Que Sera Sera – whatever will be, will be’, sung by Doris Day was the song that won millions of hearts the world over in the 1950s, and remains a nostalgic favourite for all those who relish music and lyrics.


Introduced by Alfred Hitchcock in his masterpiece film ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, in 1956, ‘Que sera sera’ become a signature song of Doris Day, who died at the age of 97 on May 13, 2019 in California. More than the beauty and mellifluous voice of Doris Day, it was the melody and meaning in this song that has fascinated and inspired this writer for decades.

Being a father of three daughters, I have been keenly interested in the lives and struggles of women who fought against all odds to leave a mark of their success in this world. Here success means the ability to bounce back after suffering from deceit, disease, and disappointments. Doris Day was one such woman whose life was marred by injuries and injustices but each time she appeared to be on the verge of breakdown, she showed tremendous resilience by saying Que sera sera – whatever will be, will be – and moved on with her life to scale new heights.

Even in her eighties and nineties, she was a staunch fighter for and supporter of animal rights. Love for animals and people was her lifelong pursuit and she knew how to spread happiness and laughter to other beings. She kept multiple pets and did not let boredom or loneliness overcome her in the last decades of her life, when she had endured three unpleasant marriages, become a target of physical violence, and buried one a husband and her only son. Her topsy-turvy life is a story of strength for all those who become depressed just after one or two broken relationships.

Raised by a single and struggling mother, Doris Day loved to dance as a teenager. She was so good at it that she won $500 at a local talent contest. She had prospects in Hollywood and was planning to shift there, but the night before she was to move she was injured riding a car hit by a train. That tragic accident broke her leg at multiple points, ending the possibility of a dancing career. Anybody else would have been devastated by this turn of events, but not Doris Day who said que sera sera, and put this terrible setback behind.

Her new vocation was singing, which required long sessions of practice. She took demanding and tiring lessons in singing to hone her unpolished skills. She sang at bars and beaches, at parties and schools, and managed to join a touring band. Falling in love with a fellow musician, she married at the age of 21, only to discover that her husband was prone to violence. With an infant son, she had to get divorced within two years of her marriage. At 24 and in search of love, she married again but this union was also unpleasant and unsupportive, and lasted less than a year.

An ordinary woman with two divorces before the age of 25 – and a son to look after and support – would have gone into depression. Not Doris Day. She picked up the pieces of her shattered life – and said que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. With renewed vigour, she sang so well that it attracted the attention of Hollywood executives who signed her to a contract. From 1948 to 1951, she worked tremendously hard and appeared in almost a dozen movies. Her beauty and bubbly personality, coupled with her terrific singing voice and fine performances, made her a star by the age of 30.

Now a third man came into her life. Martin Melcher was a film and record producer who pretended to love her and promised to adopt her beloved son Terry. They married in 1951 just before her 30th birthday when she was at her prime. In 1953, ‘Calamity Jane’ became a sensation with Doris Day playing a feisty role, which is still a delight to watch. When I showed this movie to my daughters around 15 years back they loved it and marvelled at how Calamity Jane stood her ground in front of tough men in a Western movie. In ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ (1955) she appeared against James Cagney, the aging superstar who had ruled over Hollywood in 1930s and 1940s.

Her major breakthrough came in 1956, when Alfred Hitchcock – always looking for good blondes – offered her the role of female lead against James Stewart in the thriller ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’. She sang two songs in the film, ‘Que Sera Sera’, which won an academy award for best original song; and ‘We’ll Love Again’. This film and its songs are so mesmerizing that most people remember it and watch it over and over again just for the sheer beauty of Doris Day’s singing in a carefree manner with her son in the film.

The film was Day’s 10th movie to be in the Top 10 at the box office. Just when she thought her personal and professional lives were smooth and running, her dear brother Paul died, and taking advantage of her personal distress her third husband took control of her financial matters with a power of attorney to make deals on her behalf. In 1959, Martin Melcher produced one of the most financially successful films ‘Pillow Talk’ pairing Day with Rock Hudson. The pair repeated their romantic comedies in other films also such as ‘Lover Come Back’ (1961) and ‘Send Me No Flowers’ (1964) about a hypochondriac husband.

‘Move Over, Darling’ (1963) was another of her most entertaining comedies about a wife who gets stranded on an island for five years; and the day she is rescued and comes back, her husband is getting married. This leads to some hilarious turn of events that you will love to watch. During all her successes and financial gains, little did she know that her husband was squandering her money. Melcher produced 18 of Doris Days movies between 1956 and his death in 1968. He was signing her onto films without asking her, and she trusted him too much.

It was only after his death in 1968 that she realized her fortunes were all gone and she was in fact under big debt. Using his power of attorney, he had also signed her for five years on a TV comedy ‘The Doris Day Show” that she was legally obliged to do after his death. Later Doris Day also found out that during their marriage, Melcher had also stayed with somebody else off and on. Withstanding the pressure of all this, and once again lonely and in debt, she mustered courage to make her show a raving success for five years, even though the money her husband had pocketed as advance did not come to her.

Not let down by this, she went into a legal battle against her husband’s partner, finally winning the case and getting $22 million. During the last 40 years of her life she remained an advocate for animal rights, and seldom appeared on TV. In 2004, she suffered another blow when her only son, Terry died at the age of 62. If you watch her last interview on YouTube, you will be surprised to see how she still managed to be sprightly and never showed a sign of distress even into her nineties.

Doris Day was an iconic woman who is a symbol of courage for all young and older women who have to struggle twice as hard in a patriarchal society. If you want some diversion from this gloomy state of affairs in this country and in the world, watch at least four of her movies: ‘Calamity Jane’, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, ‘Pillow Talk’, and ‘Move Over, Darling’. You may also verify the contents of this article by reading her biography or simply watching it on YouTube. And whenever you are sad or dejected just listen to or watch that evergreen song, Que Sera Sera – whatever will be,will be.

The writer holds a PhD from the