Doris Day's first and only Academy Award nomination...
By Ralph McKnight
In 1959, after 11 years in films, Doris Day was nominated for her first Academy Award as 'Best Actress of the Year' for her exuberant acting in "Pillow Talk", co-starring Rock Hudson. Many felt that the recognition of her talent was long overdue. She had given a wonderful performance in MGM's "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955) with James Cagney, which was deemed as a sure-fire bet for a nomination. To the shock of many critics and fans, she was not among the five actresses cited that year. MGM chose to promote Eleanor Parker, who starred in "Interrupted Melody" for the coveted Oscar.
In 1959, in a field dominated by dramatic performances, she had formidable competition from Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly Last Summer", Audrey Hepburn in "The Nun's Story" and Simone Signoret in "Room at the Top". Although Doris Day did not receive the Academy Award (she lost to Simone Signoret), she did win almost every other accolade including:
Owners Laurel Award as
The Most Popular Actress of the Year,
Photoplay Magazine's Most Popular Actress citation,
A nomination as Best Actress in a comedy from the Foreign Press Association,
The coveted World's Favourite Actress trophy from the Golden Globes, for the second year in a row, and The Top Female Box-office Star of the Year by the Herald's Poll of top box-office stars.
"Pillow Talk", written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, was a cleverly written script that was deemed racy in 1959. Day played Jan Morrow, a fashionable New York interior decorator, who is in conflict with the other half of her partyline, songwriter, Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), who annoyingly monopolises the phone singing love songs to a bevy of women. Frustrated, she seeks help from the phone company, who send out a female inspector who instantly becomes smitten with the handsome Mr Allen.
Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall) is meanwhile pursuing Jan, who although she's fond of him, has no romantic interest in him. Randall plays a rich executive who is also producing a Broadway musical being written by his friend, Brad Allen. Today, this sounds much too contrived, considering New York is populated by over eight million people! But then, this is Hollywood!
In a chance meeting, Jan meets Brad Allen at a nightclub where she is having a drink with a client's son (Nick Adams) who, having offered to drive her home, is trying to seduce her. After too much to drink, Adams passes out on the dance floor and Brad comes to Jan's rescue. (He earlier overhears their conversation and realises that she is not only Jonathan's dream woman, but also the other half of her partyline - who hates him!) A bonifed wolf, he decides to conceal his identity to woo Jan, who is instantly attracted to him. He introduces himself as "Rex Stetson", a Texan visiting New York on business. Finding him 'hokey' but extremely charming, Jan volunteers to show him the sights of the city.
Close Encounters of the Box Office Kind: Doris and Rock meet for the first time on screen in "Pillow Talk".
This theme set the tone for several Day/Hudson films that were to follow, using deception and mistaken identity to fuel the sexual tension between the two stars. A clever split screen technique was used to put them in 'compromising' positions (each in his/her own bed or in the bathtub) talking intimately on the phone.
Consequently, Brad romances Jan and she falls in love with him, all the while keeping her antagonistic telephone 'relationship' with her enemy, Brad Allen, who is having a great laugh with his masquerade until he realises that he has fallen in love with her.
Jan tell Jonathan about Rex, who hires a private eye to investigate him - only to discover that Stetson is his best friend, Brad Allen. A furious Jonathan confronts Brad and orders him to leave New York to finish the score for the show he's producing. Brad cleverly invites Jan to join him for the weekend. She enthusiastically agrees, partially to counter a suggestion by 'Brad Allen' that rather than being the perfect gentleman" her new boyfriend might be gay!
During the weekend in Connecticut, Jan comes across a sheet of Brad's music and casually plays some notes on the piano. She soon recognises the familiar-sounding tune as the same one that the other half of her party line uses to seduce the women who call him! Realising that Rex Stetson is actually Brad Allen, Jan is horrified at having been the object of Allen's deception. The rest of the film concentrates on Brad's efforts to win back the furious Jan and her ultimate realisation that she also loves him.
Rock Hudson was surprisingly good in his role as the double-dealing Brad Allen. In his ensuing years after "Pillow Talk", he consistently gave credit to Doris Day for 'teaching me how to do comedy'. He was reluctant to take the picture when Ross Hunter first offered the role to him but after meeting Doris, he couldn't wait to go before the cameras! Personally, I had never seen Hudson so comfortable on the screen. He had been Oscar nominated for "Giant", but to this day, I cannot comprehend why. He was much better in this film.
Doris Day gave a highly professional and spirited performance. Audiences were laughing so loudly that they didn't catch her periodic overacting which becomes more obvious after you've seen the film a dozen times over the years. Overall, however, it garnered for her the well-deserved Oscar nomination as Best Actress. And, even today, younger people who first see this picture fall in love with Miss Day.
Thelma Ritter, veteran character film actress, above, received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress as Alma, Jan's housekeeper, who has a penchant for drink and arrives each morning for work with a hangover. It was a joy to just watch Ritter work. Tony Randall was extremely funny as Jonathan Forbes. Randall was certainly robbed of a nomination for Best Supporting Actor; I'm still wondering what happened!
Julia Meade was somewhat obvious as Marie, the over-sexed girlfriend of Brad. Doris Day film regular, Hayden Rorke, was fun as the telephone rep. Veteran character actress, Lee Patrick, was zany as Nick Adams' mother, Mrs. Walters. Other outstanding appearances were made by Mario Dalio, Mary McCarthy, Allen Jenkins, singer Perry Blackwell, Muriel Landers and William Schallert.
The production was first-rate. Jean Louis designed great costumes for Miss Day and the sophisticated hairstyles by Larry Germain displayed a new glamorous Doris Day. The look of the picture was sharp and the CinemaScope photography captured the panorama of New York's dramatic ambience during the 1950s and '60s. This is a film of which Doris Day can justly be proud! It's great entertainment and after all these years remains fresh and a joy to watch.
Ralph McKnight, August 2000, New York
It's difficult now to imagine the excitement that "Pillow Talk" generated when it was first shown. Doris Day and Rock Hudson were both huge stars at the time and the film was risky and groundbreaking for both of them. For Hudson, his career had reached a plateau playing strong silent humourless types and he needed to expand his male-lead repertoire before audiences got bored. For Day, then 35, musicals were loosing their popularity and she also needed a new direction.
And what a direction! Don't forget that of the three films she made before "Pillow Talk", two were in black and white ("Teacher's Pet" and "The Tunnel of Love). The other 1959 film, "It Happened to Jane" was very much in the Doris Day stereotype – a feisty young woman standing up for her rights against all the odds. So audiences were unprepared for both the glamorously transformed Day, and the sexy titillating story - not to mention Rock Hudson doing romantic comedy.
Producer Ross Hunter, who persuaded her to play the role, claimed he was responsible for 'taking Doris Day out of the kitchen and into the bedroom'. Of course, today it's not a 'politically correct' movie with lines like "If there's anything worse than a woman living alone, it's a woman saying she likes it" – Thelma Ritter to Doris Day.
However, as a product of the late fifties, it was perfect and gave the careers of both stars a tremendous boost. The film was one of Universal's three biggest money-makers that year. Top was "Operation Petticoat" ($18.6m), followed by "Pillow Talk" ($15m) and "Imitation of Life" ($13m).