“Hear and talk with 40 friends!”
Long before Who Wants to Be a Millionaire aired, Mattel introduced its version of “phone-a-friend” with the release of the Mattel-O-Phone.
Operating on two D-batteries, the play telephone used interchangeable 4-inch mini-records that contained pre-recorded, one-sided “conversations”. Players accessed the recording by inserting a record into the phone’s left side, picking up the receiver, and pressing the Play button on the phone’s base.
Placing the handset back on the cradle stopped the voice on the other end of the receiver. Each record contained eight conversations — four per side. The recordings asked questions and left space for children to respond. Kids could also jump from conversation to conversion on a single side by repeatedly pressing the Play button.
The original Mattel-O-Phone shipped with five mini-records for a total of 40 conversations and approximately 18 minutes of pre-recorded dialogue. Mattel included various voices in the record library, such as public-domain characters and some of their own properties, like Liddle Kiddles.
Buoyed by the success of the toy’s initial release, Mattel developed other O-Phones, including Barbie and her friends, Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, and Mother Goose.