Doris Day is nominated as Best Actress of the Year
In 1959, after just over a decade in films, Doris Day was nominated for her first Academy Award as Best Actress of the Year for her performance in Pillow Talk. Many felt that the recognition of her talents was long overdue. She had given a stunning performance in MGM’s Love Me or Leave Me (1955) with James Cagney, which was considered a sure-fire bet for a nomination. To the shock of many critics and fans, she was not among the five actresses nominated that year. MGM chose instead to promote Eleanor Parker, who starred with Glenn Ford in the melodrama Interrupted Melody – the wrong choice that bore no fruit.
That year, 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, a gritty British drama that would herald the sixties film revolution. Although Doris Day and everyone else lost out to Simone Signoret, Doris won almost every other accolade that year, including:
The Theatre Owners Laurel Award for Best Actress in a Comedy,
Photoplay Magazine’s Most Popular Actress,
Another nomination for 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, and Top Female Box-office Star of the Year in the Motion Picture Herald’s annual poll.
Pillow Talk was written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, who won the Oscar for their clever and, by 1959 standards, racy screenplay. Day plays Jan Morrow, a fashionable New York interior decorator. She has an ongoing conflict with songwriter Brad Allen (Hudson), with whom she shares a telephone party line. He monopolizes the phone by singing the same love song to several women, making it impossible for her to place her business calls. Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), a rich business executive, is one of Jan’s clients and is pursuing her. Although fond of him, she has no romantic interest in him. Jonathan is meanwhile producing a Broadway musical being scored by his friend, Brad Allen.
By coincidence, Jan meets Brad at a nightclub where she is having a drink with a client’s son (Nick Adams). Brad overhears their conversation and realizes that she is not only Jonathan’s dream woman but also the other half of his party line – who detests him! A bona fide wolf, he introduces himself to Jan using a fake accent and phony name, Rex Stetson, from Texas, so that he can get involved with her. She is instantly attracted to him and soon falls in love with him, all the while keeping her antagonistic telephone relationship with his real self.
Brad is having a great laugh about his masquerade, but in the process falls in love with Jan. Jonathan, who hears from Jan about the new man in her life, hires a private eye to investigate him – only to discover that Rex is really his best friend, Brad. Furious, Jonathan confronts Brad and orders him to leave town and finish the musical score for the show.
When Brad invites Jan to join him in Connecticut for the weekend, she enthusiastically agrees. During their weekend together, Jan discovers Brad’s true identity and is horrified at having been the object of his deception. The rest of the film concentrates on Jan’s efforts to get even with him and on Brad’s efforts to win her back.
Day gives a highly professional and spirited performance, which gained her a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best actress. Besides the title tune, which was a hit record for her, she sings two other songs in the film. Hudson is surprisingly good in his role as the double-dealing Brad Allen. In the years after Pillow Talk, he consistently gave credit to Day for ‘teaching me how to do comedy’. Personally, I had never seen Hudson so comfortable on the screen. Although he was Oscar-nominated for Giant, he was much better in this film.
The excellent supporting cast includes veteran character actress Thelma Ritter, who received the Laurel, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for her portrayal of Jan’s housekeeper. It was a joy just to watch Ritter work. Randall, who was extremely funny as Jonathan, was certainly robbed of a best supporting actor Oscar nomination. Haydn Rorke was fun as the telephone company rep, and Lee Patrick was appropriately zany as one of Jan’s clients. Singer-pianist Perry Blackwell was outstanding in her one and only scene.
Ross Hunter’s entire production was first-rate. Jean Louis designed a gorgeous wardrobe for Day, and Larry Germain’s sophisticated hairstyles gave her a new, glamorous look. The film got Oscar nominations for set decoration and for Frank DeVol’s musical scoring.
Ralph McKnight, New York
The Doris Day and Rock Hudson Comedy Collection
(Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers)
The theme set the tone for the two 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 their own bed or in the bathtub and talking intimately on the phone.
Taking Doris Day ‘out of the kitchen and into the bedroom’
It’s difficult now to imagine the excitement that Pillow Talk generated when it was first shown. Doris Day and Rock Hudson were both big stars at the time and the film was risky and ground breaking for both of them. Both were concerned that the sexually-implicit story might appear in bad taste. But for Rock 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 Doris Day, her films were becoming less relevant and were beginning to lose popularity and she also needed a new direction.
And what a direction! Don’t forget that two of the three films she made before Pillow Talk, Teacher’s Pet and the loss-making Tunnel of Love, were in black and white. The third, also a box-office disappointment, despite the presence of Jack Lemmon, was It Happened to Jane.
With Pillow Talk, audiences were unprepared for both the glamorously-transformed Day, the sexy titillating modern story, and seeing Rock Hudson in a 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’. And perhaps unwittingly ‘taking Rock Hudson out of the bedroom and into the kitchen’. In earlier roles, he was lusted after by younger and older women – and once pursued by a nymphomaniac! In Pillow Talk, he likes to role play and discuss recipes, and only manages to get a few kisses from Doris Day. Those kisses were sweet, however, in terms of their careers, which were given a huge boost and opened up new opportunities for both stars.
Of course, Pillow Talk is not a politically-correct movie today, with lines such as ‘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 Pillow Talk was one of Universal’s three biggest money makers that year. At $15m, it was book-ended by Cary Grant’s Operation Petticoat ($18.6m) and Lana Turner’s Imitation of Life ($13m).