Doris Day stepped out of the pages of Hollywood history and briefly back into the spotlight last night, thrilling fans and supporters of her animal foundation charity with a complete surprise appearance at a 90th birthday party held in her honor.
In a moment that many in attendance described as breathtaking, Ms. Doris Day entered the party unannounced and without fanfare, just as guests were beginning to settle in for an evening of tribute and entertainment. Flanked by her closest friends and a small security detail, and dressed in white, she entered a throng of longtime fans without hesitation and sporting her trademark smile.
Whispers of, “Is it her?,” followed by gasps, shouts of “We love you, Doris!” and sustained applause filled the room as Ms. Day thanked onlookers and blew kisses of gratitude to the nearly 175 supporters who had gathered from across the globe to mark the occasion.
The room was ignited by the surprise appearance, with fans jumping to their feet and quickly surrounding Ms. Day, who had not made a public appearance in nearly 20 years. “I can die happy now,” one fan exclaimed, having traveled from Philadelphia to spend the weekend with fellow fans, with no promise of meeting the film legend. “I never thought I could meet her. She has meant so much to me, through my whole life. This [traveling to the event] was the best decision I ever made!”
The sentiment was repeated throughout the evening as fans wept openly, spontaneously erupted into a chorus of “Happy Birthday to You,” and later were lead in a group sing-along to Day’s iconic hit, “Que Sera Sera.” Ms. Day was seated with a perfect view of the night’s activities, and she spoke to the crowd briefly, thanking them for their support, their loyalty and their generosity to her and to her Doris Day Animal Foundation.
Peter Marshall, of “Hollywood Squares” fame, and a big Doris Day fan and singer in his own right, emceed the event. After the crowd had been reseated, he kicked off the night’s entertainment announcing a video retrospective of Ms. Day’s nearly 75-year career. Film highlights, dance numbers, comedic moments and Doris Day’s legendary songs lit the screen in the dining room for nearly an hour, with fans bursting out in applause for their favorite scenes from movies including “Jumbo,” “Romance On the High Seas,” and “Pillow Talk.” Romantic scenes of Doris kissing some of her leading men, including Rock Hudson and James Garner, drew wild applause, as did scenes from “Love Me or Leave Me,” which Day herself described as the best film she ever made.
As the retrospective ended, Marshall quipped, “We have to follow that?” But with good humor he took the stage with singer Sue Raney to perform a tribute program of Doris Day tunes. The fans were captivated through the evening, many frequently dabbing tears and thanking event coordinators for bringing Ms. Day to meet her supporters. In fact, the volunteers themselves had no idea Ms. Day would appear until hours before the doors opened. The room buzzed with Doris Day memories, as fans as young as 11 as well as those who were introduced to Day’s films as teens exchanged stories of their favorite leading lady.
The night concluded with a live auction to benefit the Doris Day Animal Foundation. According to event coordinators, the project dubbed “90 Days to 90” had a stated goal of raising $90,000 in the 90 days leading to Ms. Day’s 90th birthday. All proceeds were to benefit the Foundation’s grantees, ranging from non-profit animal rescue organizations to spay-and-neuter clinics. The Foundation reported it had far exceeded its goal, thanks to the generosity of Day’s fan base.
As the evening concluded, fans were in for another surprise. Despite the late hour, Ms. Day eagerly offered to personally meet everyone in attendance, and she spoke briefly with each one in turn. “I told her how much she’s meant to me,” one gentleman said, having met his idol. “Even through my down times, she was always there to pick me up, and tonight she touched my hand when I was telling her. It was the moment I will remember forever.” Said another, “If I look and feel that great at 90, I’ll be lucky… in fact Doris looks like we might all be back for her 100th!”
Day was escorted to her waiting car after meeting everyone in attendance. “I just loved it,” she said, smiling and moved by the evening’s outpouring of support and love. “I am so very grateful to them all.”
A spokesman for the Doris Day Animal Foundation said video and photos from the event will be released soon on www.DorisDay.com and www.DDAF.org, so that fans everywhere will be able to share in the special night. An online birthday card to Doris will remain on the websites for an additional week, so that fans just learning of the event can send their best wishes to Ms. Day, and honor her true birthday wish with donations for the animals.