The Story of Alexander Graham Bell

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The Story of Alexander Graham Bell
The Story of Alexander Graham Bell FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Irving Cummings
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck (producer)
Kenneth Macgowan (associate producer)
Written by Ray Harris(story)
Lamar Trotti[screenplay)
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Editing by Walter A. Thompson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates 14 April 1939
Running time 98 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell is a somewhat fictionalized 1939 biographical film of the famous inventor. It was filmed in black-and-white and released by Twentieth Century-Fox. The film stars Don Ameche as Bell and Loretta Young as Mabel, his wife, who contracted scarlet fever at an early age and became deaf. The first half of the film concentrates on the hero's romantic, financial, and scientific struggles, starting in 1873. Most scenes are set in Boston and vicinity; a few late scenes are in London.

Henry Fonda is notable in a supporting role as the “Mr. Watson” who hears the first words ever spoken over the telephone. In a pivotal scene, Bell, while working on the telephone, accidentally spills acid onto his lap and shouts in pain, “Mr. Watson, come here! I want you!”. Watson, barely able to contain his own excitement, rushes into the room and stammers out the news that he heard Bell calling out to him over the telephone receiver.  Bell has Watson repeat his own words to him to confirm it, and the two men begin hopping around the room, with Watson yelling out a Native American war whoop.

That scene of jubilation was likely based on fact. In real life the Six Nations Mohawk Reserve near Bell's home in Brantford, Ontario awarded him the title of Honorary Chief, about 1870, for his work in translating the unwritten Mohawk language into Visible Speech symbols. Bell was thrilled at his recognition by the Six Nations Reserve and throughout his life would launch into a Mohawk war dance when he was excited.[1]

The last part depicts the legal struggle against Western Union over patent priority in the invention of the telephone, as a battle of the small and plucky against lies promoted by a mighty corporation, ending with a dramatic courtroom revelation and victory. Earlier attempts of Western Union to buy out Bell, and the many other patent infringement lawsuits, are not mentioned. The final scene has the hero contemplating manned flight, under his wife's adoring gaze.



  1. ^ Groundwater, Jennifer (2005) Alexander Graham Bell: The Spirit of Invention, Pg. 35. Altitude Publishing, Calgary ISBN 1-55439-006-0

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