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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Typewriter as a Double Entendre: Smitten by Tubby's New Yöst


Tubby's Typewriter is a short silent film from 1916 directed by Frank Wilson, the second in the series of comic The Adventures of Tubby produced by Cecil M. Hepworth. Sadly the original print was burned by Hepworth in 1924, and the final scene is missing here. But one can easily imagine what happens when Mrs Tubby turns up at The Ship restaurant.
Australian actress Violet Hopson plays Tubby's jealous wife
Johnny Butt plays Tubby, smitten by a New Yöst typewriterHis young wife is played by Violet Hopson (1887-1973), born in Port Augusta, South Australia as Elma Kate Victoria "Kitty" Karkeek. A major star of the silent era, Violet started out as a child actress with the Pollard Opera Company in Australia and New Zealand in 1898 before going to Britain with her older sister, Ora Zoe Harris Karkeek, in 1900. Violet later became a pioneer in the British film industry when she set up her own production company.
Washington Post, 1920
My New Yöst

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Backspacing to 2016

With this blog passing two and three-quarter million page views tonight, six weeks shy of its sixth anniversary, I thought it opportune to backspace over 2016. My “output” last year was a mere 145 posts (630,000 page views), down by 100 from the previous year, which in turn was half what it was in 2014. So I guess it’s fair to say ozTypewriter is gradually winding back, and my gorgeously cool granddaughter Ely might have something to do with that.
Still, there was plenty to write about in 2016, as there will be in 2017.
I didn’t bother posting on Bob Dylan when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in October (I was too busy organising a grand garage sale at the time). Not surprisingly, all the Dylan books went from my library at that sale, and there was a sudden surge in interest in my blog posts on Dylan’s typewriters. One, titled “How Many Typewriters Will it Take Till He Knows?” reached a staggering 8593 page views, making it by far the most popular among my 2258 posts, almost 2000 ahead of “Reattaching the Drawband to the Mainspring on a Portable Typewriter: The Layman's Rudimentary Way”. Sometimes the level of renewed interest in a particular post is unfathomable, such as in the past few days with “Køhl's Kryptograf Writing Ball”.
Another singer-songwriter who, in my book at least, would have been a contender for the prize earned by Dylan was Leonard Cohen, who died in November. Cohen’s passing also drew a lot of page views to various posts about his typewriter use, most notably “So Long, Marianne”, posted after Marianne Ihlen died in Norway in July. David Bowie, who died in Manhattan exactly 12 months ago, aroused some typewriter interest because his Olivetti Valentine portable sold at auction for more than $75,000 late in the year. Similar interest may now attend my October post on Clare Hollingworth, the British journalist who scooped the world with news of the outbreak of World War II - she died aged 105 in Hong Kong yesterday.
Internationally, in strictly typewriter terms, the high points of 2016 were the presenting of a QWERTY Award to Herman Price in West Virginia in October and the publication of a new book from Peter Weil and Paul Robert, Typewriter: A Celebration of the Ultimate Writing Machine, in November. Newark’s Peter Weil is himself a previous winner of the QWERTY Award (in 2013), following on from Richard Polt from Cincinnati the preceding year and being followed by Mike Brown of Philadelphia and myself in 2014 and Gab Burbano from Little Falls, New Jersey, in 2015.
It was great to see in the Texas Monthly in July that Larry McMurtry, who turned 80 the previous month, is still using his (topless) Hermes 3000s - in fact, since praising the Hermes 3000 when winning a Golden Globe in 2006, McMurtry has increased the number of this model he keeps around the country from seven to more than two dozen. Nonetheless, he's still be to be photographed using one. “Well, my fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were,” McMurtry told the Monthlyso I have trouble changing my typewriter ribbon. And there are days my vision gets so blurry that I can’t always see what I’ve typed. There are other days when my energy lags.” In this heat wave, I know exactly how he feels!
Along the way in 2016, ozTypewriter corrected some serious misconceptions about Ernest Hemingway’s supposed Corona 3 in Cuba and Alger Hiss’s Woodstock, located Lewis Carroll’s Hammond and revealed much about the Australian lass subjected to Raymond Chandler's lurid typed love letters. It also presented a detailed history of 20th Century typewriter collecting. The movie typewriting performance of the year came from Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, followed at the length of a country mile by Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. I also liked seeing the post-war Soviet-era typewriters being used in Klaus Härö’s excellent Estonian sleeper The Fencer.
This image, taken of a see-through typewriter in a cell at San Quentin in August, left me with mixed feelings. The machine sits on the bed of a condemned inmate on death row. It's made the way it is so that nothing can be concealed inside it.
Little was concealed during the Rio de Janiero Olympic Games, which kept me glued to the TV set for a few weeks mid-year. During this time ozTypewriter page views skyrocketed (for reasons unrelated to typewriters). I managed to extract the heat from that situation, my first real taste of the Internet's incredible capacity to distort the truth. The consolation was watching Fiji humbly win its first Games gold medal, succeeding the United States as Olympic rugby union champion. And that led me to the rediscovery of a childhood hero, Joe Levula, and one of the best sports photos I've ever seen, taken in Brisbane in 1952.
Meanwhile, a former colleague, writing from the sailing in Rio, asked me to compare the equipment I had needed to cover the Olympics in bygone years with the mind-boggling tangle of bits and pieces that went with his laptop in 2016 (see images above).

