The Phone

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.

The restoration 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.