I’ve Got Your Number (1934), technology, & working girls

17 Sep

ivegotyournumber1Despite my about-to-be-made-evident pleasure in watching I’ve Got Your Number (another DVR leftover from TCM’s Glenda Farrell day in late August), I will make no claims to its greatness or breaking of ground; only to its non-murderous hard-boiled Warner Brothers glories and its unwitting tribute to a now non-existent segment of what is still a giant industry.

The last time I had my telephone repaired, a teenager in a polo shirt and ill-fitting khakis took money from me after I handed him a now useless piece of wastefully-constructed and fragile plastic and he handed me an identical but at least temporarily useful piece of otherwise identical plastic. He then reminded me to go to the online survey mentioned on my receipt, which would help “them” (still not sure who “them” is) make my experience better.

Sidestepping the nonsense of that statement, I should here note that at no point in that or any exchange in that kid’s day(s) as a telecommunications expert was a millionaire saved from electrocution by a lineman played by Pat O’Brien. Nor was fraudulent medium Glenda Farrell exposed via a telephone repair call, then taken out to a nightclub by Allen Jenkins. Nor did a gang of gangster swindlers use switchboard operator Joan Blondell to…do anything, because a switchboard operator? A lineman? There are precious few.

ivegotyournumber2My father has a big box of conical glass insulators from telephone poles (as seen above) in the basement, next to the spittoon and the four-sided stovetop toaster. Pretty sure those oddly beautiful little functional items are no longer standard issue.

And without insulting the importance of this by understating, I should just say that keener historians than I have written much on the subject of the place of the switchboard operator in the history of women’s employment. It was a huge job opportunity – huge – underpaid and as strict as a chain gang, but neither a schoolroom nor a kitchen. Obviously its restrictions had either loosened up a bit by the 1930s or the sauciness of your Warner Brothers dames was just not constrainable by any natural force. But clearly a gal had to keep an eye on the hotel switchboard and not get distracted by some friendly pan with pomaded hair or her time among the employed was in for a wow finish. Or words to that effect.

(There are also elevator operators in this, with the clicky-thing they used as a signal. That’s long gone. We watched The Thomas Crown Affair recently, about which more soon, and there was one there too, so they lasted at least until 1968 Boston. There are pay phones in that one, too.)

I don’t bemoan all technologies when they pass – probably it’s better that cell phones provide little opportunity to electrocute (though too many buffoons use them at gas pumps). I don’t even entirely bemoan the loss of some human jobs, supporting as I do a Buckminster Fuller/ Vonnegutian “fart around” worldview.

But I do regret that we’re rapidly losing the collective memory of how this technology affects and affected the daily lives of those who used it. And I don’t mean BuzzFeed posts about what video game controllers looked like when I was a kid. I mean things like this.

ivegotyournumber3(It’s also worth noting that we once lived in a world where Pat O’Brien could be a successful romantic lead. Ponder that.)

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