Telephony on TV [telecom]

I just finished watching an old TV show on DVD where the telephone network was the prime factor in the show. It was the use of a company "Tie Line" between San Francisco to Hawaii that gave away the killer:

(Original) Hawaii Five-O season 3 ep 4 "Time and Memories" (starring a young Martin Sheen).

The use of the phrase "Tie Line" caught my notice early in the episode, and it put a smile on my face when it turned out to be central to the whole plot.

I wonder if there are many other examples on TV or cinema of reasonably obscure telephone technology being used in such an important manner in a plot line?

-- Regards, David.

David Clayton Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Knowledge is a measure of how many answers you have, intelligence is a measure of how many questions you have.

Reply to
David Clayton
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Could you elaborate how that happened?

I don't think tie-line traffic was billed at that time--the point of a tie-line was to provide free communication between two PBXs and billing equipment cost money in that era. Indeed, one of the goals of Centrex was to provide extension outward toll billing which wasn't available before except manually via the PBX operator.

Various interesting telephony issues were used to advance the plot in the excellent 1976 film "Three Days of the Condor".

The 1960s film "Pillow Talk" featured two single people fighting over use of a shared party line.

While this wasn't a major plot line, in a recent TV show, "2 Broke Girls", the wall phone (a green 554 rotary set) rang and a roommate unknowingly answered it. The other roommate explained never to answer that phone because that was the number bill collectors and the landlord called on.

In "The Major and the Minor", Ginger Rogers gets a boy to let her use a school switchboard so she can make a toll call important to the plot. She gets her own call through, but screws up other traffic.

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"Not exactly."

A 'tie line' was a (usually) telco-supplied 'permanent' voice-grade point-to- point circuit between two locations. There was a non-trivial one-time 'installation' charge, _and_ a MRC based on mileage. Just like for an OPX, or FX service.

Tie lines were typically installed between locations where there was 'enough' traffic between those sites to justify the 'fixed' cost of the permanent link -- because it was less than the cost that would be incurred in toll calls.

I've got a _vague_ memory that the 'tie' in the name was actually an acronym for something.

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

Not particularly 'obscure', but the movie "Sorry, Wrong Number" had the telephone as a central plot element. It also figured prominently in "Dial M for Murder".

There are many instances where a "party-line" figured conspicuously into the plot. There's a Rock Hudson/Doris Day movie -- the name of it escapes me at the moment -- that revolves around two people being forced to share a party- line because private lines were in extremely short supply.

There are at least two 'Columbo' episodes where observation of the indicator lamps on a 1A2 desk set are instrumental in the solution of the case.

Also, a "Banacek' episode where a dial-up computer modem connection is an essential part of the solution to the 'mystery'.

There's an 'Hawaii Five-0' episode, where 'remote message retrieval' (somewhat exotic technology for -that- time -- the lab guy has to explain, and _demo_, to McGarrett how it's possible/done) from an answering machine is a plot element.

And, of course, there are the games Robert Redford plays with the phone system in 'Three Days of the Condor'. Especially the bamboozling of the CIA's 'tracer' system.

There are, also, "who knows how many" shows that involve 'tracing' phone calls,

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

Yes, of course there were initial and monthly _fixed_ costs, but I do not think there were _variable_ costs of usage once the tie-line was up and running; so no records of tie line usage were normally kept (other than special reasons). Given that, and the general state of PBX technology of that era, I don't think there was a way a dialed call could've been _easily_ traced, especially after the fact (if that's what they did.)

I think in TV/movies they took a lot of liberties on the concept of 'tracing a call'.

In Three Days of the Condor, they showed a CIA office where supposedly a map came up on a screen showing the location of an originated call. _If_ the originating exchange had ANI (and not all did in 1976) that kind of technology was _theorectically_ possible, but it would require a sizable mainframe to handle the database and the digitization of geographic information not often done back then, plus some nice hardware to select the map panel and display it.

As an aside, they looked like Hagstrom street maps on the display. Hagstrom was a long time top map maker for the NYC area.

Speaking of movies, in North by Northwest a page request for a phone call was a key element in the plot. Also, the telephone was used in a number of scenes. In one, two spies are talking to each other while in a bank of pay phones. IIRC, Cary Grant asked a hotel operator to trace a call just received, but since it was a manual call the operator likely would've remember the source. Of course, in a big hotel like that there were probably several operators handling a high volume a traffic, and remembering a specific call wasn't a sure thing.

