Ma Bell and Geraldine’s Purse Phone


There’s a hilarious scene in the 1977 movie, Fun with Dick (George Segal) and Jane (Jane Fonda), where the two hold up the telephone company. There are several lines of people waiting to pay their bills. Instead of the bystanders coming to the aid of the phone company, everyone cheers the robbers. Why? The phone company at the time of the movie was none other than the original “Ma Bell,” American Bell Telephone Company named after Alexander Graham Bell and led by AT&T, that ran America’s phone service, a government-authorized monopoly, from 1877 to 1984.

So why cheer the robbers? Lily Tomlin’s portrayal of Ernestine Tomlin, the persistent telephone representative, says it all in this skit from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

Almost thirty years later and AT&T is making its move to become “Ma Bell” once more with its proposed buyout/merger of T-Mobile USA, a deal worth $39 billion. No doubt, AT&T’s lobbying apparatus is in full swing, vying for support in Congress. My concern with this merger is the potential to lose competition in the wireless market by allowing Ma Bell to become a monopoly once again.

On the lighter side of things … Life was simpler 30 years ago. There was no Internet, no cell phones and the “mobile” phone (besides Dick Tracey’s wrist watch) we were accustomed to was the one owned by Geraldine (comedian Flip Wilson) that she kept in her purse and used to call Killer Joe. Here’s a clip from Flip Wilson’s show with Geraldine talkin’ trash to Muhammad Ali.

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