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Days with Doris

May 30, 2012
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Blue Hill resident remembers 20 years with America's original sweetheart

BLUE HILL - One day in early 1988, music producer Terry Melcher (The Byrds, The Beach Boys) walked through the door of his mother Doris Day's home in Carmel, California accompanied by John Phillips, formerly of The Mamas & the Papas. Phillips had a song running through his mind and was desperate to put the tune on tape before he forgot it.

Melcher called for his mother's assistant, an Englishman named Sydney Wood. 'Woody, do you have a cassette recorder in your room?' he asked. 'Yes, come on up,' Wood replied. Melcher and Phillips headed up the stairs with an acoustic guitar and sat on Wood's bed while they worked out the song's basic structure. There were no lyrics yet, but the melody and chords were there.

Melcher later played the tape for The Beach Boys, who wanted to record the song immediately. 'Kokomo' was released in July and hit #1 in November giving The Beach Boys the distinction of being the act with the longest span between #1 records (22 years). For Sydney Wood, seeing a Grammy-nominated song come to life in his bedroom was just another day at Doris's place. 

Growing up in the eastern English village of Kersey in Suffolk in the 1950's, Wood was captivated by Doris Day's music and films. 'We moved to London when I was 11 and Mom would take me to the movies every week,' he remembered. 'There was something about Doris that just took hold of me.'

Later, Wood established England's chapter of the Doris Day Fan Club and was invited to a meeting at her hotel when she visited London in 1976 with Jacqueline Susann. 'We really hit it off she was lovely,' he recalls. At Day's invitation, Wood spent two weeks at her LA home later that year. 'As I was leaving to go back to England, she said, Why don't you stay here and work for me?' In that time, I had dismantled and cleaned the gas lamps around the pool and bathed, fed and cared for her many dogs.'

Initially declining Day's offer because he didn't want to leave his father alone following the death of his mother, Wood eventually accepted when his dad passed away in 1979. 'Doris sent me a letter that read Pack your bags and come over,'' he remembered.

Wood began two decades of employment with Day in the capacity of animal caretaker, gardener, housekeeper and virtually any other task she could think of. 'I was with her for 16 years, left for a bit and then returned for four more. I did literally everything from bleaching Doris's hair to altering her jeans,' he said with a laugh. And of course, there were Doris's dogs and the many hundreds that she rescued.

A longtime champion of animal welfare, Day formed 'The Doris Day Animal Foundation' in the 1970's. The organization later evolved into the Humane Society of the United States.

'It was basically a 24-hour operation,' Wood said. 'The stray dogs would be rescued and checked out by a vet and then boarded at her place in the valley.'

If one of the dogs became ill, Wood and his working partner Meg made arrangements for veterinary care and would only notify Doris if the news was bad. 'She would become undone,' he told me. 'I've seen her Christian Science books go flying across the bedroom when one of the dogs died. She took it very hard.'

Wood considers his friendship with Melcher to be one of the highlights of his years with Doris Day. 'Terry was an all-American kid I can still see that smile and the blonde hair,' Wood recalled. In 1985, Melcher was the producer of his mother's television show 'Doris Day's Best Friends' and convinced her to record new music for the program.

'Terry would often toss rocks up at my window to wake me early in the morning,' said Wood. 'One Saturday, he hollered up, Hey Woody! Could you come down to the studio today at 11? I'd like you to whistle on one of the tracks.' I went down to the studio in Monterey and he played me the backing track for 'Daydream' (originally by The Lovin' Spoonful). I was nervous as could be shaking like a leaf. I had a go and he said, That's perfect! You did it one take.''

Wood's contribution to his one-time idol and former employer's music was officially released last fall on the album 'My Heart,' which debuted at #10 in the U.K. - making Doris Day, at the age of 87, the oldest artist to land a record of previously unissued material in the British top 10. Wood was happily surprised when his nearly forgotten recording was finally released. 'I haven't received any royalties yet because that's all going to her animal foundation,' he said, smiling.

When he felt the time was right to move on, Wood settled in Virginia before moving to Blue Hill with his partner Scott. Together, the two operate 'Ameri-Brit,' a professional cleaning and gardening service. 'We just started the business here,' Wood said. 'In Virginia, we really enjoyed cleaning homes, camps any place that needed to be cleaned. People always come by and comment on how beautiful our garden is, so we decided to also offer garden services including planting and mulching.' Ameri-Brit can be reached at 374-2212 or 610-3057.

If you're lucky, Sydney Wood might even share some of his amazing stories from two decades with Doris Day.

So what is Doris Day really like? If anyone knows, it's Sydney Wood. 'If you ask her, she'll say she thinks she has the personality of her character in Calamity Jane,' which she does - but she's also very much like the character she played in It Happened to Jane' with Jack Lemmon. She never leaves anything unturned,' he told me. 'Doris is really a lovely person with a great sense of humor. She loves to laugh. Once you get her laughing, she never stops. I got on very well with her, although she could have an icy side on occasion. I remember times when I would be on the receiving end of the dialogue she threw at Rock Hudson in the movies it would come back to me.'

Tea for Two a Q&A with Sydney Wood

Dow: You say you were captivated by Doris Day as a kid growing up in England. It must have been a little surreal to be invited to her hotel when she came to London.

