On the day that Elizabeth Taylor died, I tweeted that the actress was never more beautiful than in Butterfield 8. I stand by that statement, but I would like to add that she was also stunning in Ash Wednesday. I will never understand why that movie was so roundly panned. Here's the deal: the film is set in Cortina, Italy; Taylor drives a gorgeous Mercedes, as I recall; the producer was Dominick Dunne; and most importantly, her clothing was by Valentino. Oh, and she wears a bejeweled turban in the movie. Seriously, what more do people want? Talk about a heavy dose of glamour!
But this post isn't really about Taylor. I've just taken us down a very circuitous path to a discussion of telephone numbers, or more accurately, telephone exchanges. Butterfield 8, in case you're not aware, was the exchange that Taylor dialed to find out who her appointments were for the evening. Because as you know, Taylor played Gloria Wandrous, a call girl. A quite beautiful call girl, but a call girl nonetheless. Decades ago, telephone numbers were a little different than they are today. They were composed of seven numbers, but the first two numbers were designated by letters. So, Butterfield 8 was BU8 plus four additional numbers. You dialed the letters using the corresponding numbers on the dial. I may not be making myself clear, so you can click here to learn more about it.
So why am I writing about this? Because, don't you think that these exchanges had a lot of pizazz compared to the boring old numbers we have today? I'm sure that a lot of you remember when phone numbers were designated this way. If you watch an old movie set in London, you might hear characters referring to a phone number as WHItehall XXXX. That was a well-known exchange. If you lived in New York, your exchange might have been PLaza or GRamercy. Had I lived in my current Atlanta home back in the 1950s or 60s, my exchange might have been CHerokee.
I know this might seem like such a random post, but seriously, wouldn't you rather have calling cards printed up with KLondike, MUrray Hill, or HEmlock rather than all of the rigmarole we have to use today? I know that I would.
Parish Hadley's telephone number, as seen here in a detail of a rendering for Sister Parish's calling card, was RHinelander 45380.
One of the lady decorators, Elsie Sloan Farley set up shop on Park Avenue. Her number was PLaza 3-3516.
If you needed to reserve a room at The Carlyle back in 1936, you would have rung RHinelander 4-1600. You would still dial the same number today: 744-1600.
Syrie Maugham's London exchange was a posh sounding Mayfair. Her Chicago shop? That exchange was SUperior. That one sounds nice too.
W.E. Browne was an old decorating firm in Atlanta. This invoice, issued to my mother for the purchase of an antique cabinet, shows the firm's TRinity exchange. What's funny is that this invoice was dated 1990; I suppose they never saw any need to print new letterhead. I also admit that I like the use of "Decorators and Furnishers". It seems refreshing in a day and age where those terms are considered to be passé.
Image of Syrie Maugham stationery from Syrie Maugham by Pauline Metcalf.