08 February 2020

Hanging on the Telephone

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was the first to be granted a United States patent for a device that produced clearly intelligible replication of the human voice. The telephone enabled people to talk directly with each other across large distances, and soon became indispensable to businesses, government and households. The first telephones were directly connected to each other from one customer's office or residence to another. These impractical systems were quickly replaced by manually operated centrally located switchboards. Hand-held mobile phones were introduced for personal service starting in 1973. In later decades their analog cellular system evolved into digital networks. Film star postcards give an amusing illustration of the evolution of the telephone and how we used it through the decades.

Tom Mix
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 3844/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Fox.

American film actor Tom Mix (1880 –1940) was the star of many early Westerns between 1909 and 1935. Mix appeared in 291 films, all but nine of which were silent movies. He was Hollywood's first Western megastar and helped to define the genre for all cowboy actors who followed.

Olaf Fönss in Die Seuche
German postcard by Verlag Hermann Leiser, Berlin-Wilmersdorf, no. 5000. Photo: Dansk Film Co. Olaf Fönss in the Danish film Laegen/Pesten (1917), written and directed by Fritz Rasmussen. The film was released in Denmark in 1918.

In the early 1910s, Olaf Fönss (1882-1949) became one of Denmark's leading actors. He had success with his sensational drama Atlantis (1913), inspired by the 1912 Titanic disaster and played play in countless Danish silent films, often as evil genius. In 1915 Fönss moved to Berlin, where he was put in the widely popular serial Homunculus (1916), about a devilish creature who leads humans to the wrong path.

Johannes Riemann
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1563/1, 1927-1928. Photo: ?.

German actor Johannes Riemann (1888-1959) appeared from World War I till the end of World War II in some 90 films, often as the gentleman who elegantly breaks a woman’s heart. From 1934 on he also wrote screen plays and directed films. In 1939 he was named Actor of the State in Nazi-Germany and in 1944 he even performed for the staff of concentration camp Auschwitz.

Livio Pavanelli
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5154. Photo: Aafa / Lux Film Verleih.

Livio Pavanelli (1881-1958) was an Italian actor of the Italian and in particular German silent cinema. He also worked in Italian sound cinema as actor and as production manager. He directed four Italian films, both in the silent and the sound era.

Charles Farrell
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4171/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Fox. Charles Farrell using a  candlestick phone.

Good-looking American actor Charles Farrell (1900-1990) was a Hollywood matinée idol of the Jazz Age and Depression era. He seems now forgotten, but between 1927 and 1934, he was very popular thanks to his teaming with Janet Gaynor in 12 screen romances, including 7th Heaven (1927), Street Angel (1928), and Lucky Star (1929). He retired from films in the early 1940s, but TV audiences of the 1950s would see him as Gale Storm's widower dad in the popular television series My Little Margie (1952-1955).

Hermann Thimig & Felix Bressart in Die Privatsekretärin (1931)
Dutch postcard by Remaco-Film, no. 229. Hermann Thimig and Felix Bressart in Die Privatsekretärin/The Private Secretary (Wilhelm Thiele, 1931).

German stage and screen actor Felix Bressart (1892–1949) had to flee Germany after the Nazis seized to power. He continued his film career in Austria and later in the US, where he became a popular character actor for MGM. Austrian director and stage and film actor Hermann Thimig (1890-1982) made 99 films during six decades.

Dolly Haas
Dutch postcard by Filma, no. 430. Dolly Haas uses an early public payphone in So ein Mädel vergisst man nicht (Fritz Kortner, 1932).

Stage and screen actress Dolly Haas (1910-1994) was popular in the 1930s as a vivacious, red-haired gamine, often wearing trousers, in German and British films.

Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel (1932)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7249/1, 1932-1933. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932).

Swedish Greta Garbo (1905-1990) was one of the greatest and most glamorous film stars ever produced by the Hollywood studio system. She was part of the Golden Age of the silent cinema of the 1920’s and was one of the few actors who made a glorious transition to the talkies. She started her career in the European cinema and would always stay more popular in Europe than in the USA.

Ida Wüst, Renate Müller
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 165/3, 1932-1933. Photo: Ufa. Renate Müller and Ida Wüst in Wie sag' ich's meinem Mann?/How Shall I Tell My Husband? (Reinhold Schünzel, 1932).

Popular actress Renate Müller (1906-1937) was the toast of late 1920s Berlin. She had a comet-like career in the early German sound cinema, that was abruptly ended by her mysterious early death. German actress Ida Wüst (1884-1956) was a popular Ufa star in the 1920s and 1930s. She appeared in almost 150 films.

Henriëtte Davids and Jopie Koopman in Op stap (1935)
Dutch postcard by M.B. & Z. (M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam). Photo: Dick van Maarseveen, Den Haag / Nationaal Film. Henriëtte Davids and Jopie Koopman in Op stap/On the Move (Ernst Winar, 1935).

