well, I had a big, big house here.

GROSS: How big was it?

DAY: Oh, big (laughter).

GROSS: Like, how many rooms?

DAY: Oh, my gosh - three upstairs, four upstairs, four downstairs - a lot of rooms.

GROSS: OK.

DAY: It's so difficult. And then I had my own area in another spot. It was connected of course. And that was just perfect for me. Everything was right. It was good. And I could have as many dogs as I wanted. And oh, I kept them until they went to heaven.

GROSS: Wow. You really lived with a lot of dogs for a long time (laughter).

DAY: Well, there was another area of the house, and they had a big run. They had a huge area to play. They were just fabulous, just fabulous. And I kept them all.

GROSS: So how many animals do you live with now?

DAY: Six.

GROSS: I would have thought that was a lot. Now it seems like nothing (laughter).

DAY: Well, I can - well, I...

GROSS: Are they dogs, or are any of them cats?

DAY: Oh, yes, cats, too, lots of cats.

GROSS: How many cats?

DAY: Oh, God, maybe 10.

GROSS: Now?

DAY: But I have lots of room. Oh, yeah. And they're in a special area in the house. They have an outdoor area. It's closed. They can't get out. But the ceiling is all glass, and they look up there, and they see the trees. And when it rains, they love it. And it's perfect for them.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded with Doris Day in 2012. She died Monday at the age of 97. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANK JONES AND FRANK WESS' "A HANKERIN'")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Doris Day. She died Monday. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with her in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: So I want to confess something to you, which is when I was growing up, the first real big hit of yours that I knew was "Que Sera, Sera," which you sing in "The Man Who Knew Too Much," the Alfred Hitchcock film. And so my confession is that I didn't like it (laughter).

DAY: Me neither.

GROSS: That's what I read - that you didn't like it either and you didn't want - so I was so happy to read that. Tell me why you didn't like it.

DAY: Well, the first time that somebody told me it was going to be in that movie, I thought, why - 'cause the movie - you know how horrible it was toward the ending when our boy was kidnapped. And I didn't think that there was a place to put that song. And I heard the song before I - you know, I knew what the story was completely. But then they tell me that that's going to be in the movie. I thought, why?

GROSS: For anybody who doesn't know the song, the lyric is que sera, sera, whatever will be will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera.

DAY: Yeah. And I thought, I'm not crazy about that. Where are they going to put it? You know, for what? Is it when I put him in bed sometime and I sing that to him or something? I do that in another film. And I thought maybe that's what it's going to be. And I just - I didn't think it was a good song.

GROSS: And just standing on its own as a song, did you like it?

DAY: No, it isn't the kind of song that I like to sing.

GROSS: So how did you feel about that being - well, there's probably a No. 1 hit, and yet you didn't really like it very much.

DAY: Well, I thought that was wonderful because I think it came - it became that because of children. And then I understood it because it was for the child, for our child in the movie.

GROSS: Right.

DAY: And so then I - you know, I realized. So maybe it isn't a favorite song of mine, but people loved it, and kids loved it. And it was perfect for the film. So you know, I can't say that it's a favorite song of mine that I think is fabulous, but boy it sure did something. It came out, and it was loved.

GROSS: What is a favorite song of yours?

DAY: Oh, I have too many.

GROSS: OK.

DAY: Oh, my God, I loved - I love to sing love songs. And I like to sing others, too. But there are so many that I love. I just really love them, and I love singing them.

GROSS: So I guess I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the interview. Thank you even more for your movies and your music. I'm so happy that I've had the chance to talk with you 'cause I know how little of this you do.

DAY: I'm happy that I had a chance to talk to you, too, Terry. It is Terry, isn't it?

GROSS: Yes, it is (laughter).

DAY: That's funny.

GROSS: Oh, because that's your son's name, yeah.

DAY: You're really good at what you do.

GROSS: Oh, thank you.

DAY: And I enjoyed it a lot. I really did.

GROSS: Oh, that makes me so happy. Thank you.

DAY: And it's so nice to say hello to you and to know you.

GROSS: Thank you. Thank you. I wish you good health.

DAY: And I wish you good health.

GROSS: Thank you.

DAY: And I send my love to you.

GROSS: My interview with Doris Day was recorded in April of 2012 and was originally broadcast one day before her 88th birthday. She died Monday at the age of 97.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU")

DAY: (Singing) I'll never stop loving you. Whatever else I may do, my love for you will live 'til time itself is through. I'll never stop wanting you. And when forever is through, my heart will beat the way it does each time we Meet. The night doesn't question the starts that appear in the skies, so why should I question the stars that appear in my eyes? Of this I'm more than just sure. My love will last and endure. I'll never - no, I'll never stop loving you.

GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guests will be journalist Katherine Eban, who's investigated the safety and effectiveness of the generic drugs many of us take. She says most generics are now made overseas, often in India and China. Although the manufacturers are supposed to meet the same standards as U.S. drug makers, she reports on troubling cases of forged records and unsanitary conditions. She's written a new book called "Bottle Of Lies." I hope you can join us. I'm Terry Gross.

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