Cast & Crew
Eddie Foy Jr.
Switchboard operator Ella Peterson works for telephone answering service Susanswerphone in owner Sue's Brooklyn Heights basement apartment. Despite Sue's orders strictly to "take and give" messages, Ella uses a variety of character voices to generously assist subscribers in their professional and personal life, including even posing as Santa Claus to help a mother convince her child to behave. Ella is especially concerned about playwright Jeffrey Moss, with whom she calls herself "Mom" because, she insists, the sensitive man has recently lost his writing partner and needs motherly reassurance. Ella's shy and clumsy behavior and her secret crush on Jeffrey prevent her from any real romance. One day, when Jeffrey confides in "Mom" that his producer Larry Hastings has given him one day to finish the outline for his new play, "Midas Touch," "Mom" tries to boost his ego, but Jeffrey soon loses his self-confidence and drinks himself to sleep. Meanwhile, Inspector Barnes and his assistant Francis, who suspect that Susanswerphone is actually a prostitution ring, pose as magazine reporters and interview Ella while surreptitiously wire-taping the switchboard in hopes that an arrest will lead to Barnes' immediate promotion. When opera singer "Mme." Grimaldi calls, Barnes believes she is the "madame" of the prostitution ring and warns Sue and Ella he is putting them under surveillance. Soon after, Sue's boyfriend, a debonair European named J. Otto Prantz, moves into the apartment to run his music distribution business, Titanic Records, which is actually a front for a bookkeeping operation. During a secret meeting with his bookies, Otto explains the new system: When customers place their bets, the specifics will be translated into a classical music record album code in which, for instance, "Beethoven" is actually Belmont Park and "five hundred orders" is a $500 bet. The next morning, when Jeffrey does not answer Ella's wakeup call, she goes to his apartment and awakens him, excited finally to know what he looks like. Claiming to have the wrong address, Ella introduces herself as "Melisande Scott." When Jeffrey flirts with her, Ella insists that he is just trying to avoid writing and then reminds him that he has written without a partner before. Jeffrey thinks that her intuition about his past behavior is "uncanny" and begins to work, inspired by her confidence in his ability. After Larry approves the outline, Jeffrey asks Ella for her number, but she refuses and instead sets a date to meet at his apartment the following week. Days later, Ella discovers the Pyramid Club is holding auditions for song writers and, despite Sue's orders otherwise, makes an appointment with subscriber Joe Kitchell, a dentist who longs to become a professional song writer. When Kitchell asks her to give him a subject to test his lyrical ability, Ella blurts out "midas touch." After Kitchell sings a ditty using his air hose as a microphone, Ella gives him the Pyramid Club advertisement, then disappears. Meanwhile, Francis, secretly photographs the transaction. Days later, when Ella learns from Larry's messages that subscriber Blake Barton's casual manner and sloppy appearance have lost him the audition for a part in Jeffrey's play, Ella, dressed as a beatnik, visits Barton at his café hangout and suggests that he wear a suit and repeat the audition. Once again, Francis is lurking in the shadows and takes a picture. Later at the office, Ella is taking Titanic Record orders, when neighbor Carl, an avid classical music fan, notes that an order for Beethoven's tenth symphony must be wrong, since the composer only wrote nine, prompting Ella to change several large "shipping" orders. In a moment alone with fellow operator Gwynne, Ella despairs that she has lied to Jeffrey about her real identity. When he calls moments later to ask "Mom" if there are any messages from "Melisande," Ella hears actress Olga in the background trying to seduce Jeffrey. Jealousy finally prompts Ella to race to Jeffrey's apartment, where she announces she is Jeffrey's secretary and pushes Olga out the door. However, she is too shy to admit her crush or her real identity and attempts to leave, but when Jeffrey professes his