Hollywood Flashback: Doris Day Earned an Oscar Nom for 1959's 'Pillow Talk'

Pillow Talk-Photofest Still-H 2019
Universal Pictures/Photofest

The actress, who died May 13 at 97, starred opposite Rock Hudson in the box-office hit, which The Hollywood Reporter's critic at the time praised as "a highly ingenious example of stimulating cinematic knowhow in all departments."

In a career that spanned 39 films, Doris Day, who died May 13 at 97, received just one Oscar nomination. It came for the 1959 battle-of-the-sexes comedy Pillow Talk, in which she starred with Rock Hudson.

Day, then 37, played a New York interior decorator who shared a telephone party line with a composer (Hudson), who hogs the line flirting with his girlfriends. She's angry because she needs the phone for work. They meet by accident in a restaurant. He affects an accent to pretend he's someone else, they date, and complications arise. (The most baroque twist has Hudson, who was gay but not out, pretending to be a straight Texas oilman who might be gay.) Somehow there's a happy ending.

As far as The Hollywood Reporter was concerned, Pillow Talk was perfect. "A brightly ingenious example of stimulating cinematic know-how in all departments," said the review. As for Day, she's "absolutely tops in her combination of sophistication and naivete." And Hudson, who'd been in 1956's Giant, "undergoes the metamorphosis from stock leading man to one of the best light comedians in the business."

The Ross Hunter-produced rom-com also reinvigorated Day's career and her enthusiasm for the movies. In A.E. Hotchner's 1975 biography Doris Day: Her Own Story, she said, "After all those years of suffering at the hands of those Warner Bros. embalmers who posed as makeup men, now I was made up and my hair done as I had always hoped it would be done."

And THR was correct about Pillow Talk being a "surefire" hit. The $7.6 million production ($67 million today) took in $18.7 million ($164 million now), the fifth-highest-grossing film of 1959.

A "Money-Making Stars" poll conducted by exhibitors soon lifted Day from fourth-ranked box office attraction to No. 1. But at the Oscars, Day — along with fellow nominees Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor — saw Room at the Top's Simone Signoret win best actress.

This story appears in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.