Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961)

As much as I wanted to be scholarly while writing this piece, I soon discovered that it was pretty hard to do, strictly on a personal level. You see, talking about Rock Hudson is something I love to do, but it can be difficult to leave his personal life out of the discussion. Because I adore Hudson, I'm apt to look at him as a tragic figure, a man who wasn't able to completely live as himself and died of a horrific disease. People often like to look at his films through the lens of his homosexuality, which is perfectly fine and a worthy thing to do, but it also seems to leave something out: Rock Hudson, the actor. Can we separate Rock from his closeted image and just examine him as an actor? I think I owe it to him to try. I can't believe that his sexuality is all that we have to define him.

To me, Hudson is irresistible, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his comedies, particularly those with best friend Doris Day. Known primarily for dramas such as Giant and his work with Douglas Sirk, Hudson's performance in Pillow Talk came as a revelation. Doris and Rock's chemistry is legendary and their performances wouldn't be the same without each other there to support and build up one another. Called "the Fred Astaire of comedy" by James Garner, Day was an expert comedienne by 1959, making her a worthy partner to challenge Hudson and bring out his innately wonderful comedic chops.

"Her sense of timing, her instincts -- I just kept my eyes open and copied her," Rock said. "Doris...was an Actor's Studio all by herself. When she cried, she cried funny...and when she laughed, her laughter came boiling up from her kneecaps." When asked what made a good screen team, he stated "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."

After having so much fun on the set and seeing the huge success of Pillow Talk, Day and Hudson came together for Lover Come Back in 1961, which owes a lot to the previous film. It once again pits Doris and Rock against each other with Tony Randall on hand to be the neurotic, hilarious sidekick, and the plots are essentially about deception. In PT, a shared phone line drives them crazy as Doris's Jan can never use it thanks to Rock's Brad's incessant amorous calls. She accuses him of being oversexed, he accuses her of being undersexed, but upon seeing Jan in all her beauty, Brad decides to get his revenge by introducing himself as wealthy Texan "Rex Stetson" in order to sleep with her ("I'd say five or six dates ought to do it"). It's an utterly horrid way to assert his control over the situation, but the joke's on him when he falls for her.

In LCB, the duo are advertising executives with completely different tactics for landing clients -- Jerry (Hudson) uses booze, broads, and debauchery while Carol (Day) employs a lot of hard work and determination. Her labors should earn her the accounts she seeks, but Jerry wins out every time, an interesting comment on how much harder women have to work to get what is owed to them (and how they often don't get it, regardless). Hearing that Jerry is working on the VIP account with scientist Dr. Linus Tyler, Carol goes to Tyler's lab to try to sway him to her side. When she mistakes Jerry for Tyler, he goes with it, hoping to make Carol look like a fool after she made accusations against him to the Advertising Council. I bet you can't guess what happens next.

Although Hudson was initially nervous about playing comedy, you can't tell. To make things even more complicated, he is playing dual roles: Brad/Rex and Jerry/Linus. If we're to believe that his character is deceiving a smart woman like Jan/Carol, he better be damn good at creating his alter ego. It isn't enough to just wear different clothes or don a full beard -- Hudson has to add nuance, while also walking a kind of tightrope. He can't wink at the audience too much, because although we know he isn't who he says he is, Doris's character doesn't know that. He also can't be so much of a slimeball that we're not going to root for him.

This is where comedy becomes Hudson's greatest asset. Brad and Jerry are by no means perfect; they start as your basic misogynistic playboys, and over time they can only be redeemed by their love for a woman who finally makes them grow up. Without someone playing this part to perfection, I could never be okay with this kind of character, but because it's Rock, I'm able to sit back and enjoy the show. The things he does as Brad and Jerry are simply very, very funny.