Reply to

Sorry, but you "don't know what you don't know" in that respect.

The display technology shown actually existed, and did *not* involve any digitization of data. Typically driven by something on the scale of a PDP-8 to a PDP-11/03.

No kidding. :)

It was simple _optical_ projection of film images (probably micro-fiche) data, with stepper-motor-driven X-Y axis positioning. It used a simple

3-coordinate system -- film #, and X-Y values -- to represent any displayable point in the system.

Very similar to the technology employed in the terminals invented by The University of Illinois, for their PLATO system.

Aside, ANI wasn't necessary for identifying a calling number, and was _not_ being used in the purported CIA 'trace' facility. If that trace was ANI-based, they'd have the calling number before answering the phone.

With electro-mechanical C.O. switches one had to have a tech physically track the connection through the relays.

With computer-driven control components, a trace needs only remote access to the switch console, to match the incoming circuit to the outgoing one. then on to the 'upstream' switch, and repeat. The limiting factor on how fast you can trace is simply how fast you can access the switches involved.

Before SS7 -- and I believe there is still such a capability in SS7 -- there was a capability for a telco to issue a command for the switches handling a call to 'freeze' the connection, such that the circuit was not torn down when either party hung up. This eliminated the need to 'keep the caller on the line' until the trace was completed. This was a "lock and trace" operation.

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

The mechanical part of automatically selecting and displaying a microfiche is not that hard.

I suggest that _in that era_ the real-time translation of a phone number to a street address and then street address to a specific fiche frame would have been a technical challenge. Doable, but not easy nor cheap.

First, they would need dynamic information from the phone company of the physical address associated with every telephone number in the metropolitan region. In those days there was a high volume of service changes. Due to the high volume, the telephone company itself had trouble maintaining that information accurately and that was a contributing factor toward the service crisis of that era. So, maintaining a separate accurate database would have been a big challenge.

Secondly, they would need to translate a specific street address to the proper map location for the entire metro area and keep that up to date and accurate. I'm not sure computerized databases of that sort of thing existed back then(remember, we're covering both the city and suburbs in three states down to the house level). It could've been created of course, but that would be a big job since so much of it would be done by hand.

As an aside, in the old days many addresses were shown as intersections eg "Fifth & Main Streets". while today many addresses are shown with a street number, eg "3 Fifth Street". I suspect that change is due to making it easier to have computerized databases for public safety and the post office.

If they didn't use ANI, what did they use to identify the calling number _quickly_ as shown in the movie?

Most exchanges in 1976 were electro-mechanical of all three types. A few exchanges were independent with very basic switches, such as on Fisher's Island.

I believe ANI was fairly widespread back then, but I know from personal experience that not all city exchanges had it and still depended on ONI.

Of course, special trunks and arrangements would be required from all exchanges or tandem offices to the CIA office in order to pass through the calling number. Doable, but not cheap in those days. (The CIA wasn't supposed to be meddling in domestic affairs, that was the FBI's job. But we can assume that the CIA got whatever it wanted from the phone company as long as money changed hands to cover the cost.)

I believe a feature in the early 911 systems was the ability for the

911 operator to seize the circuit and ring back the caller if he hung up.

As an aside, in the movie Redford tracked a phone number to area code

202 and the CIA. But the CIA was in Langley VA, so wouldn't their area code be the one for Virginia? Likewise, when he tracked a call to the rouge manager at his suburban home, wouldn't he have had a different area code? I suspect the movie just used some dramatic license for that (as they did in the central office scenes). ***** Moderator's Note *****

Um, you do realize that the voice of HAL didn't come from a computer, right?

Is there any question in your mind that Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford were not the reporters who broke the Watergate Coverup story?

OK, here's a trick question: can you accept that "Bedtime for Bonzo" was not filmed in the OVal Office of the White House?

This thread has wandered into a discussion of how many angels can fit in the heart of a Hollywood agent, so it's time to close it.

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to

All right, Robert. As always, you know better, but don't offer an explanation. Hancock has used this example a number of times in the past on Usenet.

If the map isn't digitized (I assume you mean in a GIS sense), then there has to be a database of origin points for each street segment from a given intersection, plus points at which a street changed direction between intersections, as well as a ratio between house number increment approximations and how far to move the image. For coordinates, you'd need to know the house numbers of the intersections themselves. Plus you'd require some logic to resolve conflicts of two streets with multiple intersections.

