Doris Day: Que Sera Sera

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

Hollywood screen icon Doris Day passed away at the age of 97 a couple of months ago. So she was 13 years older than me. I had rubbed shoulders with her — well, not quite rubbed shoulders but waited at her table — in 1956 at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel in California.

She was one among the glitterati invited by Loretta Young and I was paying my way through college at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), so was the lowly bus boy — the one who takes away the dishes after every course. Doris was seated under the gleaming chandeliers in the opulent surroundings in the company of James Garner, James Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Jerry Lewis, Lee Marvin, Dean Martin and such others stars.

Now, sunny southern California is known for informal clothing, sun-tanned bodies and convertible cars, but the hostess Loretta Young — a lah di dah person — had specified formal attire. So the ladies were in flowing gowns and the men wore diamond cuff links, black bow ties and tails. All of which made the atmosphere stiff. Plastic smiles were exchanged, polite conversation ensued, such as “How is the family? And “Rather hot this time of year”.

Course after course, I removed the bone china plates and long stemmed glasses and shining silverware. While doing so, I could hear snatches of conversation:”How is the new Jaguar, Kap?” Doris Day was asked. Her real name was Mary Anne von Kappelhoff while Doris Day was the screen name.

Toward the boring meal’s end, came finger bowls of silver. Jerry Lewis, ever the comedian, could not stand the stiff atmosphere. With both hands, he picked up the bowl in which he had wet his fingers, and dribbled, pursed his lips to drink from the finger bowl, made rude slurping noises and loudly declared: “This soup is awful.”

With that prank, the ice was broken. There were roars of laughter. “Haw haw, the soup is awful.” Ties were loosened, backs were slapped, ribs were tickled. “Kap” was relating her difficult girlhood in Cincinnati, Ohio where she was brought up by a stage mother, had wanted to be a dancer, and had a car accident. She had switched to singing and acting. Rock Hudson and she recalled honky-tonk type of song, The Deep Blue Sea, The Deep Blue Sea”, strumming a ukulele and giggled.

This Beverly Hills Hotel party was soon after her iconic vocal Que Sera Sera had hit the charts and she was congratulated. In the aftermath of that rude noised bowl slurping, when everyone was having a good time, she raised her arms and looked wide eyed and said “My Jaguar XK 140 coupe goes varoom varoom.”

Now, she has passed away. She had asked to have no funeral, no grave marker, and no memorial service. But thousands of her fans the world over still have her in their memory.

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