Why Doris Day Retired from Acting in Her Early Fifties: Hollywood 'Wasn't the Town I Knew'
Doris Day was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars — but she left that all behind in the early ’70s.
The actress and singer “died peacefully” in the early hours of Monday morning, her business manager and close friend Bob Bashara told PEOPLE.
“[When she died] there were some very close friends and loved ones who were with her,” Bashara said. “She was surrounded by a few loved ones.”
It was likely the way Day would have wanted to go, after decades of spreading her joy and love for life in hit Hollywood classics such as Calamity Jane (1953) and Pillow Talk (1959), for which she earned her first and only Oscar nomination.
Day was also known for her popular TV program, The Doris Day Show, which premiered in 1968 and ran until 1973. By the end of that year, she largely retired from acting but completed two TV specials: The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff Special (1971) and Doris Day Today (1975).
But what spurred the legendary actress to largely retread from the spotlight in her early fifties? Day opened up about her career and what she perceived as a shifting entertainment industry in a 2011 interview with PEOPLE.
“I really loved being there, but then I started to notice that it was changing,” Day said of Hollywood. “It really started to change, and, oh, people were moving away because strangers from foreign countries were all over on the street and tearing the beautiful houses down and putting up boxes.”
She continued, “I really wasn’t happy about that at all. Wasn’t the town I knew.”
Day was honest about the likelihood of a return to Hollywood, saying she hadn’t “thought much about it.” Still, that was an opportunity she never fully closed the door on.
“But I wonder if I would, you never know. You never about me, and I never know about me!” she said, although Day admitted she didn’t care much for the Hollywood spotlight.
“If I had stayed in LA, I might play a grandmother in a movie, who knows,” she added.
As Day’s longtime friend and costar in With Six You Get Egg Roll (1968), actress Jackie Joseph, tells PEOPLE, “She had worked since she was a teenager. She had just done enough.”
Day instead focused on her love of animals as she stepped away from the limelight. She became a staunch animal welfare activist, establishing the Doris Day Animal Foundation in 1978.
“Well I’ve always loved animals but then when I was traveling with bands I certainly couldn’t have a pet, because I would have to leave it in a hotel room and I wouldn’t trust it there,” Day said. “One of the housemaids coming in, the door would open, my dog could get out the door. There was no way! I tried to figure it out but there was no way I could have a doggie.”
She continued, “The minute I gave up band singing and went into a film in Los Angeles, I had a dog within two days! A big beautiful black poodle. And then I had another poodle, a girl, to go with him. And from then on I had a lot more, but don’t tell anyone. My secret!”
As for what life taught her at the time, Day said, “To live it to the fullest, you bet.”
“Live it, and have fun, enjoy each day. You know, it’s not coming back again and enjoy each day,” she said. “I’m looking out and the sun is shining and it’s so pretty in the garden, what’s not to love?”