Monday, January 13, 2014

Ralph DuCasse Abstract Painting in "Pillow Talk" (1959)

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love a smart romantic comedy. It might not be my most... masculine trait, but I can't deny it. So, it should come as no shock that I've always had a soft spot in my  heart for Pillow Talk (1959). I still remember watching the movie with my mom for the first time and being so impressed with the sharp dialogue and great humor throughout. Sure, the film is based on an outdated principle and requires a little explanation beforehand, but it is funny and it showcases Doris Day and Rock Hudson at their finest.
Recently, I've noticed another source of admiration for Pillow Talk: its set design. Again, this is not particularly surprising. Doris Day's character, Jan, is a interior designer. As with most films about artists, the film highlights exceptionally good contemporary tastes. I consider it a matter of trust between the filmmaker and the audience. If you are watching a film in which a character is a designer or an artist, you expect to see credible design and artistry. Pillow Talk certainly does not disappoint in this aspect at all. In fact, this post was actually requested by a loyal reader- I hope it doesn't disappoint!
One piece in particular stands out in the beginning of Pillow Talk. In the beginning of the film, Jan (D.D.) is first seen while she is working. We're introduced to her as the crush and interior designer of wealthy Jonathan (Tony Randall), who has commissioned an office redesign. Jan orders some workmen to bring in a new painting to hang in the office: a beautiful, large abstract painting that will serve as the inspiration for this post.
The painting receives some adoring film time. At one shot, it almost fills the entire still. Jan rotates the painting ninety degrees and hangs it on the wall. She proudly shows off her new find to Jonathan (who couldn't care less: he's more interested in her than her work). He asks her out and she declines and then she departs the scene. The painting does focus in the background of a few more scenes, but it's five minutes of fame is finished.

At first, the painting seems quite innocuous. This is because, unlike...say, portraits, the painting's reasoning is not immediately apparent. This is partially due to its abstract content. What can be surmised from a bunch of abstract shapes and dabs of paint? A lot more than you would initially think.
Jan Morrow (Doris Day)
"The Modern Woman"
And consequently, modern art-lover
Pillow Talk is based on the wooing of the "modern woman." Jan has a very successful career. She has a professional demeanor. She (gasp) lives by herself (without a man, obviously). In 1959 (when Pillow Talk was released), this is extremely cutting edge stuff. Jan is undoubtedly modern (whether the film portrays this as a positive or a negative is neither here nor there). So this painting, which we view in our first look at Jan helps establish this modernity. As in other films, abstract art represents modern (or contemporary) culture and standards. So, when Jonathan doesn't understand the abstract painting, he also doesn't understand Jan's desire for independence.
Untitled (1957)
by Ralph Du Casse
This painting was incredibly difficult to find. But, after a long pursuit, I finally managed to find it in the records of Omega/Cinema Props. Omega is an extremely large prop house that actually has headquarters in the first-ever film prop-house. Over the years, Omega has bought and consolidated other independent firms and I can't tell you how it ended up there. But I can tell the basic details about it. It is an untitled painting by a lesser-known American abstract expressionist, Ralph Du Casse. Du Casse painted this piece in, right on the money for Pillow Talk. Du Casse lived and worked in California and is especially noted for his oriental-inspired abstract expressionism. He was an esteemed member of the San Francisco Art Institute and a respected and beloved teacher who died in 2003 (follow this link for his obituary).
The painting is present in other scenes that take place in Jonathan's office:
A reminder of her presence and her independence
It's a decent abstract expressionist painting and very indicative of Du Casse's style. Furthermore, it really fits the feel of '60s contemporary modern art. And besides, it initially matches with Doris Day's fantastic hat. Can you get any better than that?

Omega/Cinema Props provided me with the artist name. Their information on the particular painting is available in the link below.[0]=07_ART&subcategories[0]=Abstracts


  1. OMG!! What a wonderful article! Thank you, thank you, Artoffilm, you have truly gone beyond the call of duty! You've demonstrated once again that you are the best of the art and film bloggers. It was such an incredible, and may I say, difficult, job of detective work to find that lovely painting, a picture of which has sat on my desktop as a screenshot from my Pillow Talk DVD for the last two years. I know it had to be a difficult job because I tried to find that painting myself for quite a while and finally gave up. I loved it at first sight and I shall forever be indebted to you for discovering its provenance. Since coming upon your delightful article I've been eagerly reading everything I can find on Ralph DuCasse and have found where some of his other paintings are currently located-- perhaps some day I'll even be able to procure one and hang it proudly on my own little wall. So many of his things are in museums and in the collections of art critics and historians. But I guess 'Untitled' was the only one that made its way into the movies. And what a movie! The immortal and quintessential 60's sex comedy, Pillow Talk! I suppose it's my own dirty little secret but I never, never get tired of watching that sweet film, and no small reason is the wonderful scene when Jan Morrow hangs this charming painting. And it might even not be overstatement to say that, because of that one scene in a classic film, and because of your fine detective work, Ralph DuCasse will be remembered as long as Western Civilization, which for better or worse cherishes Its films above all other art, exists. Thanks a thousand times Artoffilm. I guess I must confess, at this point, most definitely-- I... LOVE... YOU!!!!!!!
    much love and appreciation-- your fangirl, pookielewis

    1. My dear- thank you SO SO much for your lovely response. It means so much to me that someone appreciate the time and effort that I put into my posts. Your praise is beautifully superfluous... and dare I say it, true!! I must admit, it was quite tricky finding this one. It was no small task- altering images, searching databases, etc.-- but it was all worth it when I found the info and when YOU appreciated it.
      I'm so glad I was able to make your day. And may I say that it makes my day that I have a fan-girl out there!
      Yours, always,
      Dan M.
      "The Art of Film"

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  3. I myself was a freshman in art school in Atlanta when Pillow Talk premiered. I fell in love with this painting at once and still love it to this day along with Doris Day. I cannot express my gratitude to you for this story and your fine detective work to finally let us know who painted it. I am so glad it was not just a studio produced prop. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    Dave Reep
    Kansas City


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