Exhibit A: Jerry convincing Carol that he, "Linus," is a virgin. Adopting a meek and naive attitude, Jerry pretends to know nothing about sex as a way to prompt Carol to teach him (wink wink). Using her hatred of him, Jerry-as-Linus says that Jerry is going to take him to a strip club one night. Not wanting "Linus" to be anywhere near Jerry, Carol offers to take him instead. (Now, it's
important to differentiate something here: I don't believe that Carol is rolling her eyes and scoffing at the strip show because she hates sex or anything absurd like that. I think it's more that she sees it as something that degrades women in order to mainly please men. Sorry, had to say it.)

While we don't get to see what the
characters are seeing, the facial reactions of Day and Hudson are priceless, especially "Linus's" look of amazement. The fact that the stripper throws her daisy pasties at him and he continues to twirl them and marvel at them in the taxi ride home is icing on the cake. Watching Hudson put on this ridiculous act of innocence is fantastic because it goes against everything we have seen of his character so far. It isn't just sex that he pretends to be ignorant of, but other vices as well, such as when he whimpers to Carol that Jerry forced him to try a cigarette that "had no printing" (!) and it made the rest of the night a blur.

Exhibit B: everything Brad does. That's right, I can't narrow it down to one example because honestly, I find Hudson to be flawless in Pillow Talk and I love every single thing he does. His over-the-top seduction of women; his heartfelt attempt to repair his relationship with Jan; his crooning of "Inspiration" over the phone; his failure
to fit his huge frame in a small sports car; the way he slips into his southern drawl effortlessly; his interaction with Tony Randall... It's criminal that he wasn't nominated by the Academy Awards like Doris was for her role in this film. While LCB's "Linus" is supposed to be an innocent, "Rex" isn't quite that extreme. Instead, he is just a polite, kind, considerate gentleman -- you know, like Brad should be. By film's end, we're supposed to believe that is what he has become, minus the Texan accent.

If you're still with me, congrats. I know that talking about Rock Hudson turns me into a pile of mush. I'm in love with the guy, and I think he has always been seriously underrated as an actor. Maybe it's his hunky image, or maybe it's the awful way his life ended, but when I see Rock, I think "Man, he was great." He makes me laugh and he makes me enjoy what I'm watching -- what more could you ask for?

With love,
Michaela

P.S. If you feel like having a good cry, you can watch Doris Day's tribute to her friend here, made in 2014 when Hudson was TCM's Star of the Month.
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This is my contribution to the fun Dual Roles Blogathon. Check out the wonderful entries here!

Comments

  1. What a lovely tribute...and from Doris Day! :) You make a great point about Rock Hudson as an actor...how focusing on his films only through the lens of his homosexuality can have the unintended consequence of undervaluing his ability as an actor.

    I have not seen Lover Come Back...but I want to! I'm a huge fan of Doris Day and need to see more Rock Hudson films.

    So glad you could join us in the Dual Role Blogathon!

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    1. A lot of people (and critics) seem to think that Lover Come Back is their best film together. I prefer Pillow Talk, but it's very close -- they're both wonderful. You can't go wrong with Day and Hudson. If you want to be stunned by a completely different Hudson, I recommend Seconds. It's pretty haunting.

      Thanks for having me!

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  2. So Tony Randall costarred in all 3 of their films? That's amazing.

    I agree with you, although his death was tragic and it's a shame that he had to keep his sexuality a secret, that doesn't mean we can't appreciate his enormous and undervalued talent. Pillow Talk was one of the first classic movies I ever bought on DVD, so he's always been close to my heart even though I've only seen 5 of his films. I always say this, but he was Cary Grant 2.0; comedian with the gorgeous looks of a leading man.

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    1. Tony Randall did and it's fantastic. He was the perfect foil to Rock Hudson, and he almost steals each movie from the leading couple. Almost.

      I could definitely see that about Rock being the new Cary Grant, although he's certainly not appreciated as much as Cary. I also hold Hudson near and dear, so it makes me sad when I read something about him and all it can do is focus on one thing. (Granted, it's an important thing and deserves to be explored.)

      Thanks for reading!

