In the printed issue of the June 27, 2019, The American Israelite we did not continue this story on page 22 as noted. The complete story is below. The story will run in its entirety in the printed issue of July 4, 2019.
On May 13, one of the most exceptional movie, recording, television talents and passionate animal protectors passed away at the age of 97 – Doris Day.
Born in Cincinnati, Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff was raised in a family whose heritage goes back to several small towns in Germany. You are likely aware of her story’s beginning, from her hopeful career as a dancer, to the fateful car accident that altered her dreams and turned her to singing; and, then, leading her to become a band singer and, finally, on to the silver screen.
What you might not know is the story of how my wife, Susie Rapp, had a very large, though unwitting, role in giving her a start to her career. The story begins in New Haven, Connecticut.
Barney Rapp was the son of Harry Rapoport, the owner of an exclusive custom tailor shop in New Haven, Connecticut, that catered to the elite students attending Yale University. Barney’s younger brother Barry, whose professional name was Barry Wood, was a singer with the Buddy Rogers band and also was Frank Sinatra’s immediate predecessor as the lead male vocalist on the radio program “Your Hit Parade.” His later career was with NBC Television where he produced the “Bell Telephone Hour,” among other shows, and helped launch color television for NBC. He was married to Jane, whose twin sister was married to Oscar Levant.
Barney played the drums in his early career as a musician, and later formed his own band, Barney Rapp and his New Englanders. He had a nightclub on Savin Rock Amusement Park in West Haven which was known as the Coney Island of Connecticut. Unfortunately, a devastating hurricane tore through the area and completely destroyed his club and the amusement park. So, Barney took his band on the road. It was then that his brother Barry introduced him to a girl vocalist by the name of Ruby Wright.
Ruby not only joined Barney’s band, she also ended up marrying him. After touring and playing several dates in Cincinnati, they decided this was where they would settle down and he would open another club. That was the start of the very popular night club on Reading Road in Bond Hill called The Sign of the Drum, a venue known for dancing, dining and great fun!
Now this is where my wife Susie comes into the story. With the nightclub a success, it was time for Barney and Ruby to expand their family to three. Once Ruby moved along in her pregnancy, she found that it was becoming more and more difficult to perform at the club. It was time for to Barney begin his search for a female vocalist to take Ruby’s place. Grace Raine, a local talent scout and voice coach, contacted Barney about a young student of hers who had been on WLW radio and a performed at a local restaurant as a singer. She encouraged him to audition this talented girl as a replacement for Ruby. I’m sure you can guess what happened next – Barney hired Doris Kappelhoff! Doris was brought to the club each evening by her mother and had to change in the ladies room, as she was not yet even 17 years of age. Her age didn’t matter, she was a hit.
One day, Barney approached Doris about putting her name outside on The Sign of the Drum marquee. He wanted to start advertising her performances, but Kappelhoff was too long for the marque – it just wouldn’t fit. He suggested that she change her professional name to Doris Day after a song from her repertoire, “Day After Day,” which was very popular with the patrons. Doris didn’t really like that name at all. To her, it sounded like a burlesque headliner; but regardless, the name stuck and the rest is history.
In interviews Doris always mentioned that Barney Rapp gave her the name and the opportunity to sing with bands prior to her joining Bob Crosby and later Les Brown.
Barney Rapp was a great promoter and in 1956 he founded the Cincinnati Red Rooters Club which was inspired by his close friend Waite Hoyt. This club still exists today and has been promoting Cincinnati Reds baseball trips from coast to coast, and beyond, for the last 63 years. In fact, that is how I came to be in the travel profession.
In 2017, through the outstanding and untiring efforts of Dr. Robert Maltz, a street was dedicated in Cincinnati as Doris Day Way. Located at the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets, next to the Aronoff Theatre, you can find the sign on the corner street post. A wonderful day was held in City Hall Council Chambers with a proclamation of the new dedication. And, in attendance was a representative for Doris, an executive of her animal foundation. I gave her one of my books “Checking Inn,” which features a picture of Doris and Barney; and, I asked her to give the signed copy to Doris.
On Nov. 24, 2017, I received a letter on Doris’s stationery. Here is what she wrote.
Thank you for sending along a copy of your book, Checking Inn – your recollections about Barney and Ruby Rapp brought back some wonderful memories. I had such a good time working with Barney, and it sounds like everything worked out exactly as it was meant to be. I got a wonderful start to a professional singing career (and a new name), and Ruby got a beautiful baby girl – your future wife, Suzy!
I wish I could have been in Cincinnati for all the street-naming festivities, but I heard all about them and am so touched by the honor.
Thank you again for being so thoughtful, Herb.
And, now for your appropriate and related travel tip: If you ever travel to Carmel, California, be sure to stay at the Cypress Inn which Doris co-owned. Besides her work with the Doris Day Animal Foundation, her devotion to animals also prompted Cypress Inn to become one of the first hotels to allow guests to bring along their furry family members to stay.
Here is to the memory of Doris Day, Barney Rapp, Ruby Wright Rapp and Susie Rapp Reisenfeld.
If you have any travel questions for Herb Reisenfeld, The American Israelite’s travel columnist, please send them to email@example.com