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And who shall I say is calling?
July 19, 2013 8:06 AM   Subscribe

Once upon a time, the telephone was a strange, intimidating invention. So in 1974, the fine folks at the phone company made a short film to help children overcome their telephone-related fear and uncertainty. Taking their cues from children's entertainment, they tried to create a fun-filled land of song and dance, not unlike, say, Sesame Street. The end result was not exactly successful along those lines (it turns out that not even a catchy song can make the white pages exciting), but is no less compellingly, weirdly watchable for it. Come with us (and with Telly, a strange, merry man who kind of comes off like one of the Telephone Elves of the Eschaton) to the magical land of Telezonia.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER (40 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Trivia: Robert Towers, who gives flesh to the otherworldly presence that is Telly, later on played a jockey in an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I had only ever seen him in Telezonia and kind of freaked out when he showed up.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2013


"Magical" my ass.

I was told there would be CONSTANT ORGAN MUSIC.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"look at the phone - it's like magic"

"this is rachel from cardholder services ..."
posted by pyramid termite at 8:21 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


1974?
I was a teen in 1974, and phones were hardly strange nor intimidating. Kids loved phones, and would be fighting over who used it first, not trying to avoid using it. Talk about an out-of-touch marketing department...
posted by Thorzdad at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Maybe they were more intimidating in 1949 when the original Adventure in Telezonia was released, but I doubt it. As a kid, those puppets probably would have scared me more than any phone.
posted by Venadium at 8:28 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was a teen in 1974, and phones were hardly strange nor intimidating. Kids loved phones, and would be fighting over who used it first, not trying to avoid using it. Talk about an out-of-touch marketing department...

That was one of the million baffling things about this - the fact that all the kids have Phone Issues and don't want to use one.

Also that their adventure in Telezonia would make them any more inclined to have anything to do with telephones.

I was shown this in my second-grade class in the early eighties and the teacher even admitted ahead of time that this was going to be pretty goofy. Even so, none of us was really ready for Telly's first onscreen appearance.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:29 AM on July 19, 2013


Thanks for posting this though. I saw it on public access TV about 12 or 13 years ago, and as a 16 year old wanna-be phone phreak I wanted a copy of this SO BAD.
posted by Venadium at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


All I remember about phones from the mid-70s was the long ass cord the Romano/Cooper household had on One Day at a Time and how I thought it was super glamorous.

(I also thought being a divorced mom in an apartment was super glamorous too; in hindsight, I was very sheltered and pretty impressionable to the charms of Bonnie Franklin.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I see what you did there with that title.

I was pretty close to the age of those kids and I don't remember being intimidated by the phone, but it was a bit of a bigger deal then. There may have been a per call charge even for local calls.

The past is a different country and all that.
posted by jclarkin at 8:39 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's the link to the 1949 version of Telezonia.
posted by NoMich at 8:40 AM on July 19, 2013


Once upon a time, the telephone was a strange, intimidating invention

So Once upon a time is... 2013?

I'm a hypersocial extravert and I hate the goddamn thing. Speaking live without any body-language cues is the worst. You can't even tell if a silence is comfortable or awkward. Ugh.

Hate.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Needs more Oompa Loompas.
posted by mochapickle at 8:56 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Long, long before caller ID, my dad would answer the phone, "Hi! How are ya?" which never failed to flummox the caller.

My brother and I followed his example and managed to keep it up for several weeks until one evening, when Dad was working the swing shift, the phone rang, and after asking our stepmother if I could answer, after all it was my turn, I picked up and blurted, "Hi! How are you?"

"What?" It was Dad. "How did? Goddammit, put your Stepmother on."

After she was done with the call Katie said, "Your Dad says he doesn't want you answering the phone like that anymore. He doesn't want you answering the phone at all anymore. You ruined his joke."

Now, several decades later, whenever the cella rings, and I see it's Dad, I just let it go to voicemail.
posted by notyou at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Nice job with the title, btw. You and the previous post have a nice Leonard Cohen thing going.
posted by Hoopo at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid in the early seventies, our phone service still had party lines, where your line was shared with another house. So sometimes you'd pick up the phone and hear people having a conversation. If you really needed to make a call, you'd have to ask them to hang up. We shared our line with an old lady who was always on the phone with her sister, gossiping. I kind of miss that.
posted by nerdler at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now, several decades later, whenever the cella rings, and I see it's Dad, I just let it go to voicemail.

Does your voicemail start: "Hi! How are ya?"
posted by en forme de poire at 9:22 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nice job with the title, btw. You and the previous post have a nice Leonard Cohen thing going.

I was hoping someone would notice that.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:31 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


And in 1927, dial phones themselves were a strange and compelling mystery, as seen in this silent film.

For whom does the bell toll?

It tolls for FRESNO!
posted by droplet at 9:33 AM on July 19, 2013


Wasn't 1974 about the time that Mr. Brady put the pay phone in the house in an effort to stem the over use of the phone by Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marsha, Jan, and Cindy? That was probably close to peak phone for teenagers.
posted by COD at 9:36 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This should be edited into the end of Kubrick's 2001.
posted by yoink at 9:43 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Singing question mark lady is the kind of 70s character that definitely gave me nightmares. Why did so many films for kids totally cover people's heads with spandex and makeup?

