When looking at the Doris Day and Rock Hudson romantic comedies Pillow Talk (Gordon, 1959), Lover Come Back (Mann, 1961), and Send Me No Flowers (Jewison, 1964), Doris Day’s characters are seen teetering between the more restrictive traditional women’s expectations (being a virgin until married, finding a good husband and being a housewife), and the newer more empowered expectations of being able to do everything that a man does in the workplace, putting off marriage and family, and being more free with their bodies. I will be looking at these three big takeaways; the women’s role at the time, the censorship guidelines, and the ridiculous trope of being lied to as romantic with ham-handed forgiveness scenes.
In Pillow Talk (Gordon, 1959) Doris Day’s character is an interior designer who shares a party line with a Don Juan musician (Rock Hudson). Day’s character is an independent woman who lives on her own in a gorgeous Manhattan apartment. It is clear from her clothes and living situation (in addition to the apartment and fancy address, she has a maid), that she is quite successful at her job. She is comfortable standing up for herself at the phone company, against sexual innuendos made by Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), and with her clients in setting professional boundaries (as with Jonathan Forbes [Tony Randall]) and guiding them in a sophisticated design (as with Mrs. Walters [Lee Patrick]), as well as the handsy Harvard son of client Mrs. Walters, Tony Walters (Nick Adams). During the encounter with Tony Walters she goes so far as to say, “Look! I’ve never belted a Phi Beta Kappa…” and raises her fist at him menacingly. Later in the film, Day’s character agrees to go away with Rex Stetson (who is actually Brad Allen [Rock Hudson]) and indicates no shyness towards what a weekend away might mean. In fact, when we first see the couple in the Connecticut home, she is laying in his lap sipping wine. In Jan’s own words, “I have a good job, a lovely apartment, I go out with very nice men to the best places; the theatre, [the] finest restaurants…” This shows a woman I would equate to any woman I met today. Someone who knew what she wanted, and was happy to have someone share it with her along the way, but didn’t need them to get by.
This trend continues in Lover Come Back (Mann, 1961) where Day’s character, Carol Templeton, was an advertiser on Madison Avenue. She lived alone, even having moved from Montana to live on her own in New York. She approaches her business with high ethical standards and ends up wining and dining a client in a similar strategy to her enemy Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson). While she is able to still hold her head high since she never uses drink or drugs to influence her client’s decisions, she is courted down the road of blurred lines, in one scene nearly agreeing to sleep with her client to help him see his worth. When she discovers the client she thought she was helping is in fact her enemy Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson), she lures him to a beach, convinces him to get naked (having promised him romantic sex on the beach), and abandons him to make his own way back to the city. When the characters accidentally end up married after both becoming inebriated, Hudson’s character is thrilled while Day’s character who is horrified. Day’s character says, “You listen to me, no alcoholic beverage, no drug known to science, no torture yet devised could induce me to stay married to you!”, as well as this fun exchange:
Webster: Now, honey. You’re starting our marriage off with a fight.
Templeton: Oh no, I’m not. I’m starting it off with an annulment.
Again, a strong willed, strong minded, independent woman who knows her worth. She isn’t afraid to share her life with someone, but is happy on her own. A woman the 60’s is proud to claim.
Then we move into Send Me No Flowers (Jewison, 1964). I found this the most offensive to watch due to the over-the-top way Day’s character, Judy Kimball, indulges her husband, George Kimball’s (Rock Hudson) neurotic behavior. And, one frightening scene where the are talking about a mistake she made paying the mechanic. It comes out that instead of the sum to repair the car she paid the mechanic her license plate number. Her husband George (Rock Hudson) suggests she might take night classes to become an accountant, or at least to be more comfortable with the household expenses. Judy (Doris Day) insists, we don’t need to go that far, it was an innocent mistake. Although this is the last of the Doris Day Rock Hudson movies, I oddly feel like it is the first, due to the domesticized role they put Day in. Day does still have a strong will standing up to her husband when she thinks he is becoming a swinger, when she thinks he has had an affair, and when she discovers he has been lying to her about dying (in his defense he really thought he was dying). She even prepares to leave him because she believes that he has cheated on her, and that he lied about dying to cover up the fact he was cheating on her. However, throughout the entire movie, Day is portrayed as inept in the most basic of things, creating the image of the cute little housewife who needs her husband to help her in every aspect of life. A view more inline with the 40’s and early 50’s than with the 1964 time-frame.
