Doris Day | Designing Pillow Talk


Civilian’s resident queen of kitsch, Corinna Tomrley, explains why you’ll always find her attention turning to Doris Day’s kitchen when it comes to watching Pillow Talk

Doris Day | Designing <em>Pillow Talk</em>

I’ve got a handful of movies that I can watch over and over again and never, ever tire of. They’re like a favourite meal that you know you will always enjoy; you might not have it every week but about once a month the familiar joy of it is just the thing. One of these movies is the Doris Day and Rock Hudson classic “sex comedy” Pillow Talk. Oh, I won’t get into the argument here as to whether Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back is the better film (both starring Day and Hudson, both with very similar plot conceits by Stanley Shapiro). I adore Lover, but I’ll most often pop in Pillow Talk and let the bliss unfold.

It’s the texture and the colour of the things: a 50s hue of salmon pink meets dusky rose that’s bloody beautiful

I cannot begin to express the joy I get from watching Doris and/or Rock in just about anything. Oscar nominated Thelma Ritter – so beyond “character actress” that they need a new term for her – is just sublime as permanently hungover housekeeper Alma. Tony Randall is the ever-reliable whining sidekick. All fabulous. All glorious. But actually, the one thing that always pops into my mind whenever I think about the film is… Jan’s kitchen. Doris plays Jan Morrow, an interior decorator. And so, as you’d expect from someone whose job it is to make spaces luscious, her apartment is sodding GORGEOUS. But the most delicious part of all are her kitchen countertops. It’s the texture and the colour of the things: a 50s hue of salmon pink meets dusky rose that’s bloody beautiful. I want to rub my face on those shiny, Bakelite-looking kitchen tops. The colour is repeated on the sink drainers and surrounds, up a wall and on a similarly plastic partition. It’s all I can do when I watch the film to stop myself leaping into the TV and trying to push Jan Morrow out of her kitchen and out of her lease.

Doris Day in Pillow Talk

Doris Day in Pillow Talk

The design on the movie is credited to Richard H Riedel, contracted art director at Universal. I can’t find much about this genius (the whole film is just scrumptious), except he was – quite rightly – nominated for an academy award for Best Art Direction for Pillow Talk, and he died in a car crash on location in Rome in 1960. Pillow Talk was released in 1959. My heart goes out to Riedel’s loved ones, obviously, but what a massive loss to cinema that was! Riedel also did the design for Sirk’s Imitation Of Life, and Lana’s house in that movie is another interior design lust fixation.

Back to those countertops. Once when I was somewhat perversely looking for pictures of them to lust over I discovered something quite wonderful. Another fascination of mine is dolls. I don’t know why but I’m totally obsessed with them, particularly Barbie types. I love Barbie art, when people really mess with her. But I also love the purity of stylish high-concept, high-fashion Barbie, particularly 50s-70s models. So imagine my delight when I found out that an actual genius had made a model of Jan Morrow’s apartment in Pillow Talk for Barbie?

Thelma Ritter and Doris Day in Pillow Talk

Thelma Ritter and Doris Day in Pillow Talk

The blog Welcome Home! is dedicated to Maryann Roy’s neo retro furnishings and set design in 1:6 scale. She is very, very gifted. Although a little on the dark side of the hue, she’s pretty much nailed those countertops. I’d feel like I could finally own that 1959 New York apartment, if only in 1:6 scale… but of course she sold the thing. Dang!

By the way, Mattel did make a Jan and Brad/Doris and Rock Barbie doll set but the likenesses were rubbish and I much prefer Roy’s choice: an authentic 50s Barbie with baby blue eye shadow and big bouffant in Jan-like tailored outfits and voluminous penoir. Very Pillow Talk. C


Corinna Tomrley is a doctor of pop culture and an artist who lives in London. Her latest work is the multi-media project For The Love of Judy. She is 87% glitter