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Doris Day: A Hollywood Legend Reflects On Life.

Day started singing and dancing when she was a teenager, and made her first film at 24. After nearly 40 movies, she walked away from that part of her life in 1968, and started rescuing and caring for animals. Here, she speaks to Terry Gross in a lengthy interview about her career in film and music.

27:38

Other segments from the episode on April 2, 2012

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 2, 2012: Interview with Aziz Ansari; Interview with Doris Day.

Transcript

April 2, 2012

Guests: Aziz Ansari-Doris Day

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest is comic and actor Aziz Ansari. He co-stars in the NBC series "Parks and Recreation" as Tom Haverford and has been in the films "Get Him to the Greek," "Funny People" and "Observe and Report."

Aziz Ansari has a new comedy special. His previous special was on Comedy Central, but this time he's taking his cue from his friend Louis CK and making the special available exclusively on his website for download and streaming for a nominal fee.

It looks like this is becoming a trend for comics who want to bypass the networks and go directly to their fans. Let's start with an excerpt of Ansari's new comedy special, called "Dangerously Delicious." It's a live performance from the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.

This part is about ethnic slurs. Ansari is of Indian descent and grew up in South Carolina. He often talks about race and ethnicity in his act.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "DANGEROUSLY DELICIOUS")

AZIZ ANSARI: One day I decided to do some research on racial slurs and see if I could learn anything. And I found a very interesting article. It was titled "List of Every Ethnic Slur," and it was 21 pages long, and I read all of them. And if it's cool with you guys, I'd now like to share a few of my favorites.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ANSARI: Now, these are racial slurs, ethnic slurs, OK, so they're offensive. They're offensive by their very nature. So if I say one, or I describe one, and you're offended, there's no reason to be like (makes noises) because we all know they're offensive. So instead you can shut your (bleep) mouth.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

ANSARI: At the same time, though, at the same time, I don't want to do this bit and look in the audience and see some guy just like yeah, ha ha ha, yeah (makes noises) because that would be terrifying on the other end of the spectrum. So here we go, my favorite racial slurs, OK? The first one, it's defined as a derogatory descriptive phrase for a person of predominately Caucasian ancestry with real or suspected distant Asian or African ancestry.

Now, this is a pretty specific situation to need to bust out a racial slur, but if you're ever caught in a jam, all you've got to say is: You know what, man? You got a touch of the tar brush. Yeah, you heard me, you got a touch of the tar brush. This is a tar brush, this is you, boop.

You don't think I see that distant Asian ancestry in your predominately Caucasian face?

GROSS: That's Aziz Ansari from his new comedy special, "Dangerously Delicious." Aziz, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's great to talk with you again.

ANSARI: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: One of the things you talk about on your comedy special that's on your website, "Dangerously Delicious," is about how you're still single and you're still having problems dating even though you're on TV, and friends say to you: You're on TV, you shouldn't have any trouble.

And you do this whole: What am I supposed to do, go into a bar and say excuse me, I'm a guy on TV, and expect people, you know, are just going to come up to you and like volunteer. But has it changed your date-ability, to be a recognizable TV person?

ANSARI: Obviously, you know, people come up to me because they recognize stuff I've done, you know, no denying that. But my point in that bit was that it's not this, like, dream situation people kind of imagine in their heads. There's a lot of just, like, random dudes that are like: Oh, man, it's that brown guy I saw on that thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: You know, like there's that too, you know. But of course, you know, there's women that come up to me and say, oh, you know, I enjoy your work. And I've met a lot of interesting people that way. And you know, I - you know, I'm fine with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: It's so interesting because people ask about that stuff, and they're like: Don't you think those girls are just coming up to you because you're on TV and you're a comedian? It's like: Yeah, I know that, but no one ever asks, like, like some, like, like good-looking stud dude like - don't you think those girls are just coming up to you because of your face?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: Like, it's - that's not looked at as a negative. And it's like, well, to me that's worse because that guy did nothing to earn his face. He didn't, like, sculpt his nose. Like, I worked really hard and developed this career and put out a body of work. So if someone's a fan of that, and they came up to me because of that, that's less shallow than going up to someone because you like their face or their sweater or whatever.

