Saturday, November 15, 2008

Barbie had a pink one. And I wanted one just like it (only bigger) so that I could stay in bed all day eating chocolates and chatting with friends. A powder pink princess phone fit for a princess. I never had a Barbie. I had the cheap imitation known as Mitzi. But one Christmas my Mitzi got her rich cousin's phone anyway.

It was the kind of marshmallow pink telly that Doris Day should have used while soaking in her bubble bath in Pillow Talk. But she usually had one of those classic 1950s rotary phones, often as white as Doris herself - that is, its pristine whiteness underlined her purity. But occasionally her phone was a sunny and enviable yellow to match her perfect kitchen decor and disposition.

Pottery Barn has an old fashioned rotary phone (or cradle phone) for sale. They have Doris' virginal white but they also have a black one more suitable for Sam Spade or Jake Gittes: striped shadows, whirling ceiling fan, gum shoes up on a cluttered desk, a hardboiled ear to one of these black beauties.The one at PB isn't really rotary - the dial conceals push buttons - but it comes in a variety of colours: red is dangerous, silver is classy but black is classic.

The black is the one Grace Kelly used in Dial M for Murder. Her conniving husband calls her from a polished wooden phone booth in a posh men's club and she picks up the black classic. Today you would have to call the film Push M for Murder. Doesn't have the same ring, does it? Oh... rings...well, that's a whole other topic within the topic of the Telephone Genre.

I once had a roommate who possessed a modern candlestick phone in faux ivory and gold. I coveted this phone even though it used to pull my hair out when I hung up, all that complicated receiver hardware. Still, this baby made me feel like I was Rosalind Russell talking over Cary Grant's witty repartee in His Girl Friday.

These phones had cords that prompted much physical comedy: witness Roz putting her stylish coat on while talking on the candlestick phone. She gets all tangled up with the cord running up her sleeve, a symbol of her growing entanglements. Growing entanglements describes a wonderful candlestick phone scene from It's A Wonderful Life: Mary is talking to Sam (hee-haw) Wainwright and she wants George in on the conversation.

They are pressed close together with the receiver held between them. George is a bundle of conflict and desire. He is so close to Mary he can smell her hair and it drives him crazy. But he wants to see the world, gall darn it! It's a steamy scene with George's passion turning to near violence.

Other notable movies of the telephone genre: Butterfield 8, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, The Slender Thread.


aaronschwartz said...

The first phone I used was when I was a small kid living in an equally small town. It was one that hung on the wall, and you had to take the earpiece down, turn the crank, stand on your toes (I was a little kid, cmon)to get ready to talk into the mouthpiece, then wait for Olive (that was her name, the operator, Olive) to say "Nyess may I hielp you?" Then you'd tell her who you wanted to talk to and she connected you.

The best phone we ever had was my Mom's. She was half Swedish, see, so everybody gave her lots of Swedish stuff, and we ate at Smorgasbords a lot. You'd be surprised how many Smorgasbords there were back in the 60's. So Dad got her a Swedish phone. It was so cool. Well, back then it wasn't "cool", it was "neat". "Boy, what a neat phone!" It was red and all in one piece with the dial on the bottom. Groovy Swedish phone. Never saw one of those in the movies. Then, maybe I should watch more Swedish movies.

It looked like this:

aaronschwartz said...
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