This could have been done at the time with a hell of a lot of data input. The Census Bureau began the process of mapmaking from DIME based on the 1960 census, which was used until TIGER was built based on the 1980 census. DIME maps were attrocious. Intersections lined up on one end but not the other, and they weren't made human-readable by cartographers.

Did they have the ability to relate locations to commercial maps of the era? Again, with a lot of additional data input, it probably could have been done, but I doubt the results would have been as satisfactory as what we saw on screen.

DIME map making did use USGS topographic maps as their base. Regardless, DIME maps looked nothing like topo maps.

This was all part of a process that led to associating addresses with block-level data, ZIP+4 codes so that future censuses could rely more heavily on mailed-in results, and assignment of Census blocks to latitude/longitude coordinates, the result of which was lots of targeted marketing thanks to vastly improved demographic data mostly paid for by taxpayers.

I agree with hancock that what we saw on screen in that movie was somewhat fantastic.

It had to be more than that, for each intersection needed an association between the map's coordinates and the street addresses of each intersection. Then you'd need to know what angle the street was on as a tangent originating from that intersection plus how many feet an address increment represented.

Reply to
Adam H. Kerman

Just watched another classic Hawaii 5-O episode where they tracked down kidnappers by setting up a call to a public phone and then cut to an exchange where they showed someone looking at SxS switch equipment and backtracking the call rack by rack to a piece of jumper wire on the MDF.

Instead of just the info of a trace being delivered as a plot piece, they basically showed the process (I don't know how accurate the depiction was, but it looked good to me), very impressive!

I am beginning to suspect whoever they had writing in that old season 3 either knew a bit about the phone system or they had a consultant who did.

Reply to
David Clayton

Several movies featured women working as PBX or telco operators, but I wouldn't call that an obscure technology, nor AFAIR vital to plots.

'The Sting' relies on interception of newswire (race results). Quite a few movies showed Teletypes, either newswire, cable (e.g. WU, C&W), or business telex/TWX. They are nicely cinematic with the thudding and the dinging and the typehead moving and the words appearing. Ordinary people wouldn't encounter a Teletype but I'm not sure they're obscure.

'Fail Safe' is set almost entirely on the US-USSR hotline. 'Dr Strangelove' uses it some -- also an ordinary payphone, with the wonderful threat by Keenan Wynn "If you don't get the president on that phone, you'll have to answer to the Coca-Cola company."

[Moderator snip]

'The President's Analyst' has important roles for several fictional (we hope!) telco -- but not quite telephone -- technologies.

TV series 'Cannon' frequently used an IMTS (I believe) car phone at a time when they were uncommon and 'sexy' but not unknown.

'Green Acres' had Eddie Albert (often?) climb a pole to directly use the cable, but this was just a yuk, not important to plot.

Reply to
David Thompson

In Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" (set in a small town in Vermont), Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano) interrupts a bridge game. Suspicious (correctly) that the bridge game is a staged setup to deflect his attention from what's actually happening, he plays along. But he's really there to use the old manual wall phone to call the state police. He picks up the receiver, waits for the local operator to answer, then asks for "Montpellier 2000." One of the bridge-game players recognizes the number and says, under his breath to the rest of the bridge players, "That's the State Police." It takes a few minutes for the local operator to get the call established. During this time, Wiggs makes small talk with the bridge party, stopping occasionally to answer questions from the operator.

Neal McLain

Reply to
Neal McLain

If memory serves, the closing scene of "All The President's Men" show a Teletype printing out a news story ending the story. That film also had extensive of use of telephones (black rotary 500's with plastic dial) in the office and in phone booths (modern lower case "phone" sign, but with old Bell System logo).

Many offices had Teletypes for one reason or another, so they weren't that unusual in the workplace. Many had receive only to get news, weather, or special bulletins from headquarters. Others had TWX or Telex for two-way communication. News programs often showed a bank of Teletypes in the background, and newsradio stations used the thudding noise in the background. They continued using that noise even after mechanical Teletypes were replaced with computer screens. The classic film Casablanca opens with a police officer ripping an urgent bulletin from the Teletype, a common cinematic theme.

The film, "Airport", recently available on cable. made extensive use of telephone and radio conversations to move the plot along. The airport manager had a fancy telephone setup on the wall behind his desk. The maintenance supervisor had a mobile phone in his car. Other personnel had radios in their cars with the handheld microphone pulled out on its coiled cord, a popular cinematic device. The film was made around the time Touch Tone was coming out, and important people in the film had colored Touch Tone sets, while mere mortals had plain black rotary sets. Ironically, the airport's PBX switchboard was a quiet board--for a crazy busy airport like that in a snowstorm the board should've been a lot busier.

