First published on 15 Aug 2011. Updated on 25 Aug 2011.
“Her first husband was physically abusive; he used to bash her up even while she was pregnant. She left him, had the baby. Second husband walked out on her because he didn't want to be known as Mr Doris Day. Third husband lost all her money, so a week after he died, she found out that he'd lost all of her money and she owed $500,000 to the tax department. Fourth husband wanted to put her face on cans of dog food—another opportunist—and you know, she says it herself: 'I sure know how to pick 'em.' But she's just such a survivor and I think that's what shines through.” It quickly becomes apparent during my conversation with Melinda Schneider that there are two Doris Days. The version I knew was famously happy-go-lucky, her string of successes in both film and music making her one of Hollywood's biggest stars. This 'public' version was the one Melinda first became a fan of—like a lot of kids she loved Calamity Jane—but as her own life and musical career began to develop she became more interested in the parts of Day's life that weren't reflected in her art. This ultimately led to a concept album of covers—Melinda Does Doris—and now a live show called Doris—So Much More Than the Girl Next Door.
“I wanted to do something different because I've spent my whole career doing concerts and doing my own material, and I just wanted to show people that I had other talents,” explains Melinda. “So I got together with David Mitchell who's written Dusty and Shout... got along really well with him, and we wrote the show in a couple of weeks.” She's careful to stress that she plays herself throughout the show—it's intended as an homage rather than an impersonation—but what she found remarkable was the kinship she felt with her subject. Both were born to German Catholic families, both were huge animal lovers, and both have had tumultuous times with men. “I wanted to put a lot of myself in the show as well because of these parallels,” says Melinda. “And I just think that people go away not only knowing more about me if they've never seen me before, but also knowing a hell of a lot more about Doris that they didn't know before.” I ask if it's a little scary to expose such personal material in such a public way? “It is confronting,” she says. “It's emotional, I suppose. With my original material I've always written from a very honest place, so I'm used to that feeling of reliving difficult times when I'm singing those songs. But yeah, there's a part of the show where there's a few one-liners that different men have said to me over the years that are real corkers, and it is pretty awful to hear them said to me by the boys in the show. But I'm still standing, I've moved on.”
Finally, I ask Melinda what it is about a figure like Doris Day that's lasted and really speaks to today? “I think the most important thing about her is her spirit, the joyousness that she exudes,” she says. “The music is uplifting and happy music, it makes you feel good and I think there's not a lot of music today that really makes you feel positive. There's a lot of angst out there, and I think that's the thing that sets her apart from other artists.”
Doris Day: So Much More Than The Girl Next Door, Her Majesty's Theatre, 23 Aug-4 Sep