Friday, June 15, 2018

The Doris Day-Rock Hudson Movies

 (This post is part of the Sex! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog)

When people think of on-screen couples, they might think of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Among those on-screen couples that might come to people's minds are Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Not only do they number among the best known on-screen couples, but it is sometimes difficult to think of one without thinking of the other as well. Amazingly enough, while Doris Day and Rock Hudson were lifelong friends, they only three films together.

Doris Day and Rock Hudson first starred together in the classic Pillow Talk (1959).  According to the "Rambling Reporter" column in the August 28 1959 issue of Variety, Pillow Talk originated as a screenplay by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, which RKO bought in 1942. RKO never made a movie based on the screenplay, so Messrs. Rouse and Greene bought it back in 1945. Eventually they sold the unproduced script to Arwin Productions, a company owned by Doris Day's husband Martin Melcher. Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene's original screenplay would be rewritten by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, a writing team who had previous worked on the sitcoms Where's Raymond? and The Real McCoys and would go onto work on the movies Operation Petticoat (1959) and Come September (1961).

As might be expected, Doris Day was set to play the lead in Pillow Talk. As to Rock Hudson, he had previously worked with producer Ross Hunter on several films, including Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). Both stars were nervous about starring in Pillow Talk. For Doris Day it was simply a case that some of her recent films had not been particularly successful. In Rock Hudson's case it was because he had never starred in a comedy. Fortunately various factors would help put Mr. Hudson's mind at ease with regards to the film. Producer Ross Hunter, whom Mr. Hudson regarded as a friend, reassured him with the words, "Play it straight, and let the audience find the comedy." Doris Day, who already had a good deal of experience playing comedy, also proved to be helpful to Rock Hudson. The two of them hit it off the moment they met and became fast friends on the set of Pillow Talk. Doris Day and Rock Hudson even created nicknames for each other. Miss Day was "Eunice Blotter" and Mr. Hudson was "Roy Harold" (his actual given first name and middle name).

Pillow Talk saw Doris Day playing interior decorator Jan Morrow and Rock Hudson playing composer Brad Allen. The two are constantly fighting over the telephone party line which they share, with Brad tending to tie it up with phone calls from his many female friends. The nature of the conflict changes when Brad finally sees Jan in person and sees that she is rather attractive. He then creates a new persona, Rex Stetson, so he can woo her.

Pillow Talk would be the first "Sixties sex comedy" (even though it was released in 1959). There were those, including Rock Hudson himself, who worried that the film might just be too racy. Surprisingly, the biggest problem Pillow Talk had with the Production Code Administration was its title. Martin Melcher suggested to Ross Hunter that they could simply change the title from Pillow Talk to Any Way the Wind Blows, the title of a song he had recently published. Fortunately Ross Hunter stuck to his guns and ultimately the Production Code Administration allowed the film to be released as Pillow Talk.

Pillow Talk proved to be a hit at the box office, making $9.670 million, which made it the 5th highest grossing film of 1959. There should be little wonder that the film should be such a success. The chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson as friends in real life was readily visible on screen, and the film benefited from a stellar script. Quite simply, Pillow Talk achieved the remarkable feat of appearing racy without really being dirty. It was a sex comedy notable for the fact that no sex actually takes place in the film! The film also benefited from the presence of Tony Randall, who played Brad's friend Jonathan, who also happens to be Jan's client (and also happens to have a crush on her), as well as Thelma Ritter, playing Jan's alcoholic, gossipy housekeeper Alma.

With its misunderstandings, false identities, and innuendoes, Pillow Talk would provide the template for many Sixties sex comedies to come. In fact, it would start a cycle of sex comedies that would last very nearly until 1967. As might be expected, the success of Pillow Talk naturally led to another film that would team Doris Day up with Rock Hudson. Stanley Shaprio returned to co-write the next Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie, this time with Paul Henning, now best known as the co-creator of The Beverly Hillbillies. In many respects Lover Come Back (1961) offers more of the same as Pillow Talk: an attractive woman and man in conflict, mistaken identity, misunderstandings, and innuendos. That having been said, Lover Come Back also had quite a bit that was quite different from Pillow Talk. In fact, there are those who consider it the best of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies.

In Lover Come Back Doris Day plays advertising executive Carol Templeton. Even though the two have never met, her archrival is advertising executive Jerry Webster (played by Rock Hudson), who has stolen a few clients from Carol simply by wining and dining them with liquor, good food, and pretty girls. When Carol learns that Jerry has created commercials for a product that doesn't even exist, VIP, she thinks she finally has the evidence necessary to put an end to his career. Unfortunately for Carol, Jerry has a few more tricks up his sleeve, and one of them turns out to be wooing her using a false identity.