Mild nightmares that just kind of creeped me out. But geez. She seems to be at around 10:40.
posted by amtho at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Is this the party to whom I am speaking?"
posted by islander at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2013


Hahahahaha, when the kid yells "who's that?" and the whole room goes quiet I half expected the set to turn red and question mark lady to seethe "YOU HAVE ANGERED THE TELEPHONE. AND NOW WE ALL SUFFER"
posted by en forme de poire at 10:03 AM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I know some adults who could benefit from this.
posted by Halogenhat at 10:06 AM on July 19, 2013


Oh yeah. The party line. Our neighbors were the Hatfields (no shit, but not those). Three daughters.

Cable TV never made it all the way out there, either.
posted by notyou at 10:14 AM on July 19, 2013


Singing question mark lady is the kind of 70s character that definitely gave me nightmares. Why did so many films for kids totally cover people's heads with spandex and makeup?

Also one of the parentheses is a perfectly charming, capable performer, but has a really visible lazy eye, and once you see it it's impossible to see anything else.

I have watched this film probably too many times.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:17 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yip yip yip yip yip, telephone, brrrrrrrrring!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sesame Street and telephone, you say?

YIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIPYIP
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2013


jINX!
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:31 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


They must have showed this to us in Kindergarten because I vaguely remember it.

Also, they totally swiped the time tunnel video effect from Doctor Who.
posted by smoothvirus at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2013


In 1974, the phone was my 12-year-old-self's chat room. We had a regular direct service phone line but if you stopped dialing after the 3rd or 4th number, you could hear the faint voices of other people who had done the same and they could hear you. It wasn't a true party line, in that we could dial out direct, but some kind of phone system glitch. I used to spend hours doing this, so much so that my ear would get flattened from the giant handset and when I finally hung up, the cartilage of my ear would audibly pop away from my head like a spring made of rubber.

I also discovered that I could win radio station giveaway by dialing the first six numbers of the station's line and waiting until the DJ announced "Be the first caller." At the end of that summer, I had speed-dialed my way to so many prizes that I was banned from entering any more contests from two different radio stations. KNDE and KROY, you still suck for that.
posted by jamaro at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


One thing we discovered when we moved to very rural Alabama, was that the concept of reliable phone service was new to many people. So new in fact that the monopoly phone company had to advertise! But, I digress, what was really shocking was the way many people used the phone. Whether calling or receiving a call as soon as you heard the receiver click you began shouting, "HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!" over and over until you heard someone on the other end. As you were busy shouting, it was often difficult to hear the person on the other end and so the shouting back and forth sometimes went on for quite some time until you realized you were connected. Apparently this phenomenon was due to the fact that the old lines were poorly insulated and lost a lot of signal over any distance so you might receive a call and not realize there was a live person until you heard the faint "hello! that told you you were on.

Another aspect of the phone system in Alabama that was still going on at the time was that the phone could tell you the weather. Because the lines were above ground and stretched between distant rural areas and still fairly poorly insulated, you could tell when a storm was coming because the phone would ring. You knew it was going to be bad when it rang a lot.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:04 AM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, did he say "We saved you some ants"?
posted by FireSpy at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thorzdad: "I was a teen in 1974, and phones were hardly strange nor intimidating."

This reaction was a result of the British PSAs of the 1970s wherein a child was shown picking up a receiver and its ears would be shown to bleed from the horrible keening noise emanating from the device. In short order, the child would be dead. From telephony.
posted by boo_radley at 12:45 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That is a heck of a granny square vest on that kid. (Kid's rug is also crocheted, when the go into the house to use the phone.) Were granny-square vests a thing in 1974? Because in 1994 when I was supposed to be wearing them, they were not.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:47 PM on July 19, 2013


Were granny-square vests a thing in 1974?

Sadly, yes. I had one and also a granny square purse. 1974 was also the summer my mom enrolled me in a macrame class during summer vacation where many stupid owls were made.
posted by jamaro at 3:21 PM on July 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I've always hated answering the phone and as a kid (I'm 37) I had to be bribed, threatened and fooled into answering the phone. Who was on the other end? A monster? A boring person? SOMEONE WHO WANTED ME TO TAKE A MESSAGE!?!

I just hated the phone generally, rotary phones pinched me and took a million years to dial, pulse phones had to do all the little stupid clicks (THERE IS NO TIME SAVINGS LIAR PHONE COMPANY!), phones are bullshit.

I used to pick up the phone and say "what?", just so I would be forbidden from answering the phone.

BUT and I'm not bragging here or anything, this is a fact integral to the story, my dad was friends/working on a thing with F. Murray Abraham and every once in a while he'd call the house and one time I answered the phone and this voice like out of Scooby Doo cartoon about Shakespeare would say (I'm talking maximum plummy tones here, dude was playing to the cheap seats),

"IS JOHN THEEEERRRRREEEE?" and I would say in my timorous little voice (through dint of much training by the parents), "who may I say is calling?" and he would say "TELL HIM IT'S EFFFFFFFFFF!"

And so from then on I always answered the phone, just on the off fucking chance that Salieri might be calling , you know?
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:12 PM on July 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, that looks like a fancy phone for 1974. Around 1985 in (admittedly rural) New Zealand, we were still using a wind-the-handle phone like this one. And we had a party line for many years even after we got a proper dial phone.
posted by lollusc at 12:02 AM on July 20, 2013


He's no Phoney McRing-Ring.
posted by La Cieca at 7:16 AM on July 20, 2013


I remember that great AT&T ad campaign: "The telephone. It's better than running."
posted by The Deej at 8:35 AM on July 20, 2013


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