Doris Day starred in the musical “Lullaby of Broadway” in 1951. (Getty Images Archive)

Decades before Ariana Grande could take over social media, or Woodstock’s 50th anniversary could cause a tumult of 2019 summertime concert madness, the music recording industry’s surge in the Big Band era had its own constellation of stars. One of them was Doris Day, who died today in California at age 97.

An Ohio native who went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, appearing in 40 films between 1948 and 1968 and recording more than 650 songs, it was during a pit stop in New York City where Day made one of her biggest career splashes.

In 1946, she had parted ways with bandleader Les Brown, with whom she had her first million-selling hit “Sentimental Journey,” signed a contract with Columbia Records, and went on to become the very popular opening-night act on Feb. 26, 1947 at a place called the Little Club.

Doris Day is seen here in this 1940 with bandleader Les Brown. (Photo by William Gottlieb/Redferns via Getty Images)

Located at 70 E. 55th St. — which is now the luxury office building call Heron Tower —  Little Club was owned by a former Broadway dancer Billy Reed who, after serving in the U.S. Navy, raised some cash for his new nightclub. The event was memorialized in a column in the Salamanca Republican-Press newspaper on March 22, 1947 — which also contains a reference to Little Club’s “wonderful Caesar salad.”

Day was already being acknowledged as a legitimate star, and her stint packing them in at Little Club was written about as if her imminent breakout success in Hollywood was a given. According to the writer, Jack O’Brian, Day is described as “beautiful,” with an “engaging cafe manner,” is completely unaffected and is packing them out the door at the 125-seat Little Club.

Doris Day’s New York minute string of club appearances did foreshadow her success and status as one of America’s greatest-loved stars. That enormous legacy can be read in The New York Times, which led its obituary for Day like this:

Ms. Day began her career as a big-band vocalist, and she was successful almost from the start: One of her first records, “Sentimental Journey,” released in 1945, sold more than a million copies, and she went on to have numerous other hits. The bandleader Les Brown, with whom she sang for several years, once said, “As a singer Doris belongs in the company of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.”

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The Hollywood Reporter weighed in, too:

The virginal actress and singer — the pop and jazz vocalist had her first No. 1 hit in 1945 — excelled as the star of breezy romantic comedies opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and James Garner.

The Hollywood Reporter‘s obit also makes a special note of what role Day’s stirring stint at the NYC Little Club did for her career:

Her stage appeal soon prompted other opportunities. In 1948, after an appearance at New York’s Little Club, she was asked to do a screen test for Warner Bros. Director Michael Curtiz was so impressed, he cast her as a last-minute replacement for Betty Hutton in the musical Romance on the High Seas (1948).

And while Doris Day will forever be one of America’s favorite signers and actresses, as well as a voracious animal rights’ activists, there is that interesting side note about Caesar salad.

The salad at Billy Reed’s Little Club was so notable as to help popularize this institution of American cuisine, which was first created in Tijuana, Mexico in 1926 but became a staple of Continental dining.

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