Greenfield. Murray Hill. Sycamore. Tyler. Kingswood. What do these words have in common? Once upon a time they were all telephone exchanges. You know, like PEnnsylvania 6-500. The words were excised from our telephone numbers when AT&T phased in the new all-digit-dialing system back when they were still a literal monopoly. But just where does the infamous Henry G. Saperstein fit into all this?
In the early days of the UPA cartoon studio in the mid 1940’s, industrial films were the company’s main focus. Even after entertainment films and commercials joined the roister, industrial films were still important to their operation. When Hank Saperstein took over the studio in 1960, industrial films were no longer as important. Hank’s background was in character licensing, and he bought the studio largely because he felt that Mister Magoo was an “underexploited” property.
But it seems that they made at least one more industrial film. “Mr. Digit and the Battle of Bubbling Brook” was produced in 1961 for the Bell System. The film was a persuasive pitch to the American public designed to soften the sting of having their Murray Hills removed. It featured Peg Lynch and Alan Bunce, stars of the radio and television show “Ethel and Albert”. The animation department for this one had some pretty high-powered talent, all working under the direction of veteran animator and storyman Chuck Couch.
Despite the fact the greater demand for new phone numbers in the future turned out to be true, and not by half, there were those who were not entirely sold on the idea…
There were those who felt that all-digit-dialing was a step in the slippery slope of human de-personalization. Some people were even suggesting that human beings would soon have their own names replaced by numbers. This personal paranoia figured into the plot of Theodore J. Flicker’s epic 1967 comedy “The President’s Analyst” starring James Coburn. In the sequence below a man from the phone company (played brilliantly by comedian and sometimes cartoon voice actor Pat Harrington) has kidnapped Coburn and attempts to enlist his aid by showing him a cartoon! The animation was produced by DePatie-Freleng, and appears to be a parody of the Bell Science films.
As a bonus we have a pair of pertinent pieces from Playhouse Pictures. The first is the opening for the Ethel and Albert television show, produced in 1953.
For the next bit we have one of the Mr. Bumble spots produced for the phone company between 1960 and 1963. Daws Butler and Shep Menkin star as Mr. Bumble and Smythe. Animation looks to be the work of Jim Hiltz.
There is a family resemblance between Mr. Digit and Mr. Bumble as you can see from this 1960 model sheet…