In "The Day the Earth Stood Still", a somber army general picks up the phone, spins the dial at zero, and states grimly, "get me the President!". That was a common cinematic device.

Did Mannix have a car phone? I remember back then that VIPs would be shown with a car phone, which were very rare back then. You're right, it added some "sexy" or coolness to the show.

That was an ongoing joke that the backward town couldn't or wouldn't get enough wire to finish extending the line from the pole into the house. It served for other jokes such as dropping the phone to the ground and hitting someone or having a tough time talking in bad weather. I think the phone portrayed was actually a butt test set.

In old days Bell dials made a scratchy sound when dialed while AE dials were much quieter. But in old movies that scratchy sound could add to the drama of a scene when a character was slowly and deliberately making a phone call of importance to the plot (such as toward the end in Casablanca with Capt Renoit forced to make a call at gunpoint or several times in Maltese Falcon).

Question: In conducting business, Hollywood studios made extensive use of the telephone, even going way back. I wonder if they Bell System provided them with advanced PBX switchboards or networks to accomodate their demand. I wonder if studio lots had more telephone extensions than a typical industrial site.

[public replies, please]
Reply to

Don't recall about Mannix, but if we go back to the 1950s, "The Adventures of Superman" [a] featured publisher Perry White with a car phone. None of the reporters or other secondary people...

[a] As Scotty of Star Trek might have said, "no A, B, C, or D. Just Superman, dammit"
Reply to
danny burstein
[Moderator snip]

It's easy to forget that a lot of the L.A. area was served by independent telephone companies where AE tlephone and dials were very common, so probably not a conscious deviation in film in many cases.

Some of the independent compahies were pretty progressive and their telephone service may have provided by independent companies which could also supply such equipment and networks.

Wes Leatherock

Reply to
Wes Leatherock

When I was a reporter at The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City) we had two cars with car phones. You got a car with a phone if there was a reason it might be needed on an assignment. I used it a number of times on such an assignment. I believe [the phone number] was WJ7-2954.

Wes Leatherock

Reply to
Wes Leatherock

I can't believe no one has mentioned Sidney Pollack's "The Slender Thread" yet. Not really an obscure technology but the entire movie is based on tracing the call of a suicidal women. According to a blurb on TCM, everything except the crisis center was filmed on location in the Seattle area.

Chunks of the movie are on Youtube. I don't think it has been released on DVD or Blu-ray. Part 3 has an operating room (not the surgical kind) starting at 3:19 and goes on to a c.o.:

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Reply to
Andrew Carey

Let's use 1940 as a base year. What kind of advanced PBX systems and special features for high volume users did the Bell System and Independent companies offer at that time? My recollection of the Bell System history is that except for a few cordboard features (eg automatic ringing), _advanced_-dial features wouldn't come until well into the 1950-60s when crossbar was developed for PBX use. But, some Bell companies developed special services on their own and perhaps some were offered to Hollywood studios since presumably they were major customers.

Did the Independent equipment providers (eg Leich, Automatic Electric, Kellogg, Stromberg Carlson) offer any advanced technology for large PBX customers in 1940? How about after the war*?

I think at that point for large users Bell basically had its 701 dial PBX, with special features mostly handled manually by the PBX attendant or someone's own secretary via an office key system. For instance, if an executive barked "get me John Smith over at Paramount!", a secretary or PBX attendant would look up Mr. Smith's phone number, dial it, get Mr. Smith (or his secretary on the line), and announce the call to the caller when it was ready. If Mr. Smith wasn't available, the secretary would manually leave a message or search him out elsewhere. Other businesses worked the same way, indeed these practices continued well into the 1970s.

The studios probably were liberally equipped with extensions, trunks, and, key systems in offices. My guess is that they may have had more trunks and extensions than other large businesses. Back then, some offices had their own intercoms between a manager and his secretary and staff--these are often depicted in old movies, and such 'squawk boxes' may have been cheaper than a Bell provided key system intercom.

Studios may have extensively used "code call" which was a system of coded flashing lights that signalled a particular person to call in.