Like Pillow Talk before it, Lover Came Back proved highly successful. It was the seventh highest grossing film in the United States in 1961. The reasons for its success aren't hard to find. Like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back offered more antagonism between characters played by Doris Day and Rock Hudson, whose chemistry was still palpable on screen. Like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back also offered more misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity. That having been said, Lover Come Back differed from Pillow Talk in many ways. Indeed, it functioned as much as a satire of the advertising industry (then considered one of the sexiest occupations around) as much as it did a sex comedy. If anything, the humour in Lover Come Back was even more outrageous than the humour in Pillow Talk. The film also benefited from a sterling supporting cast. Tony Randall was back, this time playing Brad's neurotic boss Pete Ramsey. Edie Adams played Rebel Davis, an ambitious chorus girl who wanted very badly to break into acting. Ann B. Davis played Carol's secretary, Millie.

Given the success of Lover Come Back, it should come as no surprise that Doris Day and Rock Hudson would be teamed up a third time. Send Me No Flowers (1964) was based on a play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore that had run on Broadway from December 5 1960 to January 7 1961. The play was rewritten for the screen by Julius J. Epstein, who with his brother Philip had written the screenplay for the classic The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as well as other classics. It was directed by a young director named Norman Jewison, who had directed Doris Day's movie The Thrill of It All (1963).

Send Me No Flowers presented a sharp contrast to the previous two Doris Day and Rock Hudson outings. In Send Me No Flowers they played a married couple, Judy and George Kimball. George is an incurable hypochondriac who becomes convinced that he is going to die when he over hears his doctor (played by Edward Andrews) discussing another patient's case. Concerned for his wife Judy's welfare after he is gone, George then sets out to find a man that she can marry after he has died. He is assisted in this by his best friend and neighbour, Arnold Nash (played by Tony Randall). While Send Me No Flowers included no instances of mistaken identity such as those in Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, it featured plenty of misunderstandings, as well as a good deal of slapstick and verbal humour. Like the two previous films it also had a sterling supporting cast, including Paul Lynde as a salesman at a cemetery and Hal March as a playboy who preys upon women separated from their husbands.

Send Me No Flowers was not quite as successful as Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, but it did very well at the box office. What is more, Doris Day, Rock Hudson, and Tony Randall all enjoyed working with each other very much. Given the success of the film and the fact that the leads loved working together, it would have made sense for there to have been a fourth film starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Unfortunately, it would not come to pass. For the next twenty years Doris Day and Rock Hudson tried finding another project on which they could work together, but they never found the right script. They even discussed starring together in a TV movie. Sadly, on October 2 1985 Rock Hudson died from AIDS-related illness, putting an end to the chance of the two of them ever working together again. While Doris Day and Rock Hudson never worked together after Send Me No Flowers, they remained close friends until Mr. Hudson's death.

It was the friendship between Doris Day and Rock Hudson that accounted for much of the success of the three movies they made together. It was not long before his death that Rock Hudson commented on his work with Doris Day and why it was successful, saying, "First of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through. Then, too, both parties have to be strong personalities--very important to comedy--so that there's a tug-of-war over who's going to put it over on the other, who's going to get the last word, a fencing match between two adroit opponents of the opposite sex who in the end are going to fall into bed together." The chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson was arguably among the best that had ever been seen on screen, and much of that was due to the fact that Miss Day and Mr. Hudson truly liked each other and enjoyed each other's company. Watching the three films today, one would never guess that Rock Hudson was homosexual and Doris Day was married at the time--on screen they truly seemed like a couple who was very much into each other.

Of course, much of the reason for the success of Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers can be summed up in one word: sex. The Fifties saw the Production Code Administration loosen up a bit as to what was actually permitted in films. This meant that movies could feature much more innuendo and far racier situations than they would have in the late Thirties and throughout the Forties. Pillow Talk took advantage of this fact, to the point that there were those who were concerned that it might just be too racy. Of course, it has been remarked more than once that  there is no sex in any of the three movies (not even Send Me No Flowers, where Doris Day and Rock Hudson play a married couple). The fact that the three films only hinted at something untoward made them acceptable to both those who had no objections to sexual content in films and those who did. Quite simply they were movies that hinted at being dirty without actually being dirty movies.

While some aspects of the Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedies seem dated to this day, they remain as popular as ever. The movies are still regularly shown on television (particularly on Turner Classic Movies) and they are even available on DVD and Blu-Ray (often in box sets containing all three movies). They remain the best known Sixties sex comedies of all time. They also established Doris Day and Rock Hudson as one of the best known and best loved screen couples of all time. That is a remarkable feat given they only made three films together!

1 comment:

Steve Bailey said...

Lovely post. I esp. like the producers suggestion to Rock Hudson, "Play it straight, and let the audience find the comedy." Would that more comedies would follow that advice these days. Thank you so much for contributing this to the blogathon!