Doris Day Always Searched for True Love: Inside the Late Star’s Marriages and Romances
Doris Day spent much of her life starring in Hollywood, but her journey also included her search for true love. The Lover Come Back star wed four times in her life, including her marriage to Marty Melcher. “The only thing she said to me about him was ‘Well, I sure can pick ’em,'” her The Doris Day Show costar Jackie Joseph exclusively tells Closer Weekly.
Though they never made it down the aisle, Doris’ also shared a love affair with Patrick O’Neal, whom she was delighted to see on the set of The Doris Day Show. She and the handsome actor, who had previously played her husband in the 1968 film Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, would enjoy a yearlong relationship that was among the happiest romances of her life. “This man I fell in love with was totally different from the men I had known before,” Doris has confided.
It was a breath of fresh air for Doris, who despite her beauty, sweetness and talent, had a knack for falling for men who treated her badly. Three of Doris’ four marriages ended in divorce, and her third husband ruined her financially before he died. “All I ever wanted in my life was to get and cook,” admitted the star, who died in 2019 at age 97. “But where did I end up? Hollywood!”
At 16, Doris began a relationship with Al Jorden, a 23-year-old trombonist whose brooding moods probably seemed romantic to a young girl. They wed in 1941, but Al was a serial cheater prone to fits of jealous rage. He hit Doris, terrorized and threatened to kill her even when she was pregnant with their son, Terry. She finally left him out of fear that he’d hurt the baby.
Her second marriage in 1946, to another big band musician, George Weidler, brought her to California. But eight months into their union, George, a womanizer, abandoned Doris and her son when her career began to overshadow his. “My life hasn’t always been like some of my happy musicals, but I’m like one of those dolls with the round bottom,” Doris once said. “When things in life try to knock you down, you just have to bounce back up.”
On the surface, her 17-year marriage to agent and producer Marty Melcher, whom she wed at 27, seemed happy and stable. Marty adopted her son, Terry, bought Doris a big house in Beverly Hills, and helped make her a superstar in movie hits like 1955’s Love Me or Leave Me and 1959’s Pillow Talk.
But in private, he was very controlling of his wife and fought, often violently, with Terry. Marty even shipped the boy off to boarding school without consulting Doris. When Marty died of a sudden heart attack in 1968, Doris learned that she was deeply in debt due to his mismanagement of their finances. Marty had also signed an ironclad contract for Doris to star in a television series without her knowledge or consent. It would take Doris years of work — and the guidance of her son, Terry, who stepped up to manage her career — to dig herself out of the financial hole Marty had dug for her.
Doris confessed that she was in a bad place when Patrick arrived on The Doris Day Show to play her love interest in 1972. Along with her work on the series, she was in a courtroom battle with Marty’s former partner over the mishandling of her finances. Worse yet, Terry had broken both legs in a life-threatening motorcycle crash.
“She was going back and forth to the hospital every day as soon as shooting was over,” Jackie recalls in Closer‘s latest issue, on newsstands now. “That’s when Patrick wove into the picture.” Doris fell for Patrick because “he wasn’t a father figure, as Marty had been,” the Calamity Jane star has recalled. “He was an adult, a forceful man, and if he had honest feelings for me, that is all I asked of him.”
Another costar, Kaye Ballard, remembered Patrick as “a very nice guy. I thought he would be perfect for her. He was even a vegetarian,” Kaye once shared, noting Doris’ deep love for animals. “He understood that.” It didn’t even really matter to Doris that he had a longtime wife back in New York. Patrick told Doris his marriage was unhappy and they only remained together for their children. “I didn’t care whether he was married or not,” Doris has divulged. “I know that I am often thought of as a Pollyanna, but I’m far from it. I’m just too realistic to qualify as a Pollyanna.”
After 12 months together, Peter returned to New York and his wife, but Doris would always remember him with love. “It was a perfectly marvelous year for me,” she once said. “It was a time in my life when I badly need to be uplifted, and uplift me it did.”
The Send Me No Flowers actress would marry one more time, to Barry Comden, a restaurateur 12 years her junior, in 1976. “I thought he looked a lot like Patrick,” confided Kaye. Though Barry would help her set up the Doris Day Animal Foundation, they were an ill-suited couple and split in 1981 after five years of marriage.
Although a lasting, supportive love never entered Doris’ life, she insisted that she had been blessed with a wonderful son, good friends and fans who remained devoted to her throughout her long life. “We can’t change the past,” she has said. “I always believe things work out exactly the way they are supposed to. There is no sense in having regrets.”