Doris and her older sister, Constance, got their start on the Broadway stage in 1940, Constance in Liliom, Doris as a chorus member of the Cole Porter musical Panama Hattie. She played another ensemble member in the 1941 Eddie Cantor vehicle Banjo Eyes, and then the short-lived 1942 George Abbott-directed musical Beat the Band.
Despite these credits, she was cast the next year in New Faces of 1943.
Ms. Dowling made a far bigger impact in Hollywood. Her second film was Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning drama about alcoholism, "The Lost Weekend." She played Gloria, a sympathetic barfly and prostitute, opposite Ray Milland. Many expected her to be nominated for an Oscar (she was not). "One day Billy Wilder and I were lunching at Lucey's with Charles Jackson, who wrote the novel `The Lost Weekend,''' she said, according to The Independent. "He said it was too bad I wasn't a more common type so that I could play Gloria. And Billy never even looked up. He just said,`She is.' That's all. Just, `She is.' I almost went crazy with excitement." She and the married Wilder would soon embark on a years-long affair that was an open secret in Hollywood.
Her next role, in 1946, was in the Raymond Chandler thriller "The Blue Dahlia," one of the many noirs that starred Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Ms. Dowling played Ladd's murdered wife.
"Riso Amaro," an Italian film from 1949 and perhaps her best role, was about small-time criminals who hide out among a community of rice workers. The Scotsman reported that director Giuseppe de Santis was impressed by the younger Dowling’s "dark hair, soulful eyes, alabaster complexion and deep voice" and said that if she brushed up on her Italian, she could become the star of his new film. It was the first of many Italian films she would make. Others were "Cuori sul mare" (with Marcello Mastroianni) and "Alina" (with Gina Lollobrigida). She also played Bianca in Orson Welles' famous and famously troubled production of "Othello." She did not find much luck after that and worked increasingly in television. Her final film was 1981's "Separate Ways."
In 1973, she made a return to the stage as part of the all-star cast of a revival of Clare Booth Luce's The Women.
She was married three times, most famously to jazz man Artie Shaw, with whom she had one child. Her first husband was producer Robert Blumofe. Her third and last was Leonard Kaufman, who she married in 1960 and who survives her.