LIFE’s final issue as a weekly magazine came out in December 1972, just three months before the first mobile phone call was transmitted from a New York City street corner on April 3, 1973. And perhaps that’s for the best—those plastic bricks would have looked a tad out of place in an Eisenstaedt shot of Sophia Loren. But although the Motorola DynaTAC never graced the magazine’s pages, LIFE’s subjects, it seemed, were always on the phone. Today we may use our phones to avoid awkward elevator conversations, but the images of world leaders and the Hollywood elite with receivers to their ears connote men and women in control, calling (quite literally) the shots.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.