love, Ella collapses into his arms and kisses him. Once again, Francis, hiding on the balcony, takes a photograph. One evening, after Jeffrey sings to Ella about the timeliness of her arrival in his life, a nervous Ella reluctantly agrees to go to a star-studded party. Noticing that the crowd's conversations are filled with name-dropping, Ella attempts her own version but only comes up with dog stars "Rin Tin Tin" and "Lassie." Just as Ella decides she must tell Jeffrey the truth, a butler delivers a note from Jeffrey asking her to marry him. Ella replies with "Goodbye" and leaves the party. While walking home, she laments that Jeffrey is in love with "Melisande," not her. Meanwhile, when two gangster mugs threaten to kill Otto for lost "Beethoven" bets, he deludes Sue into investing her capital into his "business" and uses the money for the payoff. Unable to find "Melisande," Jeffrey spends that night drinking at the Pyramid Club, where Barton introduces himself as the new actor in Jeffrey's play and tells him the story of the "miracle" girl who gave him audition advice. Suddenly, the stage show begins as a chorus line of dancers sing "The Midas Touch." Struck by the coincidence, Jeffrey approaches Kitchell, who tells the story of his "miracle" girl who gave him the idea for the song. Later, when Jeffrey discovers the men are also Susanwerphone subscribers, he realizes "Mom" is the miracle girl. At Susanswerphone, Ella is tired of living through others' lives and vows to return to her old job at a brassiere company switchboard. As she packs to leave, the mugs arrive for their money. When Ella explains to Otto that she "corrected" his orders, Otto, in frustration, blurts out that she put the wrong bookings on the wrong horse. Desperate to help Sue retrieve her life-savings, Ella warns the mugs that they have been taperecorded by the police. When Barnes arrives a few minutes later to arrest Ella and Sue, Ella loudly announces that Otto is running a large-scale booking operation under the Titanic Record front. Mindful of his promotion, Barnes arrests Otto and the mugs and admits he misjudged Ella. When Jeffrey arrives soon after, Ella tries to disguise herself as "Mom" using an afghan, eye glasses and a mop head, but Jeffrey sees through her disguise and asks Ella that she give her love solely to him, instead of "scattering it" to all the subscribers. After Larry, Kitchell, Francis, Gwynne, Barton, Sue and others congratulate the couple, Ella and Jeffrey dance out into the night while Susanwerphone's bells keep ringing.
Eddie Foy Jr.
George E. Stone
Russel B. Caplan
George W. Davis
A. Arnold Gillespie
Charles K. Hagedon
Bells Are Ringing
In 1956, Holliday was depressed about the breakup of her marriage and the direction of her film career. So Comden and Green tried to cheer her up by writing a Broadway musical for her about a telephone answering service operator who gets mixed up in her clients' lives. The script for Bells Are Ringing described the operator, Ella Peterson, as "pretty, warm, sympathetic...with a quick mind and vivid imagination." Ella was Comden and Green's gift to their old friend, an idealized version of Holliday herself, with all her lovable traits and without the neurotic, insecure side that was also a part of her personality. Bells Are Ringing was a Broadway smash. Holliday played Ella for two years, and won a Tony Award.
By the time the legendary MGM musical team of producer Arthur Freed and director Vincente Minnelli was ready to make the film version of Bells Are Ringing (1960), Holliday was depressed again. Her romance with her Broadway co-star, Sydney Chaplin (son of Charlie), was over. She was unhappy with the script for the film, nervous about going before the cameras for the first time in four years, and overweight. Freed and Minnelli retained most of the Broadway cast for the film version, including Jean Stapleton as Ella's cousin, with one obvious exception. As good as Chaplin had been onstage -- he had also won a Tony -- casting him in the film version was out of the question. Instead, Dean Martin played the role of the playwright with whom Ella falls in love. Martin's laid-back attitude helped lighten the mood on what would become a very trying production.
