A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Majolica in the Movies: Pillow Talk

We were watching the wonderful Doris Day/Rock Hudson vehicle Pillow Talk on TV the other day and were amused by the appearance of a piece of majolica in the film.

Rock Hudson's character, womanizer Brad Allen, shares a party line (when was the last time you thought about party lines?) with decorator Jan Morrow played by Doris Day. Fighting for time on the party line makes them dislike each other though they have never met. When Brad finally gets a look at Jan he decides he needs to get to know her. Brad takes an assumed name and attempts to woo Jan as cowboy Rex Stetson. Jan falls in love with Rex. However once she discovers Rex is actually her obnoxious party line Brad, she refuses to have anything more to do with him. 
Meanwhile Rex has fallen for her hard and is willing to give up his womanizing ways to marry her. Only problem is that she won't talk to him, let alone marry him. He decides to hire her as his decorator to break the ice. Jan decides to teach Brad a lesson for fooling her by redecorating his apartment in the most vulgar and tasteless way she knows how. This is where we find the majolica.

In 1959 when this movie was filmed, majolica was still considered the most vulgar form of pottery imaginable. It was totally at odds with the sleek Danish Modern style popular at the time. In this redecorated apartment Jan uses a boldly colored majolica jardiniere and pedestal and sets it up right besides Brad's bed. We can't say we recognize the pattern but it looks like some of the work Royal Doulton did in the first part of the Twentieth Century. You can see it in the picture below.

To be honest we were rather surprised that this was the only piece of majolica included considering. Among the other wild pieces in the new "bachelor pad" is a two headed turtle and a large wally bird vase (or copy) by the Martin Brothers. Today, a wally bird in that size would sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Needless to say it all works out in the end and Jan and Brad get married. Still, the movie is an interesting and amusing window into the past and at how time changes our perception of beauty.

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