In the mid 30’s the The Motion Picture Production Code was made, also known as The Hays Code, (after Will H. Hays president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America). The code stood for strict guidelines of what could and could not happen in movies. Its three guiding principles were:
- No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin.
- Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
- Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation. (https://productioncode.dhwritings.com/multipleframes_productioncode.php)
These served as the basis of many things including no homosexual love scenes, no scenes depicting blacks and whites in romantic relationships, and no sex ever (lest we encourage the children to explore it outside the marriage bed). Also included were a long list of words that were deemed offensive on the off chance young ears should hear them. These guidelines were put in place in a self-censorship guideline in an attempt to prevent direct government oversight. These codes ruled Hollywood movies with a firm hand from 1934-1955 (ish) before being completely abolished in 1968. Most important to the films we are looking at are 1. No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it… and 2. Correct standards of life…shall be presented. Being that the code was first suggested by Catholic Martin Quigley and Jesuit priest Father Daniel A Lord it is easy to see how some of these rules came to pass. In an era where the church was seeking to have greater control over the media that its congregations were exposed to, they wanted to make sure that the movies were “wholesome,” “moral,” and contained, “correct thinking” (Mondello, “Remembering Hollywood’s Hays Code, 40 Years On”). This led to “traditional” views of the woman being a virgin until married, her husband’s help mate, a homemaker, and the woman completely dependent on the husband for a livelihood. While this view is alluded to in Send Me No Flowers it is actually made after the code was relaxed in 1955 (ish). Pillow Talk is heralded as a classic because this is one of the first films after the relaxing of the code. It used clever split screens to insinuate more intimacy between the characters than was actually taking place. The script is full of double entendres, that Day’s character navigates with great aplomb #keepitclassy. Also, in this film it is suggested, although not outrightly stated, that Doris Day’s character has had intimate relationships with men before. In Lover Come Back we again see Doris Day’s character being portrayed as more experienced. Especially if compared to the “reclusive scientist” (Jerry Webster pretending to be Linus Tyler [Rock Hudson]). She is aware of the “dirty tactics” used by other advertising firms and prefers not to use them herself. But the character also says she dreamed of a church wedding, and puts forth an innocent vibe throughout the movie stating her reserved upbringing in Butte, Montana, as its source.
I am officially going on the record as saying, lying isn’t sexy. I do not find enjoyment in being lied to in real life, and I don’t understand how Day’s character in Pillow Talk seems to bounce back from it so well. In addition to Rock Hudson’s character being a liar, at the end of the movie he breaks down her door and carries her through the city in her pajamas and a blanket with her kicking and screaming and asking for help. To make matters worse, the people she asks for help just ignore her and one police officer even just greets Hudson’s character! He (Hudson’s character) then throws Day on the foldout couch bed and confesses that asking her to decorate his apartment had been his way of trying to tell her he was hanging up his bachelor ways and wanted them to build a life together. Day gives him these star filled eyes of “Oh, he does love me!” and the credits roll (there is a scene after the credits roll, which in my opinion only makes the movie worse).
In Lover Come Back there is a period of some nine months before the reconciliation takes place. This makes far more sense to me and may be why I enjoyed it more than Pillow Talk. However, this reconciliation takes place because Doris Day’s character is having a baby. Day’s secretary has ratted her out to Webster that their one night marriage was all it took for Day to get pregnant. He rushes back to New York, gets an emergency marriage license, and begs for her to take him back and make the child legitimate (no doubt another heralding back to the Hays Code). It turns out Hudson’s character had been writing to her everyday for 8 months trying to reconcile with her and she sent each letter back unopened. Here is the exchange in its entirety:
Jerry Webster : Forgot you? I sent you hundreds of letters. I wrote one every day for eight months.
Carol Templeton : And the ninth month, when I needed you most, not a word.
Jerry Webster : I didn’t know what was happening. You sent back every letter unopened.
