Belfast Telegraph

Hollywood great Doris Day dies... now her rumoured romance with NI actor will always be a mystery

Doris Day with Stephen Boyd in the musical Billy Rose’s Jumbo
Doris Day with Stephen Boyd in the musical Billy Rose’s Jumbo
Doris Day with Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall in 1956
Doris Day in 1965
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Doris Day, one of the last survivors of the golden age of Hollywood, has died at the age of 97, leaving behind unresolved rumours of a romance with an Ulster movie co-star and an unwanted association in rhyming slang with an east Belfast terrorist godfather.

The actress and singer, who was probably best remembered for the film Calamity Jane, died at her home in Carmel Valley in California.

She passed away surrounded by close friends, who said she had been in excellent physical health for her age until recently contracting a serious case of pneumonia.

Day, who had a string of hit records before becoming a superstar of the silver screen in films like Pillow Talk and That Touch of Mink, has been described as a 'legend of an innocent age' in Hollywood with a radiant smile to match her whiter-than-white reputation.

But the wholesome Doris Day persona created by her film publicists for the Ohio girl, whose real name was Doris Marianne von Kappelhoff, didn't quite tally with the off-screen reality of a woman who had money problems and three failed marriages behind her.

Not that anything soured US movie-goers against their movie sweetheart and the running joke from Groucho Marx was that he had known her "before she was a virgin".

Glengormley-born actor Stephen Boyd, whose real name was William Millar, was clearly smitten with Doris Day.

The cleft-chinned star, who had progressed from the Ulster Group Theatre in Belfast to the big time in Hollywood, acted with Day in the 1962 circus musical Billy Rose's Jumbo.

And he made no secret of his admiration for Day, who he said was the most exciting and sexy actress he had worked with.

He once recalled: "Doris has a beautiful figure and a wonderful mouth and eyes. She dresses beautifully and she's full of life."

In another interview in 1962, Boyd said: "I'm amazed at her versatility. I think Doris could do any kind of drama as well as if not better than anyone else I've ever worked with. She gives so much!

"I get on well too with her husband, Marty Melcher, who visits the set occasionally."

Boyd went further in an interview in 1964 with renowned Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons, saying: "I love Doris Day. Doris is not considered a sex symbol, but what a woman!"

Two years on Boyd was still in raptures about her. And in another interview he said Day wasn't the girl next door as many people believed.

"In fact, she's anything but," he said. "She's a movie star down to her twinkly toes, with all the aura, the magnetis, and the sex appeal that go with it."

It was scarcely surprising Hollywood gossip columnists speculated Boyd was having a romance with Doris Day, who was said to have been keen on him too.

Writer Earl Wilson said that the sparks started flying on the movie Billy Rose's Jumbo.

He said that Day, who was seldom interested in love scenes, appeared to be enjoying the "kissing clinches with Steve" and insisted on more and more rehearsals.

Wilson wrote: "I checked the love scene rumour with producer Jose Pasternak, who said, 'Yes, when the director said cut during a scene they didn't cut'."

Studio bosses exploited the rumour with an advertisement which proclaimed Doris Day had found "a new romance under the big top with Stephen Boyd".

The Ulsterman, who died in 1977 at the age of 45, rejected the rumours of an affair, saying: "I'm flabbergasted. It's so false and ridiculous. I have no words."

More recently, UDA leader and drug dealer Jim Gray, who was murdered by rival loyalists in 2005, was nicknamed Doris Day because of his dyed blond hair, his gold jewellery and pastel coloured clothes.

He hated the derisory sobriquet just as Belfast singer Ruby Murray disliked her name becoming synonymous with curry.

After quitting the movie business, Doris Day spent most of her time campaigning for animal rights.

She set up the Doris Day Foundation which helped abused animals. Her home was said to have been full of dogs and cats, most of them abandoned strays.

Several years ago she sent a letter of thanks to Armagh charity fundraiser Willie Nugent after hearing that he was assisting dog shelters around the world.

She wrote: "You, Willie, in particular, have been such a loyal supporter and a good friend to the animals.

"I wanted to personally thank you for your generosity. When I say that we couldn't do it without you, I truly mean it."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph