TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: "All the President's Men" (still more movie phone trivial)

Re: "All the President's Men" (still more movie phone trivial)
Thu, 05 Jul 2007 12:38:14 -0700

Here's some additional telephone trivia from the movie.

> As mentioned, in TV and films the dialing of a telephone can slow
> down the pace. Often characters improperly "spun" the dial or
> dialed fewer digits to speed up the scene. But in this movie they
> purposely dialed deliberately as part of the drama. Indeed, they
> not only dialed the full seven digit number, they also dialed the 9
> for the outside line and even paused waiting for the second dial
> tone. This was when Redford was calling various CREEP officers to
> track down money given to the Watergate burglars. There was a TV
> set on in the background, adding to the scene.

I took another look at the movie. While in some scenes they made a
point of carefully dialing all digits necessary, even ten digits for
toll calls, in other scenes they "spun the dial quickly" and dialed
few digits to make a call to save screen time.

They made extensive use of keysets (the six button kind) in the
newsroom. All were black rotary. The line lamps lit up
appropriately. Sometimes several people listened in to a
conversation, and they showed Bernstein unscrewing the transmitter so
that the other party wouldn't notice the listening in. They also
correctly used the intercom button (far right) on the keyset for
newsroom floor calls.

One error, very common in movies _to this day_ was Redford using a
single slot pay phone and the ding-ding sound when his coins dropped.
Single slot pay phones eliminated that sound, but that's still heard
today in productions.

Redford used a phone booth which of course nowadays is a rarity. This
booth was metal with a semi-modern sign on top. It had the old Bell
System logo, but the word "phone" spelled out in lowercase letters in
a modern style. It was a rotary single slot, with a red+white
instruction code, which suggested the phone was equipped for TSP/TSPS
and possibly 911. (Was basic 911 service available in 1972?)

> The other notable aspect of this film was the _lack_ of computers and
> other automated devices to help them in their research, all the things
> we take for granted today. Redford had a _manual_ typewriter, as was
> common for reporters in newsrooms in those years. Wire service came
> over classic Teletypes operating at the princely speed of seven
> characters per second. After typing their copy, it was edited by
> hand, then sent to Linotype machine operators to set type.

Almost everybody in the newsroom had a manual typewriter. These were
large office grade and relatively modern machines for their day. They
seemed to favor Olympia brand. Redford had an old tiny portable at

There was a large fax machine in which they got a copy of another

In one scene they search through call slips at the Library of
Congress. Today this could be done by computer instantly. In the old
days, library books had a card in the back which was removed when
someone checked out the book, and they wrote their name on that card.
Some places used a code number instead of a name. But looking at the
card would say who had the book before.

In another scene Redford is on the floor searching through a pile of
city phone books to find out about some person. Obviously today that
would take but a second through the Internet and they'd get a lot more
information about someone. For example, if someone was active in
sports or in clubs, often there is a web reference to that activity,
which could tell where someone went to school, etc.

I was surprised at how freely people spoke to the reporters
considering they were ordered not to and knew they were sitting on hot
stuff that could come back and bite them on their butts. When I watch
cop dramas, I'm surprised how much people tell cops without first
calling their lawyer or just keeping their mouth shut. Cops have a
way of intimidating people by their badge. But newspaper reporters
have no badge, no authority.

If a reporter asked me questions about myself or my employer I would
never say a damn thing. They are not your friend "trying to help you"
anymore than a cop is who says the same thing. I remember when the
film "Absence of Malice" came out journalists were very offended but
that movie was accurate in how journalists can be sloppy and hurt
innocent people as a result.

If I recall, W&B's efforts changed the face of political journalism
into a more aggressive role. At that time they became big folk heros
and lots of kids chose to study journalism as a result, causing a glut
in the field. (Even then newspapers were shrinking with people
getting laid off.)

What is forgotten about Watergate is that a lot of young innocent
people got dragged down and ruined by careless reporting or guilt by
association. It is one thing to get the guilty, but our quest isn't
so high and mighty that it's ok to sacrifice the innocent too along
the way.

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