Guideposts Classics: Doris Day Finds Harmony in Faith

In this story from July 1958, actress, singer and animal-rights activist Doris Day shares the sense of calm that faith brought to her marriage, career and life.

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- Posted on Apr 18, 2013

Actress, singer and animal-right activist Doris Day

About eight years ago, just before I became Mrs. Martin Melcher, a man I once knew well, phoned and asked to see me. I hadn’t seen John in a long time, and didn’t want to now.

When Marty said I ought to, I argued back: “But he always works so hard at being a character; he’s in the hell of constant failure and he drinks too much.”

“All the more reason why you should see him,” Marty reproached.

I did. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

John always had been tense, mixed up, going nowhere, and in a hurry to get there. But now he was calm and sure. He’d stopped drinking. There was a strange, new peace in him.

“Say, you’re different,” I finally said. “What’s happened to you?”

“I’ve discovered that none of us can do anything alone,” he said.

At first I didn’t get it. “Who’s the fellow who helped?”

“God,” he said simply.

I stared at him, and then begged: “Tell me. I need the same thing.”

It seemed that one night he knew he had reached the end of his road, the road he’d been on. He was friendless, terribly alone, and empty with the thought that the next day, like all his tomorrows, held only the anguish of bitterness, of more whiskey. He searched his mind for someone to turn to, something.

He opened the window and looked out at the night, and tried to reach out for its quietness, its harmony. And from somewhere in a dim, forgotten corner of his heart, he remembered a similar night as a boy, when he and his father had tried to touch the night, and he heard the echo of his father’s voice:

“There’s quiet and harmony out there; without them, we’re nothing.”

John closed the window and went out to find it. He started by walking the streets, repeating to himself all the disharmony in him, then muttering little supplications that it might end. With the dawn he went into a church and prayed.

“In finding a faith in God I found myself, new friends, a new life. I’ve just started living. I wasn’t before.”

What John said held me from then on, without letting me go. I tried to figure it out. John might still have been called a “failure.” But was I a success? Seemed I had everything—including a lot of fears I couldn’t put my finger on. Everything but peace. John had that. Why couldn’t I?

“You’ve been searching a long time for the same kind of peace I found,” he had said, “only you don’t know it. That’s why I wanted to see you.”

Those fears in me? Where did they come from? Not from my childhood. Those were sunny days back in Cincinnati when I was Doris von Kappelhoff. I loved to sing and dance. Oh, I knew I’d be in Hollywood one day—as a dancer.

When I was 14 three friends and I drove over to pick up my mother at a party. None of us saw the train that hit us and sheared off the whole front of our car. When I crawled out I tried to stand up, but one leg dangled, and I asked myself:

“How can I dance with this?”

Then I fainted.

One boy was unhurt, the other had a broken leg, and the girl had a concussion. But we were all alive. I was in the hospital for over a year. Dancing was out. So I learned to sing.

I got my first singing job while still on crutches. Then I began leading the punishing life of a singer with touring bands ... those long, lonely, one-night stands.

I married a musician and had a son, Terry, when I was 18. We tried keeping him with us on our tours but it didn’t work. Marriage didn’t work either. That’s probably where my confusion started. I don’t know.

Out on the West Coast, feeling completely crushed, I was asked to test for movies.

“Stop kidding,” I said. “Me? Dramatics? The only part I ever played was a duck in a Mother Goose play in school.”

But they first asked me to sing a song. While singing, all my troubles crowded in on me and I began to cry and couldn’t stop.

“Fine,” they said. “We’ll test her.”

Well, after a number of movies, there I was in 1948 with all that a successful movie career meant, and floundering—until I met Marty Melcher. He was the head of the agency that represented me.

He seemed matter-of-fact, calm, secure. Actually he was muddled too. He was an expert at handling my business affairs, but was unhappy with his own. And he had these inside fears too.

I came back from meeting John and told Marty all about it. I think I was not very clear, but the wonderful thing was that Marty understood. Probably because we both needed what John had.

So what we were both searching for alone we began to search for together. When we were married, Marty adopted Terry legally. That’s when I think I became a mother, a wife, and a grown-up girl for the first time.

We joined a church and began attending regularly. Together we discovered a harmony and a sense of peace we didn’t know before. Then we tried to apply what we found to our daily lives.

For instance, we taught ourselves not to think of yesterday or tomorrow. So we never have any regrets or expectations. We just believe in “nowness,” of what we can do best today.

It was no great, blinding flash of light. We muddled it through, slowly, sometimes painfully.

One of the first constructive results of our beliefs was that Marty dissolved his partnership and went out on his own.

His contention was that lack of harmony in business could lead to lack of principle, and if you’re really principled in your faith, you can’t be without it in your business relationships, or any relationship for that matter.

Our new-found faith also taught us that whatever we do individually should in some way benefit someone else. Harmony is not a solo. So we try never to quarrel with directors, writers, a contract, or with any role I am assigned.

We want the same feelings inside our home as we do out of it. Our housekeeper had a cold recently. A small thing, you say, but it strikes a discordant note. So it becomes our concern beyond just feeling sorry for her.

The lack of harmony in anyone around us diminishes ours; when it’s missing it can lead to anxiety and anguish.

When Terry wanted a learner’s permit to drive, we felt he wasn’t ready for it. We reasoned it out, not by scorn, or by shouting orders, but by the love in our thinking. That’s harmony.

Both my men are big. Terry is getting pretty tall now and recently, I watched them wrestling. Holding my breath, feeling fearful but wonderful too, I heard Marty beg Terry: “Kid, this is one of the last times I’ll be able to floor you. Let me.” Terry let him. Both my men are kind of special.

Marty and I are both pretty strong-minded. There are differences between us. Bound to be. But when we clash our faith helps. Helps? Faith is the only way a marriage really sticks. Everything else in it depends on what you believe.

Marty used to be sensitive about being the husband of a Hollywood actress. Well, we’d argue, starting with something about a script, or food, or clothes, but ending on the same note. Who’s the boss? Pointless.

The argument would end quickly when we reminded each other there was only one real Boss. One mind—God’s mind.

The biggest argument we ever had was when Marty and I got into our first independent production, a movie called Julie. Up to then, he was my husband and manager, and I’d come home nights and tell him all my troubles.

But with Julie I came home to a producer, a worried producer who was way behind schedule, and I suppose I was as much to blame for that as anyone. I’d get home at night and we’d argue.

It got worse and worse. He was too kind to tell me that as a producer he couldn’t cater to a “star.” Not with so many others involved. There just wasn’t any peace then, on the set or at home.

One night the argument really reached the boiling point. We both knew if we went one hair-step further we’d even threaten our respect for each other.

“Marty,” I said, unable to say what I wanted to.

“Yes,” he said. “We’re forgetting.”

In forgetting harmony we were losing the only real way to communicate with each other. But soon we were able to do so by putting God between us, and using His love.

No one can fight that. Try it. It makes your heart sing.

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