Studios sometimes had branch offices in New York City to deal with financing or the theatre community. I wonder if studios had cross- country tie-lines back then (very expensive to carry, but eliminated expensive a la carte toll charges and may have allowed faster calling.) Perhaps they had cheaper private TWX or Western Union lines. In those days telegraph traffic was "piggybacked" on low bands of voice trunks. Slow at a rate of 60, but cheaper.

Like many industrial sites of the time, they may have owned a separate in-house telephone network for internal calls. Someone who had two phones on their desk, particularly two different types of phones, often had one Bell phone and one internal phone. A privately owned system saved on monthly Bell rentals, but meant that the owner had to do his own maintenance. If an organization was large enough, it would already have a staff available for that. (Many school classrooms had such networks).

In those days one could ask the long distance operator to "get me John Smith in Scranton" and the long distance operator would call distant directory assistance to get the number, then place the call person to person. Long distance back then was expensive partially for that reason. In the immediate postwar era, the Bell System urged callers to place calls by number to save on time and make better use of [the] operator distance dialing [service] which was becoming available.

Going forward into the modern era. I wonder if Hollywood studios were quick to go onto Centrex service. Step by step, which widely served the LA area, was easily adaptable to providing Centrex. (When did the Independent telephone companies begin to offer Centrex?)

  • Getting a detailed history of the AE company hasn't been easy.
Reply to

Yes, Mannix had one. As with Cannon, it was used infrequently. Both used 'operator assisted' dialing.

***** Moderator's Note *****

Someone told me that 'Mannix' was the trade name of a drug used for treatment of manic-depressive illness, now called bipolar disorder. Was that a little bit of a Hollywood inside joke?

Bill Horne Moderator

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

In article ,

You shouldn't believe everything people tell you. :)

There is a drug with the registered trademarked name of 'Mannix" in THAILAND. it is a muscle relaxant.

There is a 'herbal remedy' called 'manix' -- primarily used as a diuretic.

Reply to
Robert Bonomi

There were tariffs for "speial assemblies" which provide how costs would be charged for items and services not listed in the approved tariffs. Each one was costed for its particular assembly, and there were many special assemblies written and installed by telephone companies everywhere. Customers, especially business customers, had useds for all kinds of things not enumerated in the tariffs.

In the 1940s, I worked as a reporter and editor for the Daily Oklahoman / Oklahoma City Times in Oklahoma City. On the switcchboard multiple, besides the local dial trunks, there what we could now call s "rotary group" of toll trunks, assigned number L.D. 343, which gives an idea of the volume of toll traffic.

There were also tie lines to and from other related businesses, as well, I believe to the Washington, D.C., bureau.

There was also L.D. 419 which appeared on a regular black set on a desk behind the city editor, bypassing the switchboard.

In my experience, the switchboard operators were more then pluggers. If someone asked for Mr. Smith, the PBX operator probably knew the number and would connect to it without further discussion.

They also took incoming calls and messages, and were uncanny in guessing where someone was if they were away from their desks.

Newspapers were also very big users of communications services, by the nature of the news business. Many of the buzzers and squawk boxes were part of the telco provided quipment and integrated with the key systems.

Many of them were arranged so they could be dialed like a local extension.

Telegraph channels were also provided by the telecos, presumably at competitive rates, in view of the number that were provided by the telcos.

TWX was a switched service. A private line system connecting Teletypes was called just that, not TWX. The nation was blanketed by such systems of the United Press (for which I later worked), Associated Press and International News Service, with local, regional and national wires. All of them I was familiar with were telco-provided, except on Saturday afternoons and nights in the fall when W.U. had rights to various stadium and private circuits were ordered from them to the selected wire service bureau or to some newspaper that sent thir own sportswriters. Sometimes W.U. would provide Morse operators with their keys and sounders. It was always a pleasyure to get them because they were so skillewd and understood what they were doing and could break immediately and send a query if there was some question that needed to be raised.

As I recall, all Montgomery Ward stores had their own isolated systems. On the other hand, later when I was working for the Bell System, I knew of one industiral installatiion on the Gulf Coast that chose to go with Bell even thought it was higher in cost because of the massive ability of the Bell System to restore service after a hurricane.

I remember the first time I had a call handled by interoffice dialing. I worked in the Dallas bureau of United Press and called for our correspondent or client in Corpus Christi, passed my call and expect the next thing I heard would be the Corpus Christi inward operator answering and the Dallas operator passing the number. But the next thing I heard was the C.C. number ringing.

Wes Leatherock

Reply to
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