These 6 cool TV detectives had car phones decades before you did
Cannon, Mannix and Peter Gunn all had awesome cars — and some high tech features.
Sabrina was hardly a science-fiction film, but when audiences saw the 1964 Huphrey Bogart flick, they got a vision of the future. Bogie plays a business man who cruises around in a Crown Imperial limousine, making phone calls from the back seat. Yes, phone calls. His character was on the cutting edge of mobile technology.
Most of us think of mobile telephones as a modern convenience, perhaps first popping into our consciousness around the time Gordon Gecko held that big white brick cellphone up to his ear in 1987's Wall Street. But the car phone has been around for seven decades. It was first used in St. Louis in 1946. Motorola and Illinois Bell offered the service shortly thereafter. By 1964, there were more than 1 million people using car phones across the country, utilizing AT&T's "Improved Mobile Telephone Service" technology.
Naturally, some were bound to show up on TV. After all, if Maxwell Smart could have a phone in his shoe, someone else was bound to have a phone in a car.
However, it was mostly just a handful of detectives that had car phones. A car phone was the ultimate symbol of masculine cool, second only to the vehicle itself. Here are the notable crime fighters and sleuths who used car phones in 1950s and 1960s television.
1. Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957–1960)
Sixty years ago, Richard Diamond became the first major TV character to regularly use a car phone. The character, created by Blake Edward, was born on the radio, running an audio program from 1949–53. Four years later, David Janssen, who later became best known for starring in The Fugitive, stepped into the role on the boob tube. The suave P.I. drove a gorgeous 1959 DeSoto Fireflite convertible. His car phone directly connected him to a seductive operator named "Sam," who was played by Mary Tyler Moore, though her face was never seen, concealed in shadow.
2. Peter Gunn (1958–61)
Blake Edwards scored another noir hit with his jazz-loving Peter Gunn character. Armed with a killer theme song and a sleek Plymouth Fury, the P.I. placed calls from his black car phone. In case you were wondering, his mobile number was JL1-7211.
3. Burke's Law (1963–66)
Gene Barry as Amos Burke, the millionaire captain of the LAPD homicide division. The crime fighting rich man had a set-up closer to Bogart in Sabrina, with a phone in the back seat, as he was chauffeured around in a 1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II. In the third and final season, the series was retooled to be a spy drama, surfing the trends of the day.
4. Batman (1966–68)
The Caped Crusader had all sorts of Bat-tech in his fantastic world, from his Batcomputer to his Shark Repellent. Yet, the glowing red Batphone in the Batmobile might have been the most believable piece of tech. If Peter Gunn could afford one, certainly Bruce Wayne could, too. The bat-shaped receiver was a stylish touch.
5. Mannix (1967–75)
Considering how often he was konked in the skull, it's probably a good thing that Mannix had an easy way to place an emergency call. In season two, he drove a nifty 1968 Dodge Dart GTS 340 outfitted with a Motorola car phone.
6. Cannon (1971–76)
William Conrad motored about in a massive '72 Lincoln Continental Mark IV. The ice-blue beauty featured a Motorola Pulsar mounted on the floor under the dash. Though, it appears he had the thing installed upside down.
SEE ALSO: 11 SUPER HIGH TECH COMPUTERS SEEN ON 1960S TELEVISION
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