Dueling Divas: Ella vs. Olga in Bells Are Ringing (1960)

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!

Kindness/ Empathy


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 cares for her subscribers. They become her friends - from the opera star to the little boy who won't eat his spinach. When Jeff is in a rough spot at work, he seeks advice from a woman he's never seen, the lady at his answering service - Ella. (He knows her only as "Mom," signaling the nurturing connection he feels with her.)

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.

Ella hides.

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.

This entry is for the Dueling Divas Blogathon hosted by Backlots. Read other entries here: http://backlots.net/2013/11/19/announcing-backlots-third-annual-dueling-divas-blogathon/


  1. I’m always partial to reading about duelling divas and I especially enjoyed the way you break things down in your post. Great stuff.
    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of, let alone seen Bells are Ringing, seeing as it stars the recently-late-and-always-great Jean Stapleton and it’s also Billie Holliday’s last film.
    Dean Martin too means it must be worth watching.

    Enjoy the rest of the blogathon.

    1. This is Dean Martin's finest performance. The story of a desperate man mixed with humor is a difficult tight rope to walk, but he does it well.

  2. Of course that should read JUDY not Billie Holliday!

  3. In my eyes, that hat (in the first two images) is enough to make Olga a winner! Ella could never wear anything to top that.
    I haven't seen this film for ages, but you're post reminded me of all the reasons why I love it. Thank you for sharing such a fabulous contribution

    1. I love Olga's blue dress. It's meant to be ridiculous, but I just love it. It reminds me of some of the glamorously bouffant taffeta dresses of the 1980s.

      You're right that in fashion, Olga wins hands down. Ella's wardrobe could have been better. Ultimately, though, Jeff is marrying the person; they can purchase a better wardrobe after the wedding.

  4. Thanks for the review of this gem of a film. I am not a fan of musicals but I was utterly charmed by this fluffy little confection. Greatly enjoyed your breakdown the of the rivalry.

  5. I don't know this movie, but I think I would love it. Dean Martin is always worth the price of admission and the plot sounds really intriguing.

    Great post! I agree with a previous commenter who noted the way you organized the duelling "categories".

  6. Your wrap up of Ella's battle being with herself rings so true. Ella is such a sweetie, but didn't know it. The dream role was written for Judy and we're so lucky that, for once, Hollywood let the Broadway star retain what was rightfully theirs.

  7. Nice to show their qualities in rounds! I must say I'm always inclined to cheer for Judy Holliday!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  8. Just saw Valerie in California a few years ago. Still looks great. Moved out of L.A to the Valley.


Thanks for your contribution to Java's Journey.


About Java

"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email: java-rush@hotmail.com


Blog Archive

Writer's Block Doesn't Stand a Chance