1954 Movie Telephone Scenes

"Executive Suite" is a 1954 movie about jockeying for power in a corporation after the president's unexpected sudden death with no clear heir. Aside from being a good movie, there were quite a few interesting historic telephone scenes.

The movie opens with the president sending a telegram from New York to Pennsylvania at a prominently marked Western Union office. The charge is an even $1.00, decent money for that day, but apparently cheaper than a long distance phone call.

Back at the home office, in the executive office tower, there are lots of phones. Everybody had two phones on their desks as well as an intercom. The first phone was a key set (lots of keysets). Most phones were Western Electric 300-type sets, although some non-Bell phones were used too. The phones were regularly used in the movie to convey urban messages.

In one scene, they had to reach a VP who left for the weekend for a resort. They called the turnpike toll plaza, where the collectors knew him, and asked the collectors to give him a message. Perhaps in

1954 turnpike interchange traffic was light enough to permit such personal service, but I can't imagine how they'd respond to such a request today.

There were several switchboards shown. In a fancy restaurant/club a telephone operator served guests with a console PBX. Guests were directed to phone booths when the call was completed. Another scene showed a traditional cord PBX.

A person-to-person long distance call was placed by name, town, and company, which was not uncommon in those days. At some point the Bell System advertised for callers to place calls by number, not name. Obviously having the toll operator wait and tie up a circuit while directory assistance pulled up the number was inefficient.

All the office buildings had uniformed elevator operators and starters in the lobbies. I forgot that automatic elevators were uncommon then. I believe buildings built around 1957 had fancy automatic elevators.

Another feature was that the death of a furniture manufacturer president was big news. Industrial concerns like that were a very big deal in that era, much more so than today. A Newsweek or Time magazine was filled with "general-awareness" ads by such corporations, such as a nut-and-bolt company in Wheeling WVa. Today it's computer companies, and factories that make actual goods are forgotten, even though they still exist.

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