Minnelli was a great fan of Holliday's, and tried hard to support and reassure her, but he couldn't understand why she was having trouble with a part she'd played for 924 performances. Holliday's problem was that she was having a hard time re-thinking the role for the screen. By the end of the first week of shooting, she was so unhappy that she asked to be released from the film. Freed refused, and Holliday's anxiety manifested itself in crying jags and a series of illnesses and injuries which delayed the production. Cast and crew were gentle and considerate with her, and she was somewhat calmed by the presence of her new boyfriend, jazz musician and sometime actor Gerry Mulligan, who played her blind date in the film.
Most of Bells Are Ringing was shot in the studio, but Minnelli wanted some establishing shots of New York, including an exterior of the shabby building where Susanswerphone's basement headquarters was located. He was having no luck finding the right location, until he saw a picture in Life magazine of a lone brownstone standing in the middle of a razed block on East 68th Street. For the swanky house where Ella attends a chic party, the film used the exterior of a house on Sutton Place owned by the ex-wife of Aristotle Onassis, and duplicated the interior on a soundstage. In the hilarious patter song, "Drop That Name," which is sung at the party, Freed and Minnelli are among the celebrity names dropped, the latter rhymed with "the former Grace Kelly."
In spite of Holliday's apprehension, Bells Are Ringing premiered at Radio City Music Hall to huge crowds and even better reviews than the play had received. It broke Music Hall records, grossing over a million dollars in its seven-week run. But that was in New York, and Bells Are Ringing was a New York musical. The rest of the country couldn't have cared less. It was Minnelli's least profitable film since The Pirate (1948). American tastes were changing, and audiences for old-fashioned MGM musicals just weren't there anymore. Bells Are Ringing was the last collaboration of Arthur Freed and Vincente Minnelli after 12 films together. It was nominated for an Academy Award for scoring of a musical picture, but lost to Song Without End (1960), a biography of the composer Franz Liszt, and hardly a traditional movie musical.
Bells Are Ringing was also Judy Holliday's final film. During filming, most of the people involved in the production thought her illnesses were psychosomatic. But within a year she really was sick, with the cancer that would kill her in 1965. She was only 43. Holliday left behind only a handful of films which display her quirky, unique comic talent. And whatever its flaws, Bells Are Ringing, with glimpses of the real Judy Holliday's warmth and charm, is one of the most likeable of them.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Betty Comden and Adolph Green, based on the play by Comden and Green and Jule Styne
Editor: Adrienne Fazan
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Preston Ames
Music: Jule Styne; lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Principal Cast: Judy Holliday (Ella Peterson), Dean Martin (Jeffrey Moss), Fred Clark (Larry Hastings), Eddie Foy, Jr. (J. Otto Prantz), Jean Stapleton (Sue), Frank Gorshin (Blake Barton), Bernie West (Dr. Joe Kitchell), Gerry Mulligan (Ella's blind date).
C-126m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Bells Are Ringing
Frank Gorshin (1933-2005)
He was born on April 5, 1933, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into a family of modest means, his father was a railroad worker and mother a homemaker. His childhood impressions of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney paid off when he won a local talent contest at 17, and that led to his first gig at 17 at a the prize was a one week engagement at Jackie Heller's Carousel night club, Pittsburgh's hottest downtown spot in the day. The taste was there, and after high school Frank enrolled in the Carnegie-Mellon Tech School of Drama did hone his craft.
His career was interrupted briefly when he entered the US Army in 1953. He spent two years in Special Services as an entertainer. Once he got out, Frank tried his luck in Hollywood. He made his film debut in a forgettable William Holden vehicle The Proud and Profane, but his fortunes picked up soon when he and when he hooked up with American Internation Pictures (AIP). With his charasmatic sneer and cocky bravado that belied his slender, 5' 7" frame, Frank made a great punk villian in a series of entertaining "drive-in" fare: Hot Rod Girl (1956), Dragstrip Girl, Invasion of the Saucer Men, and of course the classic Portland Expose (all 1957).
