Friday, January 9, 2009

Pupkin's Payphones

Awhile ago, a reader alerted me to the fact that the bank of payphones on the back of the NYPD station in Times Square has vanished.


from flashsear's flickr & another shot here

I finally got up there and, indeed, a peek behind the station reveals a definite lack of payphones, the old orange tiles from the mosaic paved over in white:


from my flickr

Since the advent of cell phones, pay phones all over the city are beginning to vanish and will probably continue to do so until they are gone completely. But this particular bunch of phones was special because it's been featured in film, including a scene in Scorsese's brilliant and prescient King of Comedy.

Robert DeNiro, playing Rupert Pupkin, uses a phone here as his "office." Having one of the only functioning phones, Pupkin is forced to defend it from an angry group of Times Square characters, all of them anxious to make their calls. (Notice Souvlaki King in the background; Playland arcade was to the left, offscreen in this shot.)


film still

In the DVD extras, Sandra Bernhard discusses the use of such characters in the film, saying, "New York has become so gentrified, I think you don't see as many marginalized characters that you would have 10, 15, 20 years ago... They're real New York characters that couldn't exist anywhere else. Nobody expected those kinds of characters to disappear from the landscape of New York City...nobody expected Times Square to become Disneyland."

We're not only becoming payphoneless--much sadder, someday we will also be utterly Pupkinless.


film still

14 comments:

Merrim said...

Hi , love your stories , this one is specialy nice ...

Rachella said...

This is terrible. I had a really hard time finding a pay phone in Penn Station last week. As more basic amenities are left to businesses who only care about the bottom line, there's less and less concern ablout the welfare of the public at large.

EV Grieve said...

Sorry to bring this film up in the presence of the King of Comedy...But! This reminds of the stupid Colin Farrell movie from 2002, Phone Booth...trapped in a phone booth on Times Square! A sniper lurking! Kiefer Sutherland collecting a paycheck to cover his bar tab!

Heh. This movie is already hilariously outdated. In a sad way.

RI 360 said...

I am betting the NYPD cited security issues when they were removed...

JackS said...

@RI 360, nah I don't think. So few people use pay phones anymore that the cost to maintain is not worth it. The main reason you still see pay phone banks on the street is the back and sides can be—and has been—sold as ad space. So the phones in those turn no profit but all of the money comes in from the ads slapped on the side.

Smoke & mirrors & phones.

Smeow said...

I live on 43rd Street, a block away from those rarely used payphones. The reason they are gone is that they served no purpose. Payphones were never made to create a sense of beauty and nostalgia: they were installed to make a buck.
I don't own a cell-phone, so I feel a certain right to be sad that phone booths are almost obsolete.
When I worked at Grand Central, in 1985, selling newspapers, there was an entire phone room across from my stand. It was a mass of real New York.
We've seen all the Boros change, some things for the better, others...
I miss phone booths. There are a few in the Research Library, the orginal NYPL, 42nd/Fifth Ave. A wooden box with a little class.
And something we never get anymore, conversational privacy.

Our New York today is mostly an expedient mirror of what we said we wanted.
We have fast food, cheap clothes, and lots of cars. And we don't want to worry about carrying loose change for a phone call.
...sylvester

BABOOSHKA said...

Ev Grieve, absolutely right about that other sad phone movie. I live somewhere that is bit of a time warp and on thing we do have is plenty of phone boxes, coin and card.

Anonymous said...

At least we still have the outer boroughs. And hopefully this shitty economy will help mom & pop shops from getting rent increases.

*LIS said...

Payphones can't vanish!
They are extremely helpful when cell's batteries are gone or turists who don't have their phones and stuff like that!

THEY SIMPLY CAN'T!

Carol Gardens said...

There's still an entire wall of pay phones in the subterranean concourse between the Time Life Building and the AXA (formerly Equitable) building. Also, a discount cosmetics store that is pretty good. It is a continuation of the Rockefeller Center Underground Concourse. Great to know about if you want to avoid wind, rain, and snow. There's a fancy health club with a pool down there as well.

Anonymous said...

Rupe is one of the all-time great cinematic "losers," hands down...

Robert Robillard said...

They took the payphones out of my town the other day too.

I asked the technician removing them why not just leave them and he told me with cell phones they actually lose money on them.

Mercedes said...

Hi, I found this webpage looking for information about the firts scenes of Woody Allen's Manhattan. That scene with the payphones and the Souvla King also appears there. I'm from Buenos Aires an I didn't know where that was in Manhattan :)

laura r. said...

there was a very old fashioned pay phone in the hotel "mark" lobby. (east 62nd st, between madison & park-maybe 63rd). the phone was a dial phone, jeremiah would love it. last time i saw it was 2007 ish. i wonder if it is still there? yes i used it, loved the booth. while your @it, check to see if the tiny diner is still there, on madison between either 61st-62nd or 62nd-63rd, right across from barneys. great food. i loved using the phone in the lobby, then having a grilled cheese @ the diner. gee, what if your cell breaks? guess you have to ask a kind person to use theirs, or have stress. thats progress......