Carol Templeton : If you loved me, you’d have kept on writing. (Lover Come Back [Mann, 1961])
In addition, the character Jerry Webster’s lying feels different to me in this movie. I got the impression that he was trying to show Day, that his way of wining and dining a client wasn’t wrong, just different than how she landed her clients. Webster (Rock Hudson) did take this lie to the absolute breaking point however, by trying to manipulate Day into having sex with him.
Looking at Send Me No Flowers Hudson’s character is a hypochondriac. He mistakenly believes he is dying after overhearing his doctor talk about another patient. Depressed he is dying and worried about his wife Judy’s (Doris Day) future, he tries to put into motion several things to make his passing easier for her. He encourages her to take night classes and become better able to take care of the household expenses, he tries to set her up with an old flame, Bert (Clint Walker) which leads to her believing he is trying to become a swinger. She catches him talking to another woman in the coat closet of their club about the fact that a mutual acquaintance of theirs is actually trying to take advantage of her. Day’s character thinks that he is having an affair with this woman. It is then that Hudson’s character “comes clean” and admits he is dying. Day’s character starts heaping on the sympathy and taking amazing care of her soon to be dead husband. When their family physician Dr. Morrissey (Edward Andrews) stops by after a fishing trip and tells her Rock Hudson’s character isn’t dying, she again assumes he is having an affair and becomes livid. In a show of strength, she slaps him while he is sleeping (although she tries to tell him he was having a nightmare related to his illness), and contrives a situation to lock him out of the house. This forces George (Rock Hudson) to seek refuge with his neighbor and friend Arnold, (Tony Randall) a lawyer. His good friend tells him to come clean about the non-existent affair and all will be well again (this starts the only intentional lying of this film). George (Rock Hudson) follows Judy (Doris Day) to the train station and he confesses to the non-existent affair in public. This inspires Day’s character to say she really is leaving him and she goes home to pack. While there, Mr. Akins (Paul Lynde) shows up. He is a cemetery man in charge of the cemetery that George recently bought plots in. It comes out that he wrote a check paid to cash for these plots for the sum of $1000 (the exact amount that the fake mistress had been sent away for). Day’s character realizes what has happened. Her hypochondriac of a husband is merely an idiot, not a philanderer. She sends Mr. Akins (Paul Lynde) away asking him to mail the receipt that helped her piece everything together and pushes him out the door before George makes one last play to save his marriage, and end our movie on a happily ever after. This was the most light hearted of all the films since the entire thing was a comedy of errors. The most frightening thing in the film is Judy’s willingness to stay ignorant and allow her husband to handle everything.
Overall, I feel that Doris Day’s chosen roles helped strengthen women and show them a world where they didn’t need a man to succeed (even if they construed it was nice to have one). In looking at these three films I find it odd that the newest film they did together, Send Me No Flowers was actually the one with the scary stereotypes in it. I would much rather watch a film about a woman willing to live on her own, and be a success in her chosen field, then about someone whose sole ambition is to be married and cared for the rest of her days.
- Gordon, M. (Director). (1959). Pillow talk [Motion picture on DVD 50th anniversary]. Universal Studios.
- Hayes, D. P. (2000). The production code of the Motion picture INDUSTRY (1930-1967). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://productioncode.dhwritings.com/multipleframes_productioncode.php
- Jewison, N. (Director). (1964). Send me no flowers [Motion picture on DVD]. Universal.
- Mann, D. (Director). (1961). Lover come back [Motion picture on DVD]. Universal Studios.
- Mondello, B. (2008, August 08). Remembering Hollywood’s hays Code, 40 years on. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93301189#:~:text=Remembering%20Hollywood’s%20Hays%20Code%2C%2040%20Years%20On%20%3A%20NPR&text=Remembering%20Hollywood’s%20Hays%20Code%2C%2040%20Years%20On%20For%20more%20than,it%20was%20always%20taking%20hits
- Motion picture production code. (2021, February 13). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Production_Code
- Winkle’s, V. (2020, December 16). How Hollywood APPEASED conservatives and Forced On-screen couples into separate beds. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.rawstory.com/2016/02/this-is-how-hollywood-appeased-conservatives-and-forced-on-screen-couples-into-separate-beds/