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God's phone rings in Pinellas Park

Actually, if you call the number featured in a new movie, the person who answers may not be very forgiving.

Published May 27, 2003

God is a businesswoman in Pinellas Park. Or a radio station operator in Denver. Or maybe an elderly woman in South Carolina.

Or so they've been told. Over the weekend, their phones rang at all hours.

"Is God there?" callers would ask. Or, simply, "God?"

Then they would chuckle and hang up.

By Monday, some of these deities had figured out what was going on. All this was happening because of the movie Bruce Almighty, starring funny man Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman. The film was released in movie theaters on Friday.

In one scene, God (Freeman) pages Bruce (Carrey) and leaves a number, which flashes on Bruce's pager and on the big screen.

It's a real, seven-digit phone number. Dial the number wherever you are, and you may get an actual person - none of whom claim to have created heaven and earth.

Dawn Jenkins of Pinellas Park went to see Bruce on Friday. Her number flashed on the movie screen.

Soon Jenkins' cell phone was getting 15 to 20 calls an hour from people asking for God, according to a message she posted on a Web forum for visual artists.

In the interest of mercy, the Times is not publishing the phone number.

"What am I to do?" Jenkins wrote. "I e-mailed Universal Studios about this issue. . . . I think I want payment. . . . Do they do that? I may have to change my phone number and it is a custom number. . . . It could only happen to me."

The Times caught up with Jenkins Monday inside a warehouse where she makes colored glass. She didn't want to talk until she had consulted a lawyer.

Universal Studios was silent too, its spokespeople perhaps not returning calls because of the Memorial Day holiday.

But a woman who has the number in South Carolina said she has been "getting aggravated to death" by calls mentioning God. She didn't know why until a reporter phoned on Monday. She didn't want her name in the paper.

Ron Nickel, senior vice president for the Radio Colorado Network, had a spirit of humor about him.

In Denver, the Bruce Almighty number leads callers to Nickel's main call center for the network's five talk radio stations in that area.

Some callers have given the prank some thought.

"Since you're God, if you can name all 31 flavors of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, I'll give you $31,000," one girl said in a serious tone. (Well, not that much thought. It's Baskin Robbins that advertises 31 flavors.)

The network got 30 to 40 prank calls over the weekend. Today will be the first full office work day since the movie came out. "My receptionist is going to go crazy," Nickel said.

The film industry has used real phone numbers in movies for decades, sometimes as a gimmick to boost interest.

In the 1999 movie Magnolia, a telephone number shown on infomercials within the movie led callers to a recording of star Tom Cruise's voice. In 1995's The American President, the telephone number President Shepherd gives Sydney is in fact the number to the White House. In Good Will Hunting, from 1997, the phone number printed on the sign for a construction company in the movie is the actual phone number of a company in Woburn, Mass., where Matt Damon worked while going to high school in Cambridge.

And in the 1932 film Helpmates, Stan Laurel gave his real phone number.

Some decades ago, the movie industry began using phone numbers with a 555 prefix, which the telecommunications industry had reserved for special uses. For instance, in the 1970s TV series Charlie's Angels, the angels' number was 555-0267.

But, according to a February New York Times article, in 1994 a contractor to the Federal Communications Commission began accepting applications for these numbers from the public. The numbers could now be used by businesses who applied for them nationwide.

What can people like Jenkins do to stop pranksters when their numbers appear in a movie?

Probably very little, says Bob Elek, a spokesman for Verizon.

The phone company has several services that filter callers, such as call block, which can block specific phone numbers from getting through. Or call intercept, which forces people to identify themselves before the call gets through.

But neither is ideal for a business person who doesn't want to discourage clients.

"It's unfortunate that Hollywood didn't think about that," Elek said.

- Times film critic Steve Persall and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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