Wood: Yes, it was. I had a job at photographic company in the 60s and I would go down to the record store and buy her music. The shop would secure her albums for me several months before they were released. She got to know us through this fan club, which we ran for about 11 years. When we met her, she was just lovely we hit it off.

Dow: I get the impression that she didn't give you a distinct job description after you moved to LA and began working for her.

Wood: When I first arrived, she told me, 'You'll have to follow me around, I'm like a butterfly I flit from one thing to another.' And that is true. The dogs were a big part of what we did. I worked closely with a woman named Meg we were a great team. As Doris's collection of dogs grew, I would walk all of them. In the early 90s she had close to 45 dogs. They even had their own dog kitchen.

We would be in that dog kitchen and Doris would be in her house coat with her hair up, deboning chicken for the dogs. I would look at her face and think, 'God, when I was a kid, the face and that voice cost me all of my pocket money buying her 78s, 45s and albums, and here I am standing next to her, and you know - she's really no different than anyone else.'

If I was in the dog kitchen with Doris, I'd sometimes start singing one of her songs and she would end up finishing it. I would tell her when she recorded it and it would start coming back to life and she would remember the song.

Dow: When you think of Terry Melcher, what comes to mind?

Wood: Terry treated me as a brother. He used to call me 'Woody' after Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones. When I first moved over, he was playing tennis every day with Desi Arnaz, Jr. Meg and I would joke with Terry pull him apart and he loved it and would throw it back at you (laughing). He had a great sense of humor like his mother. When Doris's marriage to Barry Condon was falling apart, Terry decided to stay and try to sort out her problems. When we moved to Carmel, he came up and stayed in the cottage that she had built on the property. I flew up the day before with Terry, and the next day five vehicles and 18 dogs arrived (laughing).

Terry wrote a lot of songs he was always recording and, as you know, he worked closely with The Beach Boys. Terry took me up to The Beach Boys resort in Santa Barbara around 1984 and they all had wigwams on the property overlooking a nudist beach down below. The Beach Boys would be up there with binoculars looking at everybody (laughing).

One day, I was cleaning the pool at Terry's house in Carmel, and suddenly this naked body appeared 'Good Morning!' he said. It was Mike Love. He just jumped in and swam around (laughing).

Near the end, Terry called me once on my day off - just to talk. I hadn't seen him for a while. I remember saying to him, 'Your Mom's OK; she'll outlive all of us.' I knew he had been ill so I asked how he was doing. He said, 'I'm OK.' We talked for about 25 minutes and he said, 'Woody I have to go. I love you.' I think he was saying goodbye. That was the last time I spoke to him. (Terry Melcher died in November, 2004 after a lengthy fight with melanoma. He was 62 years old.)

Dow: Would Doris have visits from some of her famous friends?

Wood: Betty White came to visit four or five times once when she was working on a book. She lives up on a cliff on the beach in Carmel.

One day, I was passing through the garage when the phone rang. I picked it up and the voice said, 'Hello, is Doris there?' I said, 'She's walking dogs around the property could I take a message?' He said, 'Yes, please tell her Paul called. Paul McCartney.' He could hear my accent and asked if I was from England. We ended talking about England for about 20 minutes and then Doris came in. I told her 'Paul McCartney is on the phone,' and she said, 'Oh come on. Somebody is pulling your leg.' She got on the phone with him and came out after about an hour. 'That was Paul!' she said. He was in LA at the time and apparently he and his then-wife Heather had been up the night before watching TV and saw Doris in 'Calamity Jane.'

The next week, I went down to the Albertson's store to escort Paul's limo back to the house. Paul was buying Girl Scout cookies and also a little potted plant for Doris. Before he arrived, Doris said, 'He's only going to be here for an hour,' but they stayed for five hours, which is unusual because Doris usually gets bored quickly with company.

Rock Hudson came up to do a week of 'Good Morning America' segments with Doris. At that point, they were going to do 'Pillow Talk 2' (a sequel to the 1959 romantic comedy). When he arrived, he looked like the star very handsome, graying at the temples and that face which could be carved in stone.

Obviously, 'Pillow Talk 2' did not happen. The story was going to be about how the two, after being divorced, were coming together for the marriage of their child and how Rock's character (Brad) had fallen in love with Doris (Jan) and how Tony Randall's character (Jonathan) had placed a bet that Rock couldn't get her back. The characters each bet a car.

She had the greatest fun with Rock Hudson he would joke all the time. He used to call her 'Eunice' (laughing). She had signed for a year to do 'Doris Day's Best Friends,' which was filmed in Carmel. It was a show designed for Doris about her taking care of dogs and animals and she asked Rock to be a guest this was a short time after the Good Morning America segments. She had no idea that he was very ill nobody knew.

They had a press conference at Pebble Beach and when he came through the door, she didn't recognize him. Rock did his segment for Doris's show, but she didn't let him do very much. It aired after he had died, so she did an announcement at the beginning of the program and broke down when she was talking about him.

Dow: As a kid, I remember seeing the old movies and having kind of a crush on her. She's still beautiful, isn't she?

Wood: Yes she's incredibly beautiful. I remember she would go over to the bathroom on her side of the property and come back two hours later looking like a million dollars. Her face would be made up not overly so. The hair would be blonde and flowing she'd have a straw hat on and she looked absolutely fantastic. She never lost that smile.

Mike Dow is part of The Mike and Mike Show airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Check him out at and

Last modified on Thursday, 31 May 2012 00:11

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