Doris Day, in Rare Interview, Talks Turning 97, Her Animal Foundation and Rock Hudson: "I Miss Him"

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Doris Day in 'Pillow Talk' (1959)

The star, whose birthday is Wednesday, talks exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter about her quiet life and the lasting impact of her films.

Doris Day has remained intensely private since retiring from acting: It’s been 30 years since she last appeared in public, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 1989 Golden Globes Awards, while her final television interview took place in 1994 with Leonard Maltin.

That doesn’t deter Day’s fans, however, from gathering each year in late March in her hometown of Carmel, California, to take part in a three-day party commemorating the legendary actress’ birthday. The event doubles as a fundraiser for the Doris Day Animal Foundation, founded in 1978, and this year included a 60th anniversary screening of Pillow Talk, in which Day famously co-starred with Rock Hudson, followed by a Q&A with Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz.

Occasionally, however, Day consents to interviews, aided by her longtime publicist, Charley Cullen Walters. As she turns 97 on Wednesday, the star — known for her effervescent personality and a singing voice that music writer Walt Friedwald once called “a sound like bottled sunshine” — agreed to answer a few questions exclusively for The Hollywood Reporter.

What are your plans for celebrating your 97th birthday on Wednesday?

I have dear pals in from out of town, and we’ve been celebrating all week, reminiscing over lovely, quiet dinners at home.

Do you have any favorite gifts you love to receive? If someone asks, “What should I get you?,” what would you tell them?

My wonderful fans always send me such thoughtful gifts. I cherish them, of course, but above all else, I’m so grateful for the donations to the Doris Day Animal Foundation. That is what I would love instead of gifts!

What do you think about the group that gathers in Carmel every year for a three-day fundraiser to celebrate your birthday?

I’m floored that so many fans come to Carmel every year to celebrate my birthday and help raise money for the animals. The group seems to be growing every year, and I’m touched by the outpouring of love, and grateful for their support.

How do you continue to stay involved with the Doris Day Animal Foundation, and what should people know about the work done by this organization?

I started my animal foundation in 1978, when more than 17 million homeless pets were being euthanized every year, and spaying and neutering was practically unheard of. Animal-welfare awareness has improved tremendously over the last four decades, and euthanasia rates are down to approximately 2.5 million, but there is still much work to be done. DDAF’s grants support nonprofit organizations and programs across the country that directly help animals and the people who love them.

We are living in stressful times, with nonprofit organizations feeling the pressure of budget cuts. The Special Olympics was a recent example that was threatened with having its funding cut. How challenging is it to keep people motivated these days to contribute to a nonprofit organization?

I have found that, no matter what the times are like, people like to give to what they care about. In my case, my passion for my four-legged friends and other animals, they always provide love when we need it most. I thank everyone for helping to support that cause.

Why do you think your films continue to resonate with fans of all ages?

I get so many love letters from fans as young as 8 years old, telling me they were introduced by my films and music by their great-grandmothers, and my movies make them happy. Different films resonate with viewers for different reasons, but the common thread seems to be that my films are uplifting. 

Pillow Talk is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. What can you share about filming this iconic movie?

I had such fun working with my pal, Rock. We laughed our way through three films we made together and remained great friends. I miss him.

What is your favorite film of all time, and why is that the choice?

I’ve always been a little partial to Calamity Jane. I was such a tomboy growing up, and she was such a fun character to play. Of course, the music was wonderful, too — “Secret Love,” especially, is such a beautiful song.

Your costumes in Pillow Talk, by Jean Louis and Bill Thomas, also stand out as a great example of fashion-in-film of that era, and have influenced modern fashion designers. How important were the costumes in forming a character in your work?

I was very fortunate to work with talented costume designers. The costumes in Pillow Talk were trend-setting and certainly informed the role I played. I wish I still had some of them.

Finally, how would you describe your legacy in film? What impact do you believe you ultimately made on 20th century cinema?

I enjoyed working and always tried to do the best job I could with every role. I’m thrilled to know that people are still watching my films and are uplifted by them.