You know what I mean? Like the guy didn't make the sweater. He just bought it, you know? And so I think there's kind of this thing of, like, saying, like, oh, going up to someone because you like their work and meeting someone that way is like a shallow thing. But sometimes you meet people that are, like, super-interesting that are just like, oh, I saw your thing and I enjoyed it.

And then you start talking, and you're like, oh, you're an interesting person, I enjoy your company. And I've made friends that way, you know?

GROSS: It's funny because, like, your character on "Parks and Recreation" is so confident that he's, like, you know, cooler than anybody else. But in your stand-up comedy specials, a lot of your comedy is based on self-deprecating humor and on being single, about the difficulty of, like, you know, finding a woman, not only finding the right woman but, like, finding somebody, you know, like asking somebody for a date.

And it's like two different sides of you, like the overconfident thing that you play and the underconfident self that you play.

ANSARI: Yeah.

GROSS: So which is closer to the real you, the underconfident one?

ANSARI: I don't know. I kind of play up that underconfidence in the stand-up a little bit. I'm probably somewhere in the middle. Like, I'm pretty confident in myself in a lot of ways, but, you know, what guy doesn't see, like, a beautiful woman and might be a little bit nervous to go up to her, you know? I think most guys would say they've been in that situation.

You know, I think, you know, you want to be relatable. And, you know, with stand-up it's more interesting to hear about people's failures than their successes, I think, sometimes. Like, you don't want to hear a story about, like: Oh, and then I went up to this hot girl and everything worked out fantastic. We're dating, everything is great. Good night.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: She thinks I'm real handsome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: She thinks I'm hot, thank you for coming.

ANSARI: People would be like: I hate that guy, you know? It's much more endearing to hear about someone going through the same struggles we've all gone through.

GROSS: So your humor onstage is self-deprecating, and I'm thinking like you're good friends with like - good friends, I don't know, but you're friends with Jay-Z. You love hip-hop. And, you know, the - hip-hop is so much about confidence and swagger and feeling like you can go up to that beautiful woman, and she's just going to just - she's going to be really happy that you went up to her because you're the best when it comes to making love or standing up to the cops or looking good or, you know, whatever needs to be done.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And I'm wondering, like, how your self-deprecating humor goes over with your hip-hop friends, because the sensibility in some ways seems pretty different.

ANSARI: Well, being a rapper is, like, about being cool and things like that. And being a comedian, you're not really supposed to be the coolest guy. So I think, you know, they understand it's a different type of thing, you know?

And, you know, those guys are super-funny. They have a really great sense of humor, and when I do hang out with them, like, we will laugh hard at things we all say, and they have a great sense of humor. So they understand it's a different thing. I don't think they're, like, oh man, Aziz isn't cool. You know what I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: It's just a different thing to be a comedian. There's not a self-deprecating rapper. That wouldn't work. If you were a rapper that was like: I saw this girl, but I was too scared, like...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: Like that doesn't work for a rapper. You can't be like: And then I took her back to my place, and she said she had a boyfriend. Like that doesn't - that rapper wouldn't go very far because in a rap song you want to live vicariously through them. You want to be on the jet or whatever, you know what I mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: And then I drove my mom's car 'cuz I can't afford my own.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: Terry, I think we've got to do a self-deprecating rapper album. Do you make beats on the side?

GROSS: Absolutely. That is what I do in the evenings.

ANSARI: Or maybe you can sing the hooks.

GROSS: I do that too. It's really funny you should bring it up, absolutely.

ANSARI: (Singing) He can't afford a car.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: My guest is comic and actor Aziz Ansari. He co-stars in "Parks and Recreation" and has a new comedy special available exclusively on his website. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Aziz Ansari. He has a new stand-up comedy special that he's making available as a download or streaming on his website only, and he's also one of the stars of "Parks and Recreation."

