The story of the
myth to the movie to my collection.
In 1964 two cold
ware era movies came out, one was Dr. Strangelove and the other
was Fail-Safe. Dr Strangelove was the big hit mainly because the
country needed comedy at the time and Fail-Safe was a grim drama.
Of the two films the military and White House took note of the
questions brought up in Fail-Safe and certain changes were made
to our systems to avoid such an error.
Even on the poster
The Phone was as large as Peter Fonda and other actors in the
film. A prop guy said the director called The Phone the third
actor in the presidents bunker representing the Russian Premier.
A hot line to the
Soviet union was discussed in the late 50`s and implemented in
1963 one year before the movie Fail-Safe came out. Early on the
use of a voice circuit was ruled out due to the fact that voices
could be faked. So a Teletype link was decided on and it was going
to be encrypted for added security. The Cuban Missal crises helped
spur the "Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment
of a Direct Communications Line" on June 20 1963. The first
line was located in the Pentagon not the White House. In 1971
the line was switched to satellite but retained the land line
as a backup. In 1983 Ronald Reagan proposed an upgrade to FAX
and it was implemented in 1985. In 2007 the system was computerized
to an overblown email and chat system switching to fiber and satellite
for both primary and backup. The HOTLINE has never been a phone
red or otherwise.
At the time Reagan
was upgrading the system I was heading to California for some
Broadcast training. Needless to say on weekends us trainees had
to find things to do to amuse ourselves. So after one day of the
worlds largest flea market and movies a few of us took a long
trip to a studio auction. Most of the stuff was either out of
our price range or too big etc. There was one box of assorted
unidentified props that were vary generic so the price was going
to be reasonable and I saw a big unusual phone in the bottom of
the box. We won the box for $150. We got a bunch of fake money,
prop bottles, foam bricks and rocks. The two of us who pooled
our cash to buy it split the stuff and I took the phone because
I was the phone collector and it was odd. It had a Dyno label
on it that said "paint shop". I researched it and found
out it was an explosive atnesphere phone built by Crouse Hinds.
It was covered in paint and in bad shape so I said to my self
,I will get to it some day. I packed it away in 1984 and more
or less forgot about it. In late 2011 I bought a house and moved
in in late 2011. In early 2012 A movie buff friend was helping
bring in some constriction materials and said "were did you
get the Fail-Safe phone?" I said "what are you talking
about" and he walked over to the paint caked phone and said
this looks like the phone from the movie but there was some thing
missing. He said the dial was covered in the movie by a cap, I
turned the phone over and said "like this" the aluminum
cap was taped to the bottom of the phone and I had no idea what
it was for. My friend was going nuts at this point. He said there
were two distinctive add ons for the movie and this phone had
both. At this point I had to go get a DVD of the movie since I
had not seen it. I watched and when the phone made its entrance
I slow mowed and froze the disk many times while comparing my
phone to the prop. No doubt about it ,it was a match. Now came
the real fun, restoring it. I knew this was going to take some
time. I started with phone calls to the original manufacturer
Crouse Hinds but that only got me some odd comments such as "you
know that is a 55 year phone and we no longer have parts."
I also asked about paint and they sell a paint but it turned out
to be the wrong color silver. At this point I was on my own for
replacement parts and paint. Thank god for the internet and Ebay.
I started by contacting the studio but the people who would have
any knowledge had retired. After begging from one prop guy I got
a home phone of a prop guy who worked on the movie. He told me
there was actuly two phones built and used on the film. Both were
borrowed from paint shops on the lot and other items such as the
large A/C vent, desk and call director phone were all borrowed
from stages and vacant offices. The presidential bunker was according
to him supposed to be stark and concentrate on the actors tension
during those scenes. After watching the movie twice I think they
achieved it. At this point I asked "why two?' and he said
in order to raise the tension on the set the director had them
raise the temperature a few degrees above normal shooting level
in order to make the actors feel and look tense. The side effect
was the phone handset would get hot sweaty and slip in Henry Fonda`s
hand. The solution was two phones and one was being cooled and
wiped clean while the other was in use. They would swap in between
scenes or takes. They did not tell the actors in order to keep
genuine tension and reactions on set. He did not know were the
phones ended up after the movie as most "borrowed" props
were returned to were they came from. In the case of the phones
that was the paint shops.
began by taking the phone apart to find out what was needed to
be cleaned, repaired and or replaced. The handset cord was shot
,two of the feet were damaged or missing, the line cord was rooted
and the electronics did not work. The case was covered in paint
from 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thick. This was all going to take time.
I started pealing paint and looking for parts online and on Ebay.
I found a few of the regular Crouse hinds phones on ebay and paid
a few hundred per phone. Unfortunately they all seem to have the
same problems. I was able to get a part off each one to replace
bad parts on the prop. Then after a year I found a pair of new
old stock handset cords. These were rare as Western Electric only
made them for two of there phones. Both of those were explosive
atnesphere phones. I now tried to find a line cord. I had no luck
so I took the part number off the connector and searched. As it
turns out Crouse hinds still makes them. They were not cheap ,retail
$75 and Ebay $50. The cable turned out to be three conductor SO
power cable. Now came a hard to find small part, the two damaged
feet. The phones I got on ebay were either wall mount or the desk
versions all had damaged or missing feet. It is a vary heavy phone.
So I started looking all over the net and found a company who
sells parts to fix old coin-op machines. They had dozens of old
style rubber feet. After an inquiry I found out they had new old
stock and new feet made out of old molds. They buy up old parts
and tooling so they can supply restorers. Needless to say they
had the exact feet made from the old molds. So after two years
and bunch of money I finally finished the project in late 2014.
I have been offered a ton of money for it but it is not for sale.