Historical Circuit: Doris Day & Rock Hudson Find Something to Talk About In 1959’s ‘Pillow Talk’

Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Universal's "Pillow Talk"
Universal’s “Pillow Talk”

TITLE OF FILM: Pillow Talk
DIRECTOR: Michael Gordon
WRITER: Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin, Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
STARRING: Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter, Nick Adams, Marcel Dalio, Julia Meade


Jan Morrow (Doris Day) is a talented interior decorator living in New York City. She works for an elite design company with a wealthy clientele and is well respected amongst her colleagues and her clients. Jan has her own apartment in the city and even a housekeeper, Alma (Thelma Ritter), who although hung over most of the time, gives expert advice.

Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) is a successful songwriter who has a way with words and with women. Brad has a song – the same song – for every woman and no trouble wooing them into his bed. His best friend, Jonathan (Tony Randall), does not understand why he won’t settle down. But Brad is simply having too much fun to even consider being with just one woman.

Jan and Brad have nothing in common- except a telephone party line. When someone wants to reach Jan, but Brad is on the phone, they cannot get through. And when Jan wants to make a call, she can hear Brad’s, often personal, conversations. The two, over the phone, bicker about who should get the phone line when and for how long. The pair cannot stand one another.

One evening while Brad is on a date, he hears a familiar voice coming from one booth over. When he realizes the woman is Jan, he concocts a scheme on the spot to toy with his unsuspecting, uptight party line partner.


Rock Hudson and Doris Day

Pillow Talk” is a quintessential romantic-comedy. The script follows a very standard formula, and the ending is not a mystery. But “Pillow Talk” is so appealing that it is impossible not to enjoy. Each character is flawed, Brad is promiscuous, Jan is neurotic, Jonathan is entitled and Alma is a drunk, but the script manages to find the humor in those flaws. The characters remain likable throughout the film, and by the end of the play, the audience will not be satisfied unless everyone is happy.

“Pillow Talk” is not only narratively pleasant, but also visually pleasing. Cinematographer Arthur E. Arling (1939’s “Gone with the Wind”) shot the film on CinemaScope with Eastman Color. Each frame is filled with astutely designed sets, and the colors burst off of the screen. Jean Louis’ wardrobe designs add an extra punch to the film’s visual dimension. The costumes Doris Day fashions are absolutely striking, and her jewelry even more so. Laykin et Cie lent the production all of Day’s jewels. With a model like Day and lighting that captures each piece’s radiance, the diamonds, turquoise, rubies, and pearls are on full display for all to admire.

Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter are an accomplished supporting duo. Randall, famous for “The Odd Couple” (on Broadway and on television) plays a likable sucker in Jonathan. Six-time Academy Award nominee Ritter was never the leading lady, but she often stole the show. She showed off in 1950’s “All About Eve” and 1954’s “Rear Window” amongst some of the best in the industry. Here, both Ritter and Randall never seem second string. Their scenes are just as funny and just as anticipated.

At the film’s center are the very talented Doris Day (1953’s “Calamity Jane”) and Rock Hudson (1956’s “Giant”). They were two of the biggest stars of the time and are an absolute delight together on screen. Day and Hudson have a wonderful chemistry and are able to transition flawlessly from hate to love and back again. The first ten minutes of the film are a real showcase for Day in particular. As Brad monopolizes the phone line with various women, Jan’s irritation grows. Her exasperated eye rolls and impeccable timing for interrupting are hysterical, solidifying Day’s place among the comedic greats.


Doris Day and Rock Hudson

“Pillow Talk” is a sex comedy, although the word is never uttered, and the act is never shown. Released in 1959, at the height of this particular ‘genre,’ “Pillow Talk” toyed with innuendo and managed to comply with the censorship of the time.

The film famously uses the split screen. Both characters appear on screen together but are not actually occupying the same room. With the split screen, Hudson and Day appear next to each other in bed, or he is strategically placed ‘on top’ of her. There is also a very ‘scandalous’ scene where the two leads are taking baths. The shots are end to end, so the two play footsie without knowing they are.

Throughout the film, there are also some amusingly loaded lines of dialogue. Brad scolds Jan for her ‘bedroom problems,’ a knock at her prudishness. This remark leaves Jan both offended and intrigued. In their game of wordplay, Jan is able to hit back with, “…this may come as a surprise to you, but there are some men who don’t end every sentence with a proposition.” Late in the film, Brad finds Jan in her bed. When he asks her to get out of the bed to come with him, she refuses, though she really does want to go with him. Brad then asks, “Are you getting out of that bed, or am I coming in after you?” To which Jan shockingly replies, “You wouldn’t dare!” These examples of loaded dialogue make this comedy playfully sexy and downright shocking when the film was released.


Doris Day and Thelma Ritter

Directed by Michael Gordon, “Pillow Talk” was one of the most successful films of 1959. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote, “A nice, old-fashioned device of the theatre, the telephone party line, serves as a quaint convenience to bring together Rock Hudson and Doris Day in what must be cheerfully acknowledged as one of the most lively and up-to-date comedy-romances of the year.” A staff writer at Variety reviewed the film, saying it was “dripping with the trappings of glamor. The premise is dubious, but an attractive cast, headed by Rock Hudson and Doris Day, give the good lines the strength to overcome this deficiency. It plays.”

In 1959, “Pillow Talk” made The New York Times’ Top Ten Films list. The Writers Guild of America nominated Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin for their comedic script (story by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene). “Pillow Talk” received three Golden Globe nominations- Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress- Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy. The film won the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay), and received nominations for Best Music, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration- Color, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role, marking Doris Day’s sole Oscar nomination.


In 2003, Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor starred in the film “Down with Love.” The film is a parody of the American sex comedies from the late 50s and early 60s. In the movie, Barbara (Zellweger) writes a self-help book detailing the rules women should follow if they want to be equal to men. When her ideas gather traction, they start to interfere with Catcher’s (McGregor) love life. In a bit of a pickle, Catcher plans to get Barbara to fall in love with him by masquerading as a handsome astronaut in order to prove her a fraud when it comes to the ideas of love.

“Down with Love” is a clever concept, but the film was a box-office disappointment. Audiences were dissatisfied with the final result with the production trying to recreate a clever caricature based off of films like “Pillow Talk.” “Down with Love” misses the mark, and makes a joke out of the films it’s trying to parody instead. The magic that made classic films of this type so endearing is lost in translation.


Doris Day

This week, Doris Day passed away at the age of 97. Day had an extensive career in music, television and film. She had a luminous voice that carried long after leaving her lips, with her most recognizable songs, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” “Sentimental Journey” and “Que Serà, Serà,” providing lovers with a slow dance, soldiers with a homecoming theme and babies with a lullaby.

That voice made her a sought after star for movie musicals. Day graced the screen, singing and dancing in films like 1948’s “Romance on the High Seas,” and 1953’s “Calamity Jane.” She acted alongside James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and James Garner in 1963’s “Move Over Darling.” She also starred in her own television series, “The Doris Day Show,” which ran from 1968-1973. Since 1978, Day devoted her life to animal rights, founding the Doris Day Animal Foundation in hopes of “reducing the pain and suffering and protecting animal through legislative initiatives.”

It has been years since Day appeared on screen, but her legacy lives on. I love watching her movies as they truly mean something to me. My hope is that a whole new generation may discover her, and she will come to mean something to them too.

But the future’s not mine to see, que serà, serà.

Rest in love, Doris Day.

“Pillow Talk” is available streaming free on Hoopla and for rent/purchase on Fandango Now, YouTube, Amazon Prime, VUDU, Google Play, RedBox, Play Station and Apple.

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