Now, on "Parks and Recreation," you play Tom Haverford who, you know, works for the Parks and Recreation Office. I want you to describe your character.

ANSARI: I play a low-level government administrator that works at this Parks and Recreation Department, and kid of the character's story is that he grew up in this small town and he lives in this small town in Indiana, and he really wishes he was kind of this impresario, like, you know (unintelligible) Sean P. Diddy Combs or, you know, one of these guys that just has his fingers in a lot of pies and is this big mogul.

But he's in this really small town. He's too scared to go to, like, New York or L.A. to kind of really make that happen. So he kind of tries to live those dreams in the confines of this very small town.

And I love working on the show, and everyone in the cast and everybody is just fantastic.

GROSS: Well, actually, you know, he leaves Parks and Recreation for a while to start a media marketing business called Entertainment 720, make those mogul dreams come true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: Yes, yeah, he - in the beginning of this season, he did try to do - his probably biggest swing at kind of achieving those dreams was this company called Entertainment 720, and it's called 720 because they'll travel around the world twice, 720 degrees, to make your dreams come true.

GROSS: Let's play an ad that you and your partner in this company did to promote Entertainment 720, and in the commercial that you did, we won't see this, but, like, you're dancing, you're toasting with, like, these beautiful, like, brandy sniffers, snifters, whatever they're called. And you're trying to look as hip as you possibly can.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) I can't thank you guys enough. You made millions of dollars.

ANSARI: (As Tom Haverford) Don't mention it. Take care.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Hey Tom, who was that guy?

ANSARI: (As Tom) That was you, if you play your cards right. Hi, I'm Tom Haverford, one of the founders of Pawnee's hottest new company, Entertainment 720.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) When Tom and I created Entertainment 720, way back in 2011, we had one simple goal in mind: to create the premier multimedia entertainment production conglomerate in the world.

ANSARI: (As Tom) Mission accomplished.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASSES CLINKING)

ANSARI: (As Tom) If you can call it entertainment, we'll handle it. Film production, television, radio, advertising...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Record production, DJ-ing - we will create YouTube videos that your kids actually watch. I will write your tweets and your Facebook statuses.

ANSARI: (As Tom) Club promotion, personal promotion, memorial videos for pet funerals, dogs, cats, fish, tiny horses, giant lizards, you name the animal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Visual effects for raves, laser light shows, regular light shows...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's Aziz Ansari from "Parks and Recreation." It's so much fun to watch him trying to be as cool as his heroes are and always just being lame and embarrassing instead. Did you ever feel that way yourself when you were growing up?

ANSARI: I definitely relate to the frustration of being in a small town and wishing you were in somewhere bigger. I mean, I grew up in South Carolina, in a very small town that had like 8,000 people. There was just nothing to do. Nothing cool was going on.

But now I feel like with the Internet and everything, you're so exposed to everything cool, and you can really get into a lot of cool stuff, even if you're just in, you know, South Carolina or in a small town. You can hear about, like, the coolest band in Brooklyn or whatever.

Back when I was growing up, it wasn't like that, I don't think, as much, and I was definitely like frustrated. Like, it always just seemed like there was cooler stuff going on in bigger cities.

GROSS: You're of Indian - the country of India - ancestry. And when you were growing up, there were probably not a lot of comics of South Asian ancestry to look to as role models. Did that matter to you?

ANSARI: I never saw an Indian person on TV unless it was like Gandhi or there was like a James Bond movie where he goes to India or like there was some show where they happened to go to India, or they're showing the Quik-E-Mart guy.

There was no one Indian on TV, like no one. When I did this sketch on MTV called "Human Giant" around 2007, I joked around with the people at MTV. I was like: Wow, it's pretty cool, I think I might be the first Indian person you've ever had on MTV. And I was half-joking, but I think it may be true. Like, I can't think of ever seeing an Indian person on MTV.

And I think it's really cool now, you can't avoid Indian people on TV. There's like one Indian person minimum on every, like, sitcom or drama. There's like some Indian guy in the office. It's really funny to me that that's the case. And even when I was coming up, even seeing like Mindy Kaling on "The Office," it was great because you could point to her and be like: See, like she's a really funny character on that show, and there's no jokes about her having an Indian accent or anything.

