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The Doris Day Blogathon: «Pillow Talk» (1959)

Directed by Michael Gordon, Pillow Talk (1959) tells the story of Jan Morrow (Doris Day), a successful and self-sufficient interior decorator who, much to her annoyance, shares a party line on her home phone with a philandering Broadway composer named Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). Even though they have never actually met face to face, they soon develop a feud over the use of the party line: Brad is constantly using the phone to chat with one woman after the other, while Jan needs to use it for business. One of Jan's clients is millionaire Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), who repeatedly throws himself at her to no avail. Unbeknownst to Jan, Jonathan is actually Brad's old college buddy and current Broadway benefactor.

Rock Hudson and Doris Day as Brad and Jan in Pillow Talk.

One evening in a nightclub, Brad finally sees Jan and learns who she is. Attracted to her, he decides to fake a Southern accent and invent a new persona: Rex Stetson, a wealthy Texas rancher. He succeeds in wooing Jan and the pair begin seeing each other regularly. When Jonathan finds out about Brad's masquerade, he forces his friend to leave New York and go to his cabin in Connecticut to write new songs. Brad invites Jan to join him and, once there, romance blossoms between them, until she finally discovers the truth.
Back in New York, Jonathan is pleased to learn that Brad has fallen in love at last, but Jan will have nothing to do with him. Brad asks the help of Jan's drunken housekeeper, Alma (Thelma Ritter), who suggests he hire Jan to decorate his apartment so that they will be forced to collaborate. Still angry, Jan decorates Brad's apartment in the most hideous manner, which makes him furious. He storms into Jan's apartment and carries her through the street back to his place, where he explains all the changes he has made to end the bachelor lifestyle because he thought they were getting married. At that moment, her face lights up and they lovingly embrace.
JAN MORROW (Doris Day): I have no bedroom problems. There's nothing in my bedroom that bothers me.
BRAD ALLEN (Rock Hudson): Oh-h-h-h. That's too bad. 

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 the moviegoing public, who had grown more sophisticated with the passing of decades. 
When producer Ross Hunter sent Day a script for a new project called Pillow Talk, she was instantly attracted to its humor and cleverness. The story had been devised by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, who sold it to RKO in 1942. When it was not produced, they repurchased it in 1945, two years before selling it as play. They bought it back again in 1951, finally selling it in 1958 to Arwin Productions, the company owned by Day's then-husband, Martin Melcher. Being genuinely unaware of her potential as a sex symbol, Day could not see herself as a chic interior decorator. Fortunately, Hunter's argument that she had «one of the wildest asses in Hollywood» convinced her that she was not just an old-fashioned girl and she gladly took the job. 
Doris Day as Jan Morrow in two scenes from Pillow Talk.

Hunter envisioned only Rock Hudson as Day's leading man in Pillow Talk. He had already produced six of Hudson's pictures, including the hugely successful Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heavens Allows (1955), and the two had become close friends. When Hudson read the screenplay for Pillow Talk, he was impressed by its witty dialogue, but apprehensive about it being a comedy. Apart from a brief appearance in an episode of I Love Lucy (1951-1957), 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 Day and director Michael Gordon (in his first film since being blacklisted in 1951) persuaded him to move forward with the project. 
In the meantime, Maurice Richlin and Stanley Shapiro were brought in to work on the script, while Tony Randall and Oscar nominee Thelma Ritter were added to the cast. Day, Hudson and Randall would later reunite in Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964).
Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall in Pillow Talk.

Pillow Talk was filmed between early February and mid-April 1959. According to Hudson, the final scene — in which Brad storms into Jan's apartment, pulls her out of bed and when carries her through the streets of Manhattan, back to his re-decorated apartment — was actually the first one that they shot. Due to back problems, Hudson carried Day on a shelf with her sheets and blankets over her to get through the many takes. According to Hudson, 
«I could have managed if only one take had been involved, but we went on endlessly, primarily because there was a bit actor who played a cop on the street, and as we passed him Doris' line was 'Officer, arrest this man,' and the cop was supposed to say to me, 'How you doing, Brad?' but that stupid actor kept calling me Rock. So back to our marks we went for another take and another and another. I'll bet we did that scene twenty times. That's why the shelf for Doris to sit on.» 
In addition, Hudson related that when he pulled Day out of bed, he forgot to let go of her ankles, «with the result that [his] leading lady crashed to the floor.» 
Doris Day and Rock Hudson in scenes from Pillow Talk.

Although Hudson had been a fan of Doris Day 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 to be one Hollywood's most accomplished comediennes, but she quickly put him at ease. «You don't have to worry about it,» she told him. «The script is funny. When you have funny lines, you're funny.» 
Hudson and Day soon realized that there was great chemistry between them and that they could make each other laugh off camera. «Doris and I became terrific friends,» Hudson later said. «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.» For her part, Day said, «Every day on the set was a picnic — sometimes too much of a picnic, in that we took turns at breaking each other up.» According to Hudson, the producers had to add a week to the film's shooting schedule because he and Day could not stop laughing.
Doris Day and Rock Hudson on the set of Pillow Talk.
Pillow Talk premiered simultaneously at the Palace and Murray Hill Theatres in New York on October 7, 1959. Critical reviews were generally positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it «one of the most lively and up-to-date comedy-romances of the year», while the reviewer for Variety described it as «a sleekly sophisticated production». The film was also successful at the box-office, grossing $18,750,000 domestically.
At the 32nd Academy Awards held on May 4, 1960, at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, Pillow Talk won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and was additionally nominated for Best Actress (Doris Day), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Best Art Direction (Colour) and Best Original Score. Day lost to Simone Signoret for Room at the Top (1959). 
Original theatrical release posters for Pillow Talk.
The popularity of Pillow Talk not only revived Doris Day's career, but also Rock Hudson's, which had hit a slump in the previous years with a series of commercial failures, including A Farewell to Arms (1957) and Twilight for the Gods (1958). Day and Hudson became lifelong friends after appearing on screen together and she helped him through his battle with AIDS, then an unknown virus, which unfortunately ended up costing his life 1985.

This post is my contribution to The Doris Day Blogathon hosted by Michaela at Love Letters to Old Hollywood. To see all entries, click HERE.

Considering Doris Day by Tom Santopietro (St. Martin's Press, 2007)
Doris Day by Eric Braun (Orion Publishing, 2010)
Doris Day: Sentimental Journey by Garry McGree (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005)
Rock Hudson: A Bio-Bibliography by Brenda Scott Royce (Greenwood Press, 1995)
Rock Hudson: His Story by Rock Hudson and Sarah Davidson (Da Capo Press, 2007)  


  1. This post was vital to the blogathon -- thanks so much for writing it. I love Pillow Talk immensely, but I didn't realize some of its history, such as its beginning in the 1940's. Really interesting information!

  2. Great review! I loved the stories you added about how was their first meeting and how their beautiful friendship blossomed.


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