The Who2 Blog

Doris and Dorothy Day: Sisters in Confusion

Actress Doris Day and activist Dorothy Day have little in common besides similar names — and the challenges they pose to anyone trying to document the details of their early lives.

The trouble spots are Doris’s name and age, and Dorothy’s daughter’s birthdate.

Doris first. A.E. Hotchner’s Doris Day: Her Own Story (William and Morrow, 1975), written with Doris’ cooperation, offers this testimony: “I was born Doris Kappelhoff” (p. 18). But Garry McGee’s Doris Day — Sentimental Journey (McFarland & Co., 2006) says she was named Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff: “The ‘von’ was eliminated…shortly after Doris’s birth” (p. 6).

Philip Kaufman’s giant 626-page biography, Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door (Virgin Books, 2008), gives her father’s name as William Kappelhoff (no “von”) and her name as simply Doris Kappelhoff. Kaufman also firmly states her birth year as 1922 — two years before the more commonly-accepted year of 1924.

(As longtime Who2 readers know, when someone in the entertainment business has two possible birth years, we tend to give more weight to the older year. Actors and actresses in particular have plenty of incentive to make themselves seem younger than they are, and little incentive to seem older.)

Now on to Dorothy. Biographers, sainthood advocates and most Internet sites seem settled on 3 March 1927, as the birthdate of her daughter, Tamar. Until, that is, you consult the curator of the extensive Dorothy Day archives at Marquette University.

“There are numerous documents supporting 1926 as the year of Tamar’s birth,” archivist Phillip Runkel tells Who2. “Also, we know that Dorothy asked her to wait until she turned 18 before she got married, and that marriage occurred in April 1944. Dorothy refers many times in her diaries and appointment books to the 4th of March as Tamar’s birthday.” Dorothy’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness (Harper & Row, 1952) isn’t much help. She’s vague on the year, the only clue being her mention of the 1927 execution of Sacco and Vanzetti happening after Tamar’s birth, but it’s hard to tell how long.

So for Dorothy Day we’ll buck the Tamar tide, trust the guy with the primary sources at his fingertips, and cast our lot with 4 March 1926 as Tamar’s birthdate.

As for Dorothy’s name: We’ll stick with her own testimony of Doris Kappelhoff for her name, but side with biographer Kaufman for her birth year of 1922.

(Thanks to Hollywood and Religion Desk editor Hans Holznagel for this post.)

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