Saturday, February 17, 2007

The "French Phone" again (AKA "Synchronicity")

Harry McNaughton: You know, somebody called me on the phone the other night, I couldn't understand a word they said.
George Shelton: Why was that?
Harry McNaughton: It was a French phone.
"It Pays To Be Ignorant," December 7, 1945.

So the "French Phone" term was still in use in the '40s. But since McNaughton and Shelton were old Vaudeville performers, the joke just might have been incredibly old, though the audience still laughed.


Anonymous said...

Maybe this doesn't mean anything either, but:

You got me thinking about when the French telephone came into wide use, so I decided to make an inductive investigation.

A movie that I remember as being full of telephones is Howard Hawks's "His Girl Friday"--the remake of "Front Page" with Roz Russell as Hildy Johnson. It was filmed in 1939 and released in January of 1940. I fast forwarded through it, and almost every scene is bristling with phones--three in Walter Burns's office, a forest of them in the press room at the jail--and not one of them is a French phone. That proves a French phone was still a rarity, right? Well--

1) What if conventional phones were still cheaper because of Ma Bell's charge for French phones?

2) Old phones are more interesting visually--they are immediately noticeable because of their height, and they do not screen the actors' mouths when spoken into. (Bob Newhart, when doing his phone comedy routines, would hold the "French" mouthpiece at chin level so his mouth could be seen).

Still--you'd think a newspaper office would invest in the French phone model because you can talk and type at the same time with one.

Yeah, I don't know why this stuff is interesting either--but it is.


Anonymous said...

SOMEBODY must be an authority on this. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that most movies of that time used the old-style phones, maybe for exactly the reasons you've pointed out.

But when I think of teenage angst movies of the fifties, EVERY kid had a "French phone," which they'd cradle under their chins while doing their nails and talking about dreamy boys.

I'm going to have a look at my collection of old educational films and see what I can see. We're quite a research team!

Incidentally, if Hollywood DID use old-style phones because they didn't obscure peoples mouths, this makes me think of all those Hollywood cars without rear-view mirrors.