Sunday, 15 March 2015

Golden Couples: Rock Hudson & Doris Day

In the late 1950s, the film industry decided that it was essential for Doris Day to change her screen image if she was to survive as a top star. By 1959, she had not only dropped from the top box-office personalities, but her last five films had not been as profitable as previous ones. She had been the girl-next-door for too many years and now, at 35, she needed to catch up with her moviegoing public, who had grown more sophisticated with the passing of decades. When producer Ross Hunter sent Doris a script for a new project called Pillow Talk (1959), she was instantly attracted to its humor and cleverness. However, being genuinely unaware of her potential as a sex symbol, she had difficulty visualizing herself as a chic interior decorator. Fortunately, Hunter's argument that she had "one of the wildest asses in Hollywood" convinced Doris that she was not just an old-fashioned girl and she gladly took the job. There was just one key ingredient missing: a leading man. Who could it possibly be? Why, Rock Hudson, of course!

In a publicity still for Pillow Talk
When Hudson read the screenplay for Pillow Talk, he too was impressed by its witty dialogue, but was apprehensive about it being a comedy. Apart from a brief appearance as himself in an episode of I Love Lucy (1951-1957), in which Vivian Vance appropriately called him "Mr. Candy," he had no previous experience with comedic acting. He was unsure of whether he could succeed at it, but a meeting in Hunter's office with Doris and director Michael Gordon persuaded him to move forward with the project

Although Rock had been a Doris Day fan since serving as an aircraft mechanic with the U.S. Navy during World War II, the two had never met before they started filming Pillow Talk. He was nervous to be working with Day, whom he considered one Hollywood's most accomplished commediennes, but she quickly put him at easy. "You don't have to worry about it," she told him. "The script is funny. When you have funny lines, you're funny." Rock and Doris soon realized that there was great chemistry between them and that they could make each other laugh off camera. He gave her the name "Eunice Blotter" and she called him "Roy Harold." It was in this atmosphere of clowning and giggling that one of the sexiest pairings in film history was born.

Doris and I became terrific friends. She's a dynamo — a strong lady. And boy, what a comedienne she is! The trouble we had was trying not to laugh. Doris and I couldn't look at each other. You know, that sweet agony of laughing when you're not supposed to? That's what we had.
(Rock Hudson)

On the set of Pillow Talk
In Pillow Talk, Doris played Jan Morrow, a successful and self-sufficent interior decorator who, much to her annoyance, shares a party line on her home phone with a philandering Broadway composer named Brad Allen (Hudson). Soon, they find themselves locked in an escalating feud, even though they have never actually met each other. When Brad finally comes face to face with Jan, he is surprised to discover how attractive she is and passes himself off as the chivalrous Rex Stetson from Texas (with a proper Southern accent and everything). The clueless Jan is immediately taken in by his charming demeanor, but things get a little complicated when she finds out his true identity.

Despite their initial reservations about the film, Pillow Talk was an massive commercial and critical success upon its release in October 1959. It effectively revived Doris's career and Rock's as well, which had also hit a slump in the previous couple of years with a series of box-office failures such as A Farewell to Arms (1957) and Twilight for the Gods (1958). Critics praised Rock and Doris's immediate rapport and scintillating chemistry and the film was voted one of the year's ten best pictures by The New York Times, with Day receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, the first and only of her career. Considering the extraordinary success of Pillow Talk and how much fun they had making it, Rock and Doris knew right away that they had to come back for another one. 

Filming the beach scene in Lover Come Back
With a plot similar to Pillow Talk, Delbert Mann's Lover Come Back (1961) revolves around Jerry Webster and Carol Templeton, two account executives who work for rival Madison Square advertising agencies. Although Carol has never met Jerry, she is disgusted by his unethical tactics, which have stolen many of her clients. When Jerry asks a scientist to invent a new product for him to sell, Carol is determined to steal the account from him. She tries to woo the scientist into giving her the product, but what she doesn't realize is that she has mistaken Jerry for the scientist. Needless to say, chaos ensues.

During the shooting of Lover Come Back, there was the same atmosphere of hilarity and juvenile pranks that had made Pillow Talk so much fun. "Sometimes we went ten or twelve takes because Rock and Doris would keep breaking up," Mann later recalled. There was one scene on the beach, which was actually shot in a sandbox on the set, where they had to kiss and couldn't because they were laughing so hard. "Our teeth bumped one time, and after that, we got hysterical every time we tried to kiss," Doris said. Following its December 1961 premiere, Lover Come Back became an even bigger success than its predecessor and its witty screenplay earned the film a worthy comparison to the great screwball comedies of the 1930s. Rock always felt that Lover Come Back was the best of their films together, but Doris liked Pillow Talk better.

Doris and Rock in a publicity still for Send Me No Flowers

In their final film together, Norman Jewison's Send Me No Flowers (1964), Rock and Doris played George and Judy Kimball, a happily married couple living in the suburbs. On one of his many visits to the doctor, the chronic hypochondriac George overhears a conversation about a terminally ill patient and erroneously believes that he is the one who's dying. Wanting to take care his wife, he doesn't tell her about his supposed imminent death and sets out to find Judy a suitable husband after he's gone. When he finally does tell her, she quickly discovers he's not dying at all (while he doesn't) and believes it's just a lame excuse to hide an affair.

Although Send Me No Flowers was a box-office success upon its October 1964 release, it didn't fare as well amongs critics, who praised the natural chemistry between Rock and Doris, but missed the sexual tension and innuendo. Since they were now playing a married couple, the thrill of the chase was gone and there was not much for them to do. For the next twenty years, the pair tried to find another picture to do together, but unfortunately they were unable to find a suitable project. "We couldn't come up with a story what would have the same sexual innuendos that made those comedies fun in a way that would be valid in modern terms," Rock explained.

Doris and Rock in 1985
Send Me No Flowers was in fact the last of Rock and Doris's joint silver screen appearances, but they got the chance to work together in two other occasions after that. The first happened eight year after the release of Send Me No Flowers, when Rock was one of Doris's guests in her television musical special The Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff (1971), which you see here. The second came in 1985, when she asked him to be the first guest in her cable television series Doris Day's Best Friends (1985-1986). 

At this point in his his life, Rock was dying from what was then a mysterious new virus called AIDS, but he was determined to do the show anyway. When Doris saw him arrive on the set looking extremely thin and frail, she was devastated to see that her dear friend was now just a mere shadow of his former strong and handsome self. Even in pain, Rock managed to tape the show and the result proved that their chemistry was still as strong as it had ever been. Sadly, Rock Hudson died less than three months after the episode aired, but "Eunice" and "Roy" still got the chance to share the (small) screen one last time and reminisce about the good old days.

Doris: I miss those laughs we used to have.
Rock: Oh, me too. 

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SOURCES:
Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro (2007) | Doris Day by Eric Braun (2010) | Doris Day: Sentimental Journey by Garry McGee (2005) | Rock Hudson: A Bio-Bibliography by Brenda Scott Royce (1995) | Rock Hudson: His Story by Sarah Davidson (2007)

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