Hollywood stars and their telephones
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Private telephone lines refused to remain private for very long and added to the problems of Hollywood stars who attempted to keep their home life apart from their film careers.
At one time, someone, wishing to “have some fun” at the expense of actor Lew Cody, published his private telephone number. The next day the telephone company, unable to handle the calls into the Cody home, rushed an emergency crew to his Beverly Hills house to install a new system.
Nils Asther’s private telephone number was given out by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio to a caller who posed as a friend. Before long Asther was deluged with strangers calling him at all hours of the day and night. He had to change his number.
Few screen stars had their telephones listed, but when they did it was a “blind” number that led to secretarial offices, a personal telephone always was listed confidentially or under another name and address that could not be traced.
John Gilbert had a regular house telephone, but had a private phone in his study which he answered himself. Greta Garbo’s telephone was listed to her housekeeper, who was given the names of persons she expected to call.
Ramon Novarro’s home number was under his family name of Samaniego, and Norma Shearer’s home telephone was listed as an address only.
If one happened to get Lon Chaney’s number by mistake and asked whose home it was, one would be told: “This is Oxford so-and-so. Who is this, please?” Beyond that one would gain no inkling of the subscriber’s identity.
Bessie Love had two telephones, one for her household needs and a private line for herself. William Haines also had a private line, and Buster Keaton’s house had an elaborate extension system so he could pick up the phone wherever he happened to be.
All of the private lines had cutoff keys so that a star, leaving the house or retiring for the night, could disconnect the telephone, a no-answer signal informing friends that they were not available.
Despite all the privacy precautions, however, the number leak out to salesmen and canvassers and the average life of a private number in Hollywood was estimate at about four months.