It's just about her character and her personality. Even having that was, like, a great thing to point to, and I think now with me and Danny Pudi on "Community" and, you know, a myriad of other people, I think it must be a little different to be a kid growing up that's Indian and seeing all these Indian people in the culture.

GROSS: So somebody who knows your name now is President Obama, and he mentioned you at a fundraising event in New York in early March. He mentioned that you were there. He mentioned that you were backstage and that this was a particularly big deal because his daughter Malia is a huge fan of "Parks and Recreation."

So how did you end up being at that event with him, and how did he end up mentioning you?

ANSARI: As with a lot of things with me, it all goes back to food. I eat at that restaurant, ABC Kitchen, a lot. It's a restaurant in New York. And that's where this event was. And they came up to me, and they're like: Hey, we're doing this event with President Obama. He's going to speak here, and we were wondering if you would want to host it or something.

And I was like yeah, sure, because you guys are going to be catering and your food is delicious. And the Obama people contacted me, and they're like: Would you want to do this? We think it's a great idea. You could speak. And I did it, and it was really fun. And I wrote this little speech for the event and made the speech.

And then eventually the president spoke, and he mentioned me in the speech, and it just blew me away. Like I still haven't quite comprehended how crazy it is that the president mentioned me in a speech. I still don't believe it. It's still crazy to me. And he came backstage afterwards, and he talked to me for a while, and he mentioned that his daughter really loved "Parks and Recreation," and he was just super-nice and very cool.

GROSS: That must have been really thrilling. I mean, how many comics get mentioned by a president?

ANSARI: Yeah, and he was just so nice – he was just so nice and, like, very charming. And, you know, obviously I'm not a supporter, but if Santorum had that same interaction with me, I'd be like, man, I might have to vote for Santorum. No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: There's a good deed that you did that I think few people know about. There was an article in Rolling Stone about violence against gay teenagers, and after you read it, you got in touch with the person who wrote the article and offered to do a fundraiser to raise money for an organization that works with gay teens. And you hosted a comedy benefit in L.A. on behalf of a Minnesota LGBT group. Why did you decide to do that?

ANSARI: I heard a YouTube clip from Howard Stern, where he was talking about this article, and if you haven't read the article, you should really read it. It's about bullying and particularly about this school in Minnesota where it was just - has this really, such a sad article.

And I just read it, and I was like, man, is there - you know, it really affected me, and it really, really made me sad, like just thinking about these kids who were - these kids were just, like, getting put down by all these other kids in their school, and they seem like such brilliant kids. And it just really bummed me out that those kids, the other kids, the bully kids were winning, that they were letting them ruin what was special about them.

And it just didn't seem fair. It seemed like these kids were...

GROSS: Were you bullied as a kid?

ANSARI: I wasn't. You know, I think - you would think I would be. It seems like I would be a really easy bully target. But, you know, obviously I was made fun of here and there, but I've said this, I think I even said it to you last time I talked to you, like, you know, it was probably on par with what a fat kid dealt with. It was not, like, serious racism where like kids were throwing rocks at me and harsh stuff like that, or you know, or – you know, you see, like you read these stories and stuff, and you read about, like, real torment, you know, like real kids, you know, really tormented.

I did not have that at all. But I guess I can relate to the idea of being different from everyone else, and I can relate to people telling you you can't do something or people making fun of you because you're different. Or I've seen other kids make fun of other kids for having different interests or whatever.

And when I read that story, it just, it really ticked me off that the school allowed that to happen. Basically the school district wasn't taking a stand. It really got bad, and several kids ended up taking their own lives. It was that bad.

One kid's mom started an organization called Justin's Gift, and the writer of the Rolling Stone article - I just emailed her, and I was like: Hey, I read this article and it's really affected me. I just feel like I want to do something. I'll gladly do a benefit, like it's really easy for me to, like, put on a show and raise some money. Like, who could I raise money for? What would be the best organization?