There were seven typewriter presentations in
Canberra, each giving me yet another chance to dust off a few prized machines and talk about them. On his trip to England, Richard Polt had far greater success finding interesting typewriters in museums, and I was deeply envious. Frankly, our own National Museum is an utter embarrassment, and the best I could see there were Mary Gilmore's L.C. Smith, now associated with a new $10 banknote, and an IBM paper tape reader.  
David Lawrence was able to locate much more interesting machines on Trade Me in New Zealand, and one image he alerted me to was right up Georg Sommeregger's alley - a "Down Under" Empire Aristocrat. Yep, that's the way it was presented in its listing. It seems Flying Fish typewriters are also in favour in New Zealand.
 
For me, however, the typewriter highlight of 2016 was definitely the advent of weekly gatherings in Sydney involving Richard Amery, Phil Card, Warren Ingrey, Terry Cooksley and Phil Chapman of Charlie Foxtrot. These culminated in a Big Typewriter Bash last month, also attended by typewriter technicians Michael Klein from Melbourne and Jim Franklin from Canberra. The Chapmans depart Australia next week to set up a British branch of Charlie Foxtrot, but the Sydney gatherings are bound to roll on unabated in 2017.
The Big Bash was held back until Richard Amery returned home from a typewriting cruise to New Zealand aboard the Emerald Princess. The ocean liner was back in the news last week when a Sydney woman’s six years on dialysis, waiting for a kidney transplant, ended with her being winched off the ship into a helicopter in Bass Strait. She was choppered to Bairnsdale, Victoria, flown by fixed wing plane to Sydney's Bankstown Airport and driven by ambulance to Westmead Hospital. This remarkable story made me wonder if the same effort would have been made if Richard had run short of ribbons for his Olivetti Lettera 22.
My own kidney yarn didn't concern an emerald but an alleged sapphire. It involved strenuous work from Phil Card, Warren Ingrey and Terry Cooksley in helping me find the escapement wheel “jewel” in Smith-Corona Galaxies IIs. This was all for the sake of an article in ETCetera, and meant completely stripping down two portables. The truth was duly exposed, but the SCMs got their revenge when I later fell on them and broke three ribs. The pain was so intense for a long while that I actually feared I’d pierced a kidney, and would need my own transplant. It took two months for the ribs to fully repair themselves, but by Christmas we were all having a hearty laugh about it.
Miss Dactylo 1960: Simone Simion, Paris
I wasn't chuckling so much when AdSense, the outfit that pays me a princely 76 cents a day for placing adverts on my blog, wrote saying it had received a complaint about a June 2015 post showing nude women sitting on typewriters (it was actually about the use of Paul Robert's Sexy Legs erotica images in an ABC TV series called Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries). AdSense showed no sense in wanting the post removed, and in this case I flatly refused. Then a helpful reader sent me an image to add to my post on a collection of British cheesecake photos ("Titillation with Typewriters", Boxing Day 2015). So to cheese AdSense off properly, I'm adding it here:
The typewriter-related story which amused me most in 2016 concerned a luminary among the twittering classes, one Marcin Wichary, who in October tweeted furiously on a “serendipitous and magical event”. While looking for a Dali museum, he’d stumbled upon industrialist Pere Padrosa’s well-known El Museu de la Tècnica de l'Empordà in Vigo, in the north-west of Spain. I take up Wichary’s tweets as he walked towards it: I see this sign pointing the other way, saying ‘Museu de la Tècnica’, with a cute gear icon. I don’t have internet because of another earlier snafu (bad SIM card), but I had the foresight to save offline Google Maps. But Google Maps returns nothing for the museum, so I don’t know where it is exactly. I follow the sign’s directions the old-fashioned way.”  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me the idea that Wichary had to resort to “the old-fashioned way” to find a typewriter museum was just dripping in irony.
And so on to 2017 ...

