Before we had the Internet, we had celebrity hotlines.
I don't like making phone calls, and I never have. But back in the 1980s, we were constantly being exhorted to pick up our telephones and call, call, call! It was often a celebrity telling us to do it - and really, who can you trust if not a famous person, even if we have to pay? Here are ten particularly noteworthy (and occasionally tragic) uses of premium-rate telephony during the Reagan years.
1. The Empire Hotline (early 1980)
In the Winter 1980 issue of Bantha Tracks, the Official Star Wars Fan Club newsletter, the following appeared:
The messages themselves are what we would now consider to be very spoiler-y. Harrison Ford sounds like he'd rather be anywhere else doing anything else, and Carrie Fisher slurs the word "scourge" so much, it sounds like she's about to slide out of the recording booth. And all of them demonstrate why it's a bad idea to try to shoehorn the words "the empire strikes back" (or anything else written by George Lucas) into a sentence spoken aloud by human beings.
2. Saturday Night Live: Kill Larry / Dump Andy (1982, 1983)
Save Larry: 900-720-1808
Kill Larry: 900-720-1909
Keep Andy: 900-720-4101
Dump Andy: 900-720-4202
Charges: $.50 per call, because that's just the way the phone company works.
On the April 10, 1982 episode of Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy put the fate of a lobster named Larry to a vote. Viewers on the East Coast could either call one number to save Larry the Lobster, or call the other number to kill him. (Then as now, viewers on the West Coast could go straight to hell.) Much like with the Empire Hotline two years prior, AT&T was unprepared for the onslaught, though the system managed to keep afloat in spite of the hundreds of thousands of calls. By the end of the show, the tally was in: 239,096 to save him from being boiled alive that night, 227,452 to let him fulfill his delicious, bib-splattering destiny.
The stunt was not without controversy. The following week, Murphy read an angry letter from a University of Oklahoma student who managed to be humorless, self-righteous, and racist at the same time. Murphy then proceeded to eat Larry (or a Larry lookalike, as the case may be).
Except that when Eddie Murphy appeared a little later with the results so far, things were not looking well for Andy, at 38,945 to Keep and 48,838 to Dump.
It's worth noting that while 466,548 people called in with an opinion about a lobster, only 364,730 called in regarding Andy Kaufman, and the majority of them were calling for the express purpose of kicking his career in the teeth. Oh, democracy! When it works, it sometimes tells us unpleasant things about ourselves - a lesson which DC Comics would learn the hard way some years later.
3. He-Man (mid 1980s)
Charges: $2.35 for a two-minute message. $2 for the first minute, $.35 for each additional minute.
And just to show that they weren't entirely money-grubbing weasels, a subtitle makes the unverifiable claim assures us that "A portion of each call goes to the Calif. Museum Foundation & Local Science Museums," though She-Ra clarifies aloud that only part of that first two minutes goes to local science museums. How much is a part and/or a portion? A dime? A penny? A mill? And if you stick around after the initial "message," that $.35 a minute goes straight to the weasels.
4. Captain Lou Albano Wrestling Hotline (1987)
Charges: $1.50 for the first minute, $.35 for each additional minute.
5. The KISS Hotline (1988)
Charges: $2 the first minute, $.45 each additional minute.