The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)

97 mins | Drama | 14 April 1939

Director:

Irving Cummings

Writer:

Lamar Trotti

Cinematographer:

Leon Shamroy

Editor:

Walter Thompson

Production Designers:

Richard Day, Mark-Lee Kirk

Production Company:

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were American Miracle and Alexander Graham Bell . It was also reviewed as Story of Alexander Graham Bell . News items in H note that the film was budgeted at $1,500,000. Bell's daughter, Mrs. Gilbert Grosvenor, had official approval over the script. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Centuury-Fox Produced Script Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Darryl Zanuck criticized early treatments of this film as containing too much science and not enough romance. In story conferences, Zanuck suggested Eddie Albert for the role of "Thomas Watson," Nancy Kelly for "Mrs. Bell" and Edna Mae Oliver for "Mrs. Mac Gregor." Polly Ann Young, Georgiana Young and Sally Blane, who play Loretta Young's sisters in the film, were her sisters in real life. Don Ameche became so identified with the role of Alexander Graham Bell that in Canada the slang for telephone became "the Ameche" and in the 1941 film Ball of Fire , the character played by Barbara Stanwyck calls the phone the Ameche because "he invented it." The picture was previewed at the San Francisco World's Fair on 29 Mar 1939.
       According to the Var obituary for NYT film critic and later screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, a comment in Nugent's review of this film reportedly cost the newspaper some $50,000 in advertising. Nugent, who in the past had been critical of a number of the studio's productions, began his review for this film with the remark, "If only because it has omitted Tyrone Power, the 20th-Fox production of The Story of Alexander Graham Bell , ... More Less

The working titles of this film were American Miracle and Alexander Graham Bell . It was also reviewed as Story of Alexander Graham Bell . News items in H note that the film was budgeted at $1,500,000. Bell's daughter, Mrs. Gilbert Grosvenor, had official approval over the script. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Centuury-Fox Produced Script Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Darryl Zanuck criticized early treatments of this film as containing too much science and not enough romance. In story conferences, Zanuck suggested Eddie Albert for the role of "Thomas Watson," Nancy Kelly for "Mrs. Bell" and Edna Mae Oliver for "Mrs. Mac Gregor." Polly Ann Young, Georgiana Young and Sally Blane, who play Loretta Young's sisters in the film, were her sisters in real life. Don Ameche became so identified with the role of Alexander Graham Bell that in Canada the slang for telephone became "the Ameche" and in the 1941 film Ball of Fire , the character played by Barbara Stanwyck calls the phone the Ameche because "he invented it." The picture was previewed at the San Francisco World's Fair on 29 Mar 1939.
       According to the Var obituary for NYT film critic and later screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, a comment in Nugent's review of this film reportedly cost the newspaper some $50,000 in advertising. Nugent, who in the past had been critical of a number of the studio's productions, began his review for this film with the remark, "If only because it has omitted Tyrone Power, the 20th-Fox production of The Story of Alexander Graham Bell , at the Roxy, must be considered one of that company's more sober and meritorious contributions to the historical drama." After the matter was settled, according to Var , NYT publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger sent Nugent a memo concerning the situation. Following Nugent's glowing review of The Grapes of Wrath (see above) in 1940, Twentieth Century-Fox hired him as a script critic, and he later became one of Hollywood's top screenwriters. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
30 Mar 39
p. 3.
Film Daily
3 Apr 39
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 39
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 39
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 39
pp. 5-6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 39
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
31 Mar 39
pp. 1-2.
Motion Picture Herald
4 Mar 39
pp. 52-53.
Motion Picture Herald
8 Apr 39
pp. 60-61.
New York Times
1 Apr 39
p. 17.
Variety
5 Apr 39
p. 15.
Variety
12 Jan 1966.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Cosmopolitan Production; Darryl F. Zanuck's production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Orig story
Contr to scr const
Contr to scr const
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus dir
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Alexander Graham Bell
American Miracle
Release Date:
14 April 1939
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 1 April 1939
Production Date:
began 5 January 1939
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
14 April 1939
Copyright Number:
LP8838
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
97
Length(in feet):
8,820
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
5038
SYNOPSIS

In 1873, young Alexander Graham Bell, a teacher of deaf mutes, experiments with a way to visualize sound so that his pupils will be able to speak. Alec's project leads him to work on the development of a telegraph, and consequently, Thomas Sanders, the father of one of his pupils, introduces the young inventor to businessman Gardner Hubbard, hoping that Hubbard will offer his financial support. Alec falls in love with Hubbard's deaf daughter Mabel, but is unable to propose for lack of funds. However, Mabel supports Alec's endeavors, and when he threatens to give up his new invention, the telephone, to find a wage paying job, Mabel insists that he continue with his experiments. Together with his assistant, Thomas Watson, Alec toils in the face of hunger and adversity until miraculously, his invention "speaks." Alec's New England Bell Company is reluctantly backed by Sanders and Hubbard, and after Alec and Mabel are married, they voyage to England to demonstrate the invention to Queen Victoria. When the queen agrees to install the device in Buckingham Palace, Alec's financial worries appear to be over until he receives word that a company backed by Western Union is challenging his patent. Alec and Mabel immediately return to America to bring suit against the company for patent infringement. During a dramatic court trial, Mabel produces evidence that proves that her husband developed the phone first, thus winning Alec a stunning victory as Western Union cedes defeat and offers to go into partnership with ... +


In 1873, young Alexander Graham Bell, a teacher of deaf mutes, experiments with a way to visualize sound so that his pupils will be able to speak. Alec's project leads him to work on the development of a telegraph, and consequently, Thomas Sanders, the father of one of his pupils, introduces the young inventor to businessman Gardner Hubbard, hoping that Hubbard will offer his financial support. Alec falls in love with Hubbard's deaf daughter Mabel, but is unable to propose for lack of funds. However, Mabel supports Alec's endeavors, and when he threatens to give up his new invention, the telephone, to find a wage paying job, Mabel insists that he continue with his experiments. Together with his assistant, Thomas Watson, Alec toils in the face of hunger and adversity until miraculously, his invention "speaks." Alec's New England Bell Company is reluctantly backed by Sanders and Hubbard, and after Alec and Mabel are married, they voyage to England to demonstrate the invention to Queen Victoria. When the queen agrees to install the device in Buckingham Palace, Alec's financial worries appear to be over until he receives word that a company backed by Western Union is challenging his patent. Alec and Mabel immediately return to America to bring suit against the company for patent infringement. During a dramatic court trial, Mabel produces evidence that proves that her husband developed the phone first, thus winning Alec a stunning victory as Western Union cedes defeat and offers to go into partnership with Bell. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.