By the '60s, he graduated to supporting roles in bigger Hollywood fare: Where the Boys Are, Bells Are Ringing (both 1960), Ring of Fire, and his biggest tole to date, that of Iggy the bank robber in Disney's hugely popular That Darn Cat (1965). Better still, Frank found some parts on television: Naked City, Combat!, The Untouchables, and this would be the medium where he found his greatest success. Little did he realize that when his skeletal physique donned those green nylon tights and cackled his high pitch laugh that Frank Gorshin would be forever identified as "the Riddler," one of Batman's main nemisis. For two years (1966-68), he was a semi-regular on the show and it brought him deserved national attention.
By the '70s, Frank made his Broadway debut, as the star of Jimmy, a musical based on the life of former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. He spent the next two decades alternating between the stage, where he appeared regularly in national touring productions of such popular shows as: Promises, Promises, Prisoner of Second Street, and Guys and Dolls; and nightclub work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
He recently found himself in demand for character roles on televison: Murder, She Wrote, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and film: Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (1995), and the quirky comedy Man of the Century (1999). Yet his biggest triumph was his two year stint (2002-2004) as George Burns in the Broadway smash, Say Goodnight Gracie. It ran for 364 performances and he received critical raves from even the toughest New York theater critics, proving undoubtly that he was a performer for all mediums. He is survived by his wife Christina; a son, Mitchell; grandson Brandon and sister Dottie.
by Michael T. Toole
Frank Gorshin (1933-2005)
I'm in love with a man-- Plaza Oh- Double four- Double Three. What a perfect relationship-- I can't see him, he can't see me!- Ella
The film opens with the following onscreen credit: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Judy Holliday, Dean Martin in An Arthur Freed Production, Bells Are Ringing." The film opens with a voice-over narration presented like an advertisement, glorifying the "Susanswerphone" business. In addition to attributing Susanswerphone with successfully life-altering results for subscribers by catching all missed calls, the location of the business is said to be an elegant and upscale office.
When the dramatic action of the film begins immediately thereafter, Susanswerphone is shown to be located in a basement apartment in a run-down brownstone. At the close of the film, after Susanswerphone operator "Ella" Peterson finally resolves her own love dilemma, voice-over narration claims that using Susanswerphone can solve all subscribers' problems.
According to a August 7, 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M purchased the rights to the 1956 musical Bells Are Ringing that year and planned to have Judy Holliday reprise her stage role in the film. Sidney Chaplin, who co-starred with Holliday on Broadway, was tested for the picture; however, Dean Martin was later chosen as Holliday's co-star. Although an November 11, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Hal Linden, who played the role of "Master of ceremonies" in Bells Are Ringing, co-starred with Holliday in the Broadway production, he was actually Chaplin's understudy. Hollywood Reporter news item add Carmen Phillips, Woody Herman, Milton Parsons and Mitzi Chapman to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
According to a August 10, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Comden and Green created two new songs for the motion picture version of the musical. Memos in the Arthur Freed Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicate that Comden had been working on a new song entitled "My Guiding Star," but that song was not in the released print, nor were any songs not in the Broadway musical. Portions of the film were shot on location in New York City, including the areas of Times Square and Bay Ridge and in Los Angeles.
Bells Are Ringing received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture), but lost to Song Without End. In addition to the 1956 Broadway musical, another stage version of the musical opened in London (14 November 1957) starring Janet Blair. According to modern sources, Holliday broke into acting after serving as a switchboard operator for Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre, where she made her debut in a cabaret group known as the Revuers, which also included Comden and Green. Holliday, whose final role was Bells Are Ringing, died of cancer in 1965.
Voted Best Screenplay of a Musical by the 1960 Writers Guild of America.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States Summer July 1960
Judy Holliday's last film.
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex) as part of program "Turner's Tuners: Great Musicals From the Turner Library" October 12 - December 29, 1996.)
Released in United States Summer July 1960