And she referred me to Justin's Gift, and so I was doing a show that weekend, and it sold out, and we gave that money, and then I put together another show with some other comedians that I'm friends with, and we charged more for that, and it sold out, and we raised like $15,000 like just doing those two shows, and we gave it to them.

And, you know, I was glad we were able to do those shows and do that, and I hope it helps those kids even a little bit because, you know, it just really bummed me out hearing about what happened to those kids.

GROSS: I think it's great that you did that. So you do a lot of tweeting, have a lot of followers. And after the Trayvon Martin story, when Geraldo made his comment about how, you know, he shouldn't have been wearing a hoodie, you replied with a barbed tweet, and I'll ask you to tell us the radio-friendly version of what you said.

ANSARI: I think what I said was: It's really appropriate to say this any day, but today in particular: F-you, Geraldo. And I tweeted that, and what I failed to realize is that now whenever there's a big news story, news outlets will take things that people tweet and quote them as if that's, like, their statement on something.

Obviously if I was talking to, like, the Washington Post, that would not be my analysis of the event, no. I would have said something a little bit more nuanced. However, there was an article somewhere, I have it on my phone, I'll read to you what they wrote. They wrote - the headline said something like - sorry, give me a second, I'll put it up - it said: Geraldo Rivera says Trayvon Martin's hoodie made him a target receives major backlash.

Fox News commentator says Martin's killer should be prosecuted, but the victim's attire put him at fault too. Aziz Ansari responds: F-you, Geraldo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANSARI: I love that that was in the sub-headline for that article. In that case, you know, I don't like people quoting me, you know, from my Twitter in like a serious news article. But in that case, it was so funny to me that I approve.

GROSS: Aziz Ansari, it's been great to talk with you again. Thank you so much.

ANSARI: It's always a pleasure, thank you so much.

GROSS: Aziz Ansari co-stars on "Parks and Recreation." His new comedy special, "Dangerously Delicious," is available exclusively on his website. You'll find a link to it on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME")

DORIS DAY: (as Ruth Etting) What have you accomplished? Can you produce a picture? Have you done one successful thing on your own? Just who do you think you are?

JAMES CAGNEY: (as Martin Snyder) Whoever I am kiddo, I'm what makes you tick.

GROSS: That's Doris Day having it out with James Cagney in the 1955 film "Love Me or Leave Me," one of the four Doris Day films TCM has just released in a new DVD box set in celebration of her 88th birthday, which is tomorrow.

TCM has also just released a two-CD set of her recordings, and she's TCM's star of the month, which means they'll be showing her movies in primetime tonight through Friday night this week, a total of 28 films.

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")

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. Que Sera, Sera.

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 this film when the song played constantly on my parent's radio station for years - the station they tortured me with when what I wanted to hear was rock 'n roll.

DAY: 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 a trio. Her voice is so beautiful. You'll hear what I mean on this 1962 track with Andre Previn that's included on the new TCM's CD reissue.

(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 above my head. Though I see the danger there. If there's a chance for me, then I don't care. Fools rush in...

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. This movie is also included in the TCM DVD box.

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

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

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

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

TRIO: (Singing) The lady said please.

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

GROSS: Pretty good, right? In 1954, Doris Day start 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 are 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.

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

GROSS: So I 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 gives 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 parent's 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, ah.

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?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: So, you know, I'm wondering, when you gave up acting and performing - your last movie was in '68, your last TV I think was in '73 - and you've been avoiding the public eye and keeping photographers away, but do you still enjoy singing even if it was just around the house?

DAY: Oh, I love singing. But I had bronchitis which I, you know, that I never had before my life and only when I moved here, and it was very, very, very rough on me. And I think that my voice is - it seems that it's different to me and it makes me feel terrible because I love to sing so much. And sometimes I sing around the house. Sometimes I start singing and it sounds, it sounds like me and I feel, you know, so good about that, and sometimes it doesn't because the air up here is so different than when I was in Los Angeles. It's totally different.