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    2. Hi again! I nominated you for an award: https://champagneforlunch.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/one-lovely-blog-award/

      Delete
    3. Thank you so much! I'll be sure to respond as soon as I can!

      Delete
  3. I enjoyed this post. I don't know why I haven't seen Lover Come Back, because since I first viewed Pillow Talk with my mother as a child, it has become one of my favourite films. So many of your observations are spot-on--and your passion for Mr Hudson really shines through
    Pillow Talk is a well packaged time capsule, both delightful and somewhat risqué for the time.I think it's great fun and plan to write about the movie also, but from a different angle: why a mid-century modern enthusiast should know and love it. Thanks again for the well written post!

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    1. That sounds like a great post! Thanks for your comment! I like your observation about Pillow Talk being a time capsule -- very aptly put. Lover Come Back is too, and its satire on advertising is still relevant to today. I hope you get a chance to see it soon. I would even argue it's more risqué than Pillow Talk!

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  4. What a great read! I really loved both of them and everything they did together so I appreciate your perspective here very much. Every time I let myself think about what Rock must have gone through over the years I lose it. It simply breaks my heart. I love his movies with Doris Day because they both seem genuinely happy to be doing what they're doing. And you can't help but feel good about that. Time to load Lover Come Back!

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    1. That's one of the reasons why I love their films, too. I'm sure he had a tough life, but it wasn't all doom and gloom. I remember when I first read about how much fun he and Doris had on set, I felt surprised -- he knew how to laugh!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I admit, I've been slow to warm to Hudson-Day films, and only slowly have started to recognize their charms. But you make a fantastic case for them!

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad you're giving them another chance. They can be more subversive than you would think the more you look at them.

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  6. Wonderful review, and a great tribute to Rock Hudson the actor. I couldn't quite connect with the film "Lover Come Back", but I adore him in "Pillow Talk". He has such "Rock Hudson" charisma, yet he still manages to be credible in his roles – even when his characters pretend to be someone else.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon and for bringing Mr Hudson with you! :)

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    1. He was rather charismatic, wasn't he? I could see why you would have a harder time with Lover Come Back. I don't think I really enjoyed it until maybe the third viewing. But if anyone makes a film worth revisiting, it's Rock. And Doris isn't so bad, either. ;)

      Thanks for the blogathon! It's been great reading the other entries!

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  7. Great article Michaela! :) I love what you said about Rock Hudson in your introduction and I love Pillow Talk, such a fun film! Your article make me want to see it again. I haven't seen Lover Come Back yet

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    1. Thanks, Virginie! Pillow Talk is one of my all-time favorites. I'm surprised at the number of people who haven't seen Lover Come Back. I guess I always assumed it went hand-in-hand with Pillow Talk. I hope you get to see it soon! It's a good one!

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  8. You can't tell Rock was insecure about doing comedy at all in Pillow Talk! He really seems so comfortable in his role.
    The first paragraph moved me. I can't think if Rock if now as a whole, person and performer, and I do believe sexuality can't define him - or anybody.
    I also really liked your reflection on how women in advertising (my case) have to work harder to receive the same benefits as men. Well done!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you! Sorry I'm just now responding -- Blogger usually notifies me by email when I get a comment, but it's been acting up lately.

      It's interesting how confident he looks in Pillow Talk considering he felt a little scared about it. And he was such a natural comedian, too! As for women having to work harder than men... don't even get me started! ;)

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  9. I didn't know that Rock Hudson was a dramatic actor until some time after I had come to love him for his first two comedies with Doris Day and one that he made with Paula Prentiss. In fact, even after seeing him in his most lauded dramatic roles, I still prefer him as the gorgeous, laughing playboy who falls deeply in love with the gorgeous, laughing single girl about NYC that I wanted to be when I grew up.

    And, yes, her tribute to him made me cry a little for a man and a talent that I would have loved to have seen perform for many more years.

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    1. Thank you for leaving me such a wonderfully written comment!

      I think I prefer Rock in comedy, too, but he was magical in everything he did. What a marvelous man and what a lovely talent.

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