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Nichols and May - Telephone Company Information Operators

Mike Nichols and Elaine May perform their routine about a frustrated man in a telephone booth "interacting" with a Bell Telephone Information operator and her management. For those whose only experience with a telephone is a cell phone; in days gone by, thousands of coin-operated phone booths ("pay stations" in telephone company jargon) were available in conspicuous places for the public to make local and long-distance telephone calls while away from home. Generally, each booth or station had a telephone directory within reach so that a caller could look up the number of the person he/she was trying to reach on a local call. Sometimes these directories ("telephone books" in the vernacular) would disappear from their assigned locations. Such is the case with this caller (Nichols). He, instead drops a dime in the 10-cent slot and dials the Information Operator. So long as he is talking with the Information Operator, his dime is held in the phone but not actually collected. Normally, the coin would be returned once the call to the Information Operator is terminated. The dime (for decades before, only a nickel would have been required) comes out of a slot and back to the caller. Somehow, this caller's dime gets deposited before his session with the operator ended; and, he has no more dimes with him. The audio for this post was recorded on my reel-to-reel tape recorder on July 9, 1965 from Jack Paar's Friday night program on NBC-TV. (Home video recorders were another ten years away.) This broadcast was a summer re-run--the original having been aired during the regular broadcast season. The video in this post is a kinescope recording taken from a special program called "Jack Paar is Alive and Well", aired December 19, 1987. The audio on that program, as is the case with many kinescopes (which were filmed from a TV monitor) is inferior to what was originally broadcast over the air. I synchronized the separate video and audio (not perfectly, but "close enough for telephone work", as some of us used to say in the company). By the way, on the original telecast, Jack Paar, in his introduction of the duo, indicated that, out of all of their many routines, he had asked them to perform this particular routine. He then went on to say, "Here then--two people who have more talent than you could shake a wand at." Also in the original telecast, at the end of the routine, the audience's applause lasted fifteen full seconds before it was abruptly faded out as the program cut to a commercial.

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