GROSS: When did you get the bronchitis?

DAY: Oh, it was a few years ago.

GROSS: And where are you, exactly?

DAY: I'm in Carmel. I'm in the Carmel Valley.

GROSS: Oh, I know, I know that area. Yeah. And it can get kind of chilly and foggy.

DAY: Mm-hmm. It sure does.

GROSS: So did singing always feel more pure to you, like 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? Just I feel like I'm hearing your essence.

(SOUNDBITE OF 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 would, that I would be singing in that first film and it was just natural. It just came so natural.

GROSS: And that was "Romance on the High Seas."

DAY: Yes.

GROSS: My guest Doris Day. Tomorrow is her 88th birthday. TCM is showing her movies every night this week, and there's a new four-DVD box set of her films and a two-CD set of recordings curated by her. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR")

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded last week with Doris Day. We called her at her home in California. Tomorrow is her 88th, and in celebration, TCM is showing her movies every week day this week.

So a lot of people may already know the 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 were 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 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 that accident happened it was a bad thing for my leg. It 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 the time and then a couple of years went by because the - I hate to go into all of this. It must be boring.

GROSS: No.

DAY: 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 in the bones would come together.

GROSS: Did that give you a sense of patience or anxiety? I mean, because you must have been really nervous about healing. At the same 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 has to be, will be. And that sounds like "Que Sera."

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

(SOUNDBITE OF 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 the band in Cincinnati at the age of 16. But then 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Ah-ha, so you had to lie a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAY: So he did, he did it. I kept that 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, you know what? She said it just occurred to me you've been whatever the number was that she'd talked about, she's 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAY: We both did.

GROSS: So what birthday are re-really celebrating now?

DAY: Eighty-eight.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF 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, 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 Carey Grant, 1962, you're a career woman. So, you know, you're actually playing these independent working women.

DAY: That's what I was. For real.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: For real. Right. For real, you must've 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: Hmm. 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. I didn't feel different in any of them, even though they were different. I loved, you know, being married and I loved not being married, but working on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF 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 "With Six You Get Egg Roll," 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 so 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've stayed because I loved 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've lived in Carmel and still made movies, maybe fewer movies, but you could've.

DAY: Yeah, I could have but I have so many dogs that I love dearly and I was working and helping the SPCA. 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.

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 have a big, big house.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: How many dogs was that?

DAY: Oh, at one time 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: Mm-hmm. Well, I had a big, big house here.

GROSS: How big was it?

DAY: Oh, big.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Like how many rooms?

DAY: Oh, my gosh. Three upstairs, four upstairs, 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.

DAY: Well, see, it 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've thought that was a lot; now it seems like nothing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

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

GROSS: Are they dogs? 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: My guest is Doris Day. Tomorrow is her 88th birthday. TCM is showing her movies every night this week and there is a new four-DVD box set of her films and a two-CD set of her recordings that she curated herself. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded last week with Doris Day. We called her at her home in California. Tomorrow is her 88th birthday and in celebration, TCM is showing her movies every weekday night this week.

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAY: I didn't either.

GROSS: That's what I've 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 somebody told me it was going to be in that movie, I thought, why? Because the movie, you know, how horrible it was toward the ending when our boy was kidnapped. And I didn't think 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?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: And for anybody who doesn't know the song, the lyric is Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be. The future is 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 did 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 - that was probably a number one hit and yet you didn't really like it very much.

DAY: Well, I thought that was wonderful because I think it became that because of children.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

DAY: 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 and I think it's 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 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 because I know how little of this you do.

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

GROSS: Yes, it is.

DAY: Isn't that funny.

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

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

GROSS: Oh, well, 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: Doris Day spoke to us from her home in Carmel, California. Tomorrow is her 88th birthday. TCM is showing her movies every weekday night this week and TCM has teamed up with Sony Masterworks and Warner Home Video to release a four-movie DVD package and a double-CD set curated by Doris Day collecting 31 songs. Happy Birthday, Doris Day. I'm Terry Gross.

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.

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