Pillow Talk (1959): Doris Day-Rock Hudson Most Popular Comedy

Michael Gordon’s “Pillow Talk” is the first and the best of the romantic comedies featuring Doris Day and Rock Hudson, a short cycle of commercially popular films that later included the artistically mediocre “Love Come Back” and the rather weak “Send Me No Flowers.”

In “Pillow Talk,” Rock Hudson plays Brad Allen, a playboy songwriter, and Day is Jan Morrow, a successful career-oriented interior designer.

The duo loathes each other due to the fact that they are forced to share a party line during a Manhattan phone shortage. Day’s Jan gets increasingly angry whenever she tries to make a call and hears Hudson’s Brad coming on to yet another woman he tries to sleep with. Using the device of split-screen, we get to see both bickering parties, sometimes engaged in the similar acts, such as taking a bath, unbeknownst to each other.

After listening to enough of his suave baloney, Jan begins causing trouble. Brad thinks she’s an old hag and a drag. After arguments and negotiations, he agrees to take turns using the phone every half an hour.

Meanwhile Brad’s buddy Jonathan (Tony Randall) is in love with Jan. Jan and Brad finally meet in person, when Jonathan brings her to see the progress of the Broadway show he’s funding, and for which Brad is writing the music. Surprised by Jan’s good looks, Brad pretends to be a dopey, rich Texan and begins to court Jan. Outsmarting him, she quickly realizes who he is and ends the romance.

Brad then seeks advice from Jan’s maid (Thelma Ritter), who suggests he hires her to decorate his apartment, as ply that backfires, when Jan retaliates and does his place in hideous style. Frustrated, he says he hopes she likes his place when they get married

Mostly silly and occasionally cute, the film is quite enjoyable fluff due to good acting and polished production values. Day’s dress-for-power wardrobe was designed by the gifted costumer Jean Louis. In contrast, the few musical numbers are poorly choreographed by Arthur Arling.

“Pillow Talk” allowed Doris Day to be more sexually frank than in her previous comedies. Looking suave, Hudson sports the good looks of a hunk, with an effort to imitate Cary Grant’s charm. The irony, of course, is that Hudson was a gay actor pretending to be straight–and a macho one at that. There’s a brilliant deconstruction of Hudson’s sex image in Mark Rapport’s film-essay, “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies.”

While Tony Randall is doing his shtick in a role that would typecast him for another decade, Thelma Ritter shines as Alma, the alcoholic housekeeper, stealing nearly every scene she is in and deservedly receiving an Oscar nod for it.

The teaming of Day and Hudson proved fortuitous with audiences, catapulting both to major box-office stardom and, as noted, two additional collaborations. One of the year’s biggest commercial hits, “Pillow Talk” grossed $7.5 million in domestic distribution.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 5

Story and Screenplay (Original): Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene; Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin
Actress: Doris Day
Supporting Actress: Thelma Ritter
Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color): Richard H. Reidel; Russell A. Gaussman and Ruby R. Levitt
Scoring: Frank DeVol

Oscar Awards: 1

Story and Screenplay

Oscar Context:

This is Doris Day’s first and only Oscar nomination, but the winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Simon Signoret for “Room at the Top.”

Thelma Ritter lost the fifth of her six Supporting Actress nominations to Shelley Winters in the Holocaust drama, “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

The Art Direction award went to William Wyler’s historical epic “Ben-Hur,” which swept most of the Oscars, including Dramatic Scoring for Miklos Rozsa.

Politics Alert

“Pillow Talk” was blacklisted director Michael Gordon’s Hollywood comeback.


Jan Morrow (Doris Day)
Brad Allen (Rock Hudson)
Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall)
Alma (Thelma Ritter)
Tony Walters (Nick Adams)
Marie (Julia Meade)
Harry (Allen Jenkins)
Pierot (Marcel Dalio)
Mrs. Walters (Lee Patrick)
Nurse Resnick (Mary McCarthy)