Two women become fairly territorial over Jeffery Moss, the Broadway playwright (Dean Martin).
In this corner of Bells Are Ringing (1960) is Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday), switchboard operator at Susanswerphone- a personalized telephone answering service. Ella gives and takes messages for Jeff.
In this corner Olga (Valerie Allen), socialite without a last name and a penchant for horse races. Olga gives and takes kisses from Jeff.
Alright, ladies! Shake hands and come out swinging!
Olga is in the New York jet set and is accustomed to having her way. She shouts at the woman answering Jeff's phone. She pops into a man's apartment uninvited. She stands firm even when the host gently insists she leave. Instead she says,"You're not getting rid of me that easy."
Not only is Olga rude, she's aware of it.
Ella is always available to help someone.
Kindness/Empathy Points Go To......... Ella
Though Olga's perspective on life is far more limited in scope than Ella's, she thoroughly understands her own exclusive world. The socialite knows exactly who she is and where she fits in life, especially in Jeff's life. They are each others' play thing and she's willing to play the game as long as she's having fun and all parties concerned look good.
She's selfish and shallow, but confident.
Unlike Ella, Olga is never really desperate for Jeff. However, it's a confusing blow to her ego that his attention can be diverted to some mysterious woman who's not from their circle, with a strange name and a strange red dress. Her rules don't account for this situation.
Still, Olga will be fine with or without Jeff. She puts a period on their relationship with a little shrug and a simple resignation, "I don't get it." Oh well. Whatever. More fish in the sea, etc.
When Ella is not pretending to be a fictional character and helping people either on the switchboard or in person, she "clams up like an oyster," says her cousin Sue. She's uncomfortable being herself; she even says, "I'm nothing!"
Ella makes up a fake name when she's with Jeff. She's either "Mom" on the phone or "Melisande" in person. Neither he nor his friends know her real name, nor that the two people are the same woman.
Ella is ashamed of her real self and of her dress when she finally goes out on a date with Jeff, even though he assures her "you're beautiful." Ella doesn't believe he could like her and makes snide, unbecoming cracks about the equine-loving other woman. ("She even looks a little like a horse.")
If Ella knew Olga's world, she'd understand that Olga and Jeff were never close, and that Ella has a clear path to Jeff's heart. In fact, Jeff has told her as much, but Ella is too busy pitying herself to let that life-changing information sink in.
Confidence Points Go To......... Olga
While Jeff writes the first play without his writing partner (a frightening prospect), he explains to Olga that he must get to work. She scoffs, "You can work some other time." Then she insists that Jeff take her to the race track.
Jeff has gone sober after a bout of depression where he overindulged, but Olga will have none of that and hands him a drink. At no point does she ask him what he wants. Life is all about Olga's leisure time.
The switchboard operator gives more than messages - Ella gives her listening ear. She gives suggestions to people and chews the fat with the lonely. She gets up to place wake up calls at odd hours of the day.When a subscriber cannot get a message by phone, she tracks down his address and delivers the important message in person.
In Jeff's case, she makes sure he gets the message and also helps him out of his despondency. Her industriousness and selflessness is an inspiration to Jeff. He writes his next successful play and compares Ella with someone who saves a person from drowning.
Industriousness/Selflessness Points Go To......... Ella
Though Ella wins by a wide margin, this duel is terribly unfair to the other woman; Olga is one step above a one-dimensional character. Still, Olga's lack of depth is purposeful; it helps the audience realize that the person Ella battles the most is herself.