Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "The Telephone Hour"

Friday, November 1, 2013
Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "The Telephone Hour"

"Hello Mr. Henkel, this is Harvey Johnson
Can I speak to Penelope Ann?"

That's what happened. Right around seven pm. Long before the Internet, long before social networks, teenagers burned up the telephone lines. It was a rite of passage, before we started our homework, we dialed in to catch up on our day.

But first you had to get through the parents.

Everybody didn't have his or her own phone, calls were expensive! Instead a household shared one line, sometimes only one telephone, and therefore endless arguments ensued. That's a cry you'd hear throughout America...CAN YOU GET OFF THE PHONE??!!

Before the Beatles, after Elvis Presley, there was a Broadway musical so big every baby boomer knows the songs by heart.

And that musical was entitled "Bye Bye Birdie."

Original Cast Albums already burned up the chart, but this was the first one written especially for kids. And unlike modern musicals, the score was memorable.

"Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?"


Try it tomorrow. Go up to a boomer and ask that question. And you'll instantly get the above response!

I had to ask my mother what getting pinned was. I was still in single digits. I knew I was going to college, but I was unfamiliar with fraternities, which have made a comeback amongst boomers' children, even though by time their parents made it to college they were too cool to join.

But they weren't too cool to buy this album. And participate in high school and summer camp productions of "Bye Bye Birdie."

At first we just called our friends about the homework, then we started to gossip, then we started calling girls.

That's the way it was. Boys made the initial effort. There were no forward girls back then, propriety dictated they wait until a boy showed interest. But then it was open season, and every time your crush called your parents needled you...IT'S YOUR GIRLFRIEND ON THE LINE!

We'd get that thrill, we couldn't believe they rang! But we hated getting grilled.

We were infatuated. You know what a school crush is like. There's just something about them. You'd get up all your gumption, look up their number in the white pages, back when every home had a phonebook, and dial.

The goal was to keep them on the line. You always started off with a ruse. Something you needed to know about school. Your goal was to get off subject, to get to know them. Then again, if you were really good at this, you'd be confronted with their personage the next day, and how to follow up?

But really, the telephone was the tool of the fairer sex. Girls hung on the line for hours. Asking just these questions. The same ones they do on social networks today. Because social capital is everything to a teenager.

"It won't last
Not at all
He's too thin
She's too tall"

Information. The world ran on it long before the Internet. It's the currency of life.

"Penelope, about the prom?"

The embarrassment of asking and being turned down.

But the goal was to go steady!

By time "Bye Bye Birdie" hit the boards it was already dated, but isn't that always the case with Broadway. But we couldn't get over the fact this musical was made for US! It was one of the first indications we were gonna rule in the future. After all, we already controlled the telephone!