Dutch variety artist and comedian Henriëtte 'Heintje' Davids (1888-1975) was the sister of talented cabaret star Louis Davids. She appeared in De Jantjes/The Tars (1934) and several other Dutch films of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Jopie Koopman (1910-1979) was one of the stars of the Dutch cinema of the 1930s. The pretty cabaret artist sang and played in several revues and early sound films.

Jean Harlow in Saratoga (1937)
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 3827. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Jean Harlow in Saratoga (Jack Conway, 1937).

American film actress Jean Harlow (1911-1937) was one of the sex symbols of the 1930s.

Gordon Harker
British Raphael Tuck & Sons' Real Photograph postcard, no. 18. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Gordon Harker (1885-1967) was a popular English film actor who specialised in Cockney roles. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he seemed to appear in every crime film produced in England. Between 1921 and 1959, he appeared in a total of 68 films, including four directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Gloria Grahame
Dutch postcard.

American stage, film, television actress and singer Gloria Grahame (1923-1981) was often cast in Film Noirs as a tarnished beauty with an irresistible sexual allure. She received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress nomination for Crossfire (1947), and would later win the award for The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Her best known films are Sudden Fear (1952), Human Desire (1953), The Big Heat (1953), and Oklahoma! (1955), but her film career began to wane soon afterwards.

Diana Dors
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 2061. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation.

Blonde and curvey Diana Dors (1931-1984) was called ‘The English Marilyn Monroe’, to her disgust. In her own words: “I was the first home-grown sex symbol, rather like Britain's naughty seaside postcards."

Rosalba Neri
Italian postcard by Bromostampa, Milano, no. 201.

Sorry! Earlier, I mixed up gorgeous Italian singer and actress Rosalina Neri (1927 or 1934?) with another gorgeous Italian actress, Rosalba Neri. The actress on the postcards was called 'the Italian Marilyn Monroe' in the 1950s. (Thanks, Marlene!)

Ivan Desny in Rosen für Bettina (1956)
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3021. Photo: Michaelis / Carlton Film / NF. Ivan Desny in Rosen für Bettina/Ballerina (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1956).

French-German actor Ivan Desny (1922-2002) was a cosmopolitan film star with a truly European film career that spanned four decades. In the years after the war he appeared in British, French, Italian and German films before he became one of the protagonists of the Neue Deutsche Welle - the German New Wave of the 1970s.

Elke Sommer
German postcard by Filmbilder-Vertrieb Ernst Freihoff, Essen no. 789. Photo: Lothar Winkler.  Elke Sommer uses three classic rotary-dial telephones at once and has two others nearby.

In the late 1950s, blonde Elke Sommer (1940) was a European sex symbol before conquering Hollywood in the early 1960s. With her trademark pouty lips, high cheek bones and sky-high bouffant hair-dos, Sommer made 99 film and television appearances between 1959 and 2005. The gorgeous German film star was also one of the most popular pin-up girls of the sixties, and posed twice for Playboy.

Karin Baal in Zwischen Schanghai und St. Pauli (1962)
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf, no. 1898. Photo: Rapid / Gloria / Guzman. Karin Baal in Zwischen Schanghai und St. Pauli/Voyage to Danger (Roberto Bianchi Montero, Wolfgang Schleif, 1962).

German film actress Karin Baal (1940) has appeared in over 90 films since 1956. She started as a teenage rebel in the cult film Die Halbstarken/Teenage Wolfpack (1956) and became one of the brightest stars of the Wirtschaftswunder cinema.

Patrick Macnee in The Avengers
French postcard by Universal Collections, 2004. Photo: Canal+ Image UK Ltd. Patrick Macnee in The Avengers (1961-1969).

The Avengers (1961-1969) is a delicious, quirky Spy-Fi television series set in cold war Britain. In one hour episodes, The Avengers focused on the adventures of eccentric, suave British agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his investigative partners working for the 'Ministry'. The series originally opened with a jazz-influenced theme by John Dankworth, but Laurie Johnson composed 'The Avengers Theme', used in the opening and closing title sequences of the later seasons.

Carice van Houten in De gelukkige huisvrouw (2010)
Dutch postcard. Photo: Carice van Houten holding a mobile telephone in De gelukkige huisvrouw/The Happy Housewife (Antoinette Beumer, 2010).

Dutch actress Carice van Houten (1976) is perhaps best known for her lead roles in Paul Verhoeven's award-winning Zwartboek/Black Book (2006), Bryan Singer's Valkyrie (2008) opposite Tom Cruise and as Melisandre on the massively popular TV series Game of Thrones (2012-2019).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb. And also check out: BFI's Dial T for telephone.

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