Television shows of the 1970s were the forerunner to my dive into classic movie love and lore. I recognized Victoria Barkley (Barbara Stanwyck) as that lady in Sorry Wrong Number and Golden Boy. Mr. Drucker (Frank Cady) as that man on the balcony across from Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. Even my old soap opera watching habits played a part when I noticed handsome Uncle Earl (Farley Granger) from As The World Turns as handsome Guy in Strangers on a Train. Those screenings were great little introductory lessons in entertainment for me. It’s been a fun trickling effect, one that I’ve naturally passed down to my kids as we sometimes watch old classic TV shows together.
Rock and Doris on television
Fond memories of watching television shows and classic movies as a child include such moments with my mom. She was a major McMillan & Wife fan when I was a kid. The one day I discovered the pre-1970s, pre-mustachioed Rock Hudson, long before his role as the San Francisco police commissioner McMillan, partying as the handsome lothario and stringing Doris Day for quite a ride in Pillow Talk, I understood just why she was a fan even more. He was hot back then as Brad Allan and Rex Stetson. Take your pick. Hell, if he sang “You are my inspiration, Ton-ya”, to me…
My grandmother was a fan of The Doris Day Show, a light and fluffy situation comedy starring Day as a single working mom raising two boys. The main thing I remember about that show was how sunny and bright the setting always seemed (the theme song was “Que Sera Sera”). I didn’t get her in it. I didn’t get the boys or her boss. For some reason, I couldn’t grasp that show. But, once I saw her movies, I got her.
Rock and Doris in the movies
Doris Day, a Cincinnati, Ohio native born in 1924, was the quintessential girl next door. The sweet blonde with the perfect perkiness and knockout figure, who brought wholesomeness to her characters. Her first major movie hit, after travelling the road as the lead singer for a band, was Romance on the High Seas (1948) with Jack Carson, where she sang the Sammy Cahn hit, “It’s Magic”. Great song, but I still get goosepimply all over when I hear her sing “Secret Love” from Calamity Jane (1953) – the softest spot of a loud, rollicking Western comedy with Howard Keel.
On the other hand, Rock Hudson, who was also in his first film in 1948 as an uncredited Second Lieutenant in Fighter Squadron, primarily played the tough guy, the hard-edged man. He was born in Illinois in 1925. Paired with Jane Wyman twice in two classic Douglas Sirk Technicolor tearjerkers, Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955) he revealed a soft, vulnerable side next to that edge, which won the hearts of women moviegoers. His role of Brick in Giant (1956) with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean demonstrated the heights his acting strength could rise; he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor.
Pillow Talk (1959)
Only the genius spirit that made up Hollywood back then could have brought an idea to put such diverse personalities together, to the table. With Pillow Talk, Hudson and Day reshaped the romantic comedy for the times to come. I first saw the movie when I was about twelve or so, but all the risqué innuendo that made the movie went over my head then. I enjoyed the slapstick antics, the chair that Tony Randall claimed to have bitten him, the frightened screeching cat, and more. Even that icebag on the top of Thelma Ritter’s head sent me over the top. It was much later when I realized how this little gem of a flick subtly loosened up a seemingly quiet and tame American era. Day’s Jan Morrow shimmy and the “other end of her party line” as Hudson’s Brad referred to her probably crossed some lines. Brad’s wild bachelor pad spoke volumes and Jan reminded us viewers that they were “over 21” when a weekend trip was discussed. Egad! It was still 1959!
However, nothing made my jaw drop more than the bodacious split-screen tub scene. And Hudson’s own subtle gay jokes still bring on the chuckles.
Now, aside from all that good feeling the movie personally gave to me, I truly enjoyed watching two incredibly talented actors blend and feed off one another. Hudson and Day flourished in that movie and the love and respect that increased at each take is evident and makes it most enjoyable to watch. Naturally I’ve passed this movie down to my kids and we chorus along at the bar with them to “Rolly-Polly”.
Lover Come Back (1961)
Hollywood brass knew they had a dynamic duo with them and brought them back for Lover Come Back, which, as Pillow Talk, featured mistaken identity antics and discreet bits of abundant sexuality. It was more bold and just as clever with Day as Carol Templeton and Hudson’s Jerry Webster (in this particular case, for example) frolicking on that beach towel in ways that were not so discreet! They were a delightful pair to see. Battling wits between each other, they were a riot. Smooching, they steamed up the screen. Audiences loved them. The chemistry was there and a real-life lifelong friendship endured.
Send Me No Flowers (1964)
The last Hudson-Day vehicle was Send Me No Flowers, a rather bland piece –well, especially when compared to their previous. It’s a tale of hypochondria and a whopping bit of marital misunderstanding. It is pleasant to watch; their chemistry’s there, but the sexual punch that had lit up the theatres isn’t. Their comic chops are just as strong and there is more physical humor. My favorite part of the whole thing is what I call “The Slap”. Day’s timing and swift reaction afterwards as Hudson simultaneously regroups at that moment is simply impeccable, and I do feel bad for George in that wheelchair! I have to admit though each time I watch this one, I’m oogling at their house and décor. It’s such a cozy suburban home. A far cry from their characters’ earlier New York skyline style of living.
Tony Randall was also cast with Hudson and Day in “Lover Come Back” and “Send Me No Flowers”. He was a great complement to that dynamic duo, creating a tremendous trio. As a fan of The Odd Couple, it was a treat to see him in other roles other than Felix Unger.
He had a bawdy sense of humor too.
A Loving Friendship
Many years later, in 1984, Rock Hudson revealed he was diagnosed with Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a disease so little was known about at the time. Not long after that, Doris Day, an animal-rights activist, was set to air a new television show, along with her beloved pets, on the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN). The first guest Day had invited to Doris Day’s Best Friends was her old pal Rock Hudson. He arrived and his frail appearance was a surprise to all on the set, especially Day. During the course of his visit, not once did they discuss his disease; they only focused on their mutual love and respect for each other and their wonderful memories.
Rock Hudson succumbed to the disease just two months after the taping, in October, 1985. He was the first well-known individual to publicize his diagnosis, which later helped to raise awareness about the disease and rally for a cure. Doris Day’s show aired after his passing with her warm and lovely tribute to her friend:
I had to have Rock Hudson as my first guest, so I called him and he said “I’ll be there. You can count on me” and that was the truth! All his friends, and there were so many, could always count on him. He didn’t talk about his illness anytime. I can only tell you, my friends, it was a heartbreaking time for me. Without my faith, I would be a lot sadder than I am today. I know that life is eternal and that something good is gonna come from this experience.
That was a dynamic friendship.