Like so many others who fell in love with the beauty of the Monterey Peninsula, Doris Day experienced its allure while filming the 1956 film noir, Julie. Nearly two decades later she came back to stay, after her TV show, The Doris Day Show, was cancelled in 1973. It was a move that would forever shape the region and her adopted hometown, Carmel.
Day purchased the Cypress Inn in Carmel's downtown village in 1985 with partner Denny LeVett. She had one non-negotiable condition, that the hotel welcome dogs. Newspapers and magazines around the world published stories about it, forever cementing Carmel’s reputation as a dog-friendly destination.
Just after 6am on Monday, May 13, LeVett’s phone started ringing. His partner and friend—born on April 3, 1922, as Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff—died that morning after suffering from pneumonia. She was 97.
“She was the easiest person to understand and become friends with and mostly to get along famously with,” LeVett says.
The two met in January 1985, through Day’s only son Terry Melcher, who was friends with LeVett. (Melcher, a musician and record producer, died in 2004 from melanoma. He was the inspiration for Terry's Lounge inside the Cypress Inn.) In the years that followed, LeVett called Day every January to celebrate their partnership and friendship.
“I called her this January. I said, ‘I called to wish you happy anniversary. This is the best partnership that a guy from Iowa can ever have,’” LeVett recalls telling her.
After Day asked how long it had been, she quipped: “We’ve been partners for 34 years? I don’t think I’ve ever been with any one man for 34 years!”
“That is Doris Day, the humor always flowed, she was never at a loss for words,” LeVett says.
Day started her career at age 15 as a singer. She went on to make 39 films, many of them comedies where her comic timing and “girl next door” ease were primary reasons for their box office successes.
LeVett says he grew up watching those films and like every other man he knew, fell in love with Day. He says Day was their “secret sweetheart.”
Day founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978, which later became the Doris Day Animal Foundation. Beloved by millions of fans around the world, she astutely knew that she could leverage her celebrity status to rescue animals and improve their lives.
Day herself fostered hundreds of animals at her home in Carmel Valley overlooking Quail Lodge. Her early Spay Day program went on to become an international event known as World Spay Day, celebrated the fourth Tuesday in February.
A press release from DDAF issued within hours of her death noted the 300 fans who had just gathered in Carmel at the end of March to celebrate her birthday. A three-day celebration in Carmel featured impressionist Rich Little, a 60th-anniversary screening of the popular film Day made with Rock Hudson, Pillow Talk, and other special events that raised money for the foundation.
Doug Lumsden, owner and operator of Monterey Movie Tours, says that some of Day’s most ardent fans, generally between 40 and 60 people, would make the trek every April 3 to Day’s home in Carmel Valley to wish her a happy birthday. Day would walk out onto her balcony and wave to them.
“She had one amazing run and an incredible fan club,” Lumsden says. Visitors from all over the world come on the tour regularly and talk about their favorite singer, actor and animal advocate.
“It’s a sad day for us,” Lumsden says. “She just had a huge impact on our area, and of course she was one of the great icons of the movie industry.”
She was in good health until only recently when she contracted pneumonia. At 97, Lumsden says, “We knew it would happen, but we wish she could live forever.” Day was to the Monterey Peninsula “a part of our brand, part of the fabric of our community," he says.
LeVett says she'll live on for many fans: “In the hearts of millions and millions of people around the world she’ll never be dead.”
According to the DDAF, Day’s work on behalf of dogs, cats, horses, sea lions, raptors and other animals in need of rescue will not end with her death.
“Doris’ wishes were that she have no funeral or memorial service and no grave marker,” states the press release.
LeVett and Lumsden believe Day’s legion of fans will want to mourn her death in some meaningful way, however. So far no plans have been announced by the Cypress Inn to celebrate her life. A few fans left flowers on the Inn's doorstep the morning of Day's death.
“It’s incredible how she has lasted. She has one of the biggest fan clubs in the world,” Lumsden says. “We’re just lucky we had her in our community.”