October 29, 2021

Barry Comden Found His Way to Doris Day’s Heart through Dogs, but It Ruined Their Relationship

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Known as the ultimate girl next door, Doris Day took the film industry by storm. Still, despite her successful onscreen career and sunny disposition, she battled a tumultuous personal life involving four failed marriages. 

Doris Day was born Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff in 1922, and growing up, her dream was to become a professional dancer, a dream shattered by an unfortunate accident that broke the bones in her right leg.

While in recovery, her determined mother enrolled her in singing lessons and the young Day spent most of her time listening to jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

Left: Doris Day (1922 - 2019) and husband Barry Comden at the Pierre Hote. Right: Doris Day speaking at a press conference at the dog friendly hotel she owns in Carmel, California July 16, 1985 | Source: Getty Images


During the recovery period, she was gifted a small dog named "Tiny" to help her heal from the trauma of the accident. Tiny's life, however, was unfortunately cut short when she was hit by a car as they strolled the neighborhood. 

In her autobiography "Doris Day: Her Own Story," Day says that the incident became the beginning of what would be a life-long love for animals, and especially dogs. A love that would come to play in ending one of her marriages. 

At only 17, Day caught her big break when she caught the attention of an American Jazz bandleader Les Brown. She soon joined his orchestra, and together, they recorded numerous hit songs.


American actress Doris Day in a fur-trimmed coat, circa 1963. | Photo: Getty Images

By the '50s, Day had become one of the highest-paid singers in the U.S. and had a record of more than 650 songs to her name. The bouncy blonde could act, dance and sing, and soon she was taking the silver screen by storm.


During an impromptu performance of "Embraceable You," a couple of Warner Brothers executives were so impressed with her that they immediately made her an offer.

She then began taking on significant roles in movies alongside screen legends like James Cagney, Carey Grant, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, and Frank Sinatra.

Doris Day at a press conference at the dog friendly hotel she owns in Carmel, California July 16, 1985. | Photo: Getty Images


Despite her onscreen prosperity, however, Day's personal life was anything but successful. Behind the bouncy blonde's wholesome character on stage, her private life was riddled with a poor calamitous judgment in her choice of partners. 

 A far cry from her chipper and perfect personality on T.V., she endured a series of heartbreaks. Her first husband, Al Jorden, was violent towards her. 

Doris' second marriage was to saxophonist George Weidler. While the marriage began on a high note, Weidler always felt intimidated by Day's rising status. He disclosed that he did not want to be known as "Mr. Doris Day."

American actress Doris Day, circa 1960. | Photo: Getty Images


He also resented being a step-father to Day's son, Terry, and often cheated on her during their short-lived marriage. The troubled union came to an end in 1949, after being married for only three years. 

Comden began complaining that Day loved and gave more attention to her fur babies than she did him.

Her third husband, Marty Melcher, was not any good to her either. Even after adopting her son as his own, he made Day take on roles that would earn her big bucks, but behind her back, he'd embezzle her money.

Doris Day, US actress and singer, smiling and wearing a yellow high-neck jacket, with a brooch on the right shoulder, in a studio portrait, circa 1965. | Source: Getty Images


Upon his death in 1968, Day would be met with a shocking truth that her husband of 17 years had not only lost all her money in shady deals, but he'd also left her in a huge debt playing to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 


Despite the heartbreak she suffered, Day was still hopeful that she would find her prince charming. In 1976, the "Love Me or Leave Me" star married her fourth husband, Barry Comden, 11 years her junior. 

Comden worked as the host in one of Day's favorite restaurants, Beverly Hills Old World Restaurant, and realized that the quickest possible way to Day's heart was through her dogs.


Actress Doris Day poses for a portrait circa late 1960's. | Source: Getty Images

He would always give her a bagful of bones and meat scraps to take back to her pets in an attempt to win her over. His efforts bore fruit as a little while later; the two began getting close.


In his memoirs, Comden recalled the very moment they started their five-year marriage. He says he was sitting on the edge of Day's bed as she took a quick shower.

On impulse, he opened the door to the shower, and startled, Day yelled out. Comden says that was the first time he laid his eyes on such a beautiful body. Soon after, the two began a relationship. 

Doris Day playing with a dog, circa 1950 | Photo: Getty Images


Having dropped off the Hollywood grid after her third husband swindled all her money, Day became highly invested in charities for animals.

Her brood was growing, and to accommodate every one of her new additions, Day relocated to a sprawling compound in Carmel. Her love for her four-legged kids, as she often referred to her animals, began taking away from her marriage. 

Portrait of Doris Day for the Paramount Pictures film "The Man Who Knew Too Much," circa 1956 | Photo: Getty Images


Comden began complaining that Day loved and gave more attention to her fur babies than she did him, and this began to drive a wedge between the two. Comden said:

"She had 14 dogs, and the final straw was when I was kicked out of bed to make way for Tiger, a poodle."

In 1981, only five years into their marriage, the two divorced, under what Day cited as incompatibility. Day is said to have tolerated Comden only because she needed his company. 

Doris Day (1922 - 2019) (mother of Terry Melcher) and Husband Barry Comden | Source: Getty Images


According to Vanity Fair, with Day's son, Terry, abroad, Day needed someone to handle her ever-complex financial affairs, and that is where Comden came into play. 


After he split from Day, Comden did not remarry. As his son would later describe him, he remained a "quintessential bachelor" and a fun-loving and charismatic person whose interests were golf and women.

He lived out the rest of his life near his son, Danny, from his first marriage and passed on in his Los Angeles home in May of 2009, following heart failure. He was 74.


Doris Day in a promotional headshot portrait for the film, "It's A Great Feeling" in 1949 | Photo: Getty Images

On the other hand, Day relished her life taking care of her rescue animals and lived out the rest of her life in her vast Carmel Valley, California home. Wood, Day's assistant and confidante of many years, said:

"She could do exactly as she pleased. She had the love of the dogs and cats, and all the plants and flowers, which she adored. And she didn't have to get dressed up."

Day, after a life in the mainstream consciousness of Hollywood and later in the recluse of her twilight years, passed on peacefully in her home in 2019. She passed on from a bout of pneumonia at 91. 


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