Sunday, 8 January 2017

GULLIVER’S TYPEWRITER

In his 2017 paper “The Life, Death and Rebirth of Typewriters”, Richard Polt says the 1714 patent of English engineer Henry Mill reads as if it is describing a typewriter, but “We do not know what Mill’s invention looked like or what, exactly, it did.” From that same early 18th Century period, although presumably on a somewhat larger scale, is a contraption that is now also being labelled a “typewriter”. This is the “Lagado machine” for writing books in politics, poetry, philosophy, law, mathematics and theology. It is outlined by Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in Gulliver’s Travels (1726). And thanks to the marvellous inventive ingenuity of French caricaturist Jean-Jacques Grandville (real name Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, 1803-47) for the 1838 French translation of Gulliver’sTravels, we know what it looked like. Or, to be more precise, what Grandville was able to construe from Swift’s creative and detailed writings.
J.J.Grandville
Dean Swift
        With regard to the “Lagago typewriter”, Swift is believed to have been heavily satirising the Royal Society as well as caricaturing the far-sighted work of Leibniz and Llull. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716), a German polymath and philosopher, was one of the most prolific inventors in the field of mechanical calculators. While working on adding automatic multiplication and division to Pascal's calculator, he was the first to describe a pinwheel calculator, in 1685, and invented the Leibniz wheel, used in the arithmometer, the first mass-produced mechanical calculator. He also refined the binary number system, which is the foundation of virtually all digital computers. Leibniz was influenced by Ramon Llull (1232-c1315), a philosopher, logician, Franciscan tertiary and Majorcan writer considered a pioneer of computation theory.
Gulliver's Travels comprises four books – each recounting voyages by Lemuel Gulliver to fictional exotic lands. Part III is titled “A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan” from 1706-10. In chapter five, Gulliver describes a visit to “the Grand Academy of Lagado in Balnibarbi” and records seeing great resources and manpower employed on researching completely preposterous schemes. Among these is a “permutational [the process of altering the order of a given set of objects in a group] machine” for improving “speculative knowledge”. The device consists of a frame holding blocks. Swift wrote:
14    WE crossed a Walk to the other part of the Academy, where, as I have already said, the Projector in speculative Learning resided.
15    THE first Professor I saw was in a very large Room, with forty Pupils about him. After Salutation, observing me to look earnestly upon a Frame, which took up the greatest part of both the Length and Breadth of the Room, he said perhaps I might wonder to see him employed in a Project for improving speculative Knowledge by practical and mechanical Operations. But the World would soon be sensible of its Usefulness, and he flattered himself that a more noble exalted Thought never sprung in any other Man's Head. Every one knew how laborious the usual Method is of attaining to Arts and Sciences; whereas by his Contrivance, the most ignorant Person at a reasonable Charge, and with a little bodily Labour, may write both in Philosophy, Poetry, Politicks, Law, Mathematicks and Theology, without the least Assistance from Genius or Study. He then led me to the Frame, about the sides whereof all his Pupils stood in Ranks. It was twenty Foot Square, placed in the middle of the Room. The Superficies was composed of several bits of Wood, about the bigness of a Dye, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender Wires. These bits of Wood were covered on every Square with Paper pasted on them, and on these Papers were written all the Words of their Language in their several Moods, Tenses, and Declensions, but without any Order. The Professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his Engine at Work. The Pupils at his Command took each of them hold of an Iron Handle, whereof there were fourty fixed round the Edges of the Frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole Disposition of the Words was entirely changed. He then commanded six and thirty of the Lads to read the several Lines softly as they appeared upon the Frame; and where they found three or four Words together that might make part of a Sentence, they dictated to the four remaining Boys who were Scribes. This Work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn the Engine was so contrived, that the Words shifted into new places, or the square bits of Wood moved upside down.
16    SIX Hours a-day the young Students were employed in this Labour, and the Professor shewed me several Volumes in large Folio already collected, of broken Sentences, which he intended to piece together, and out of those rich Materials to give the World a compleat Body of all Arts and Sciences; which however might be still improved, and much expedited, if the Publick would raise a Fund for making and employing five hundred such Frames in Lagado, and oblige the Managers to contribute in common their several Collections.
17    HE assured me, that this Invention had employed all his Thoughts from his Youth, that he had employed the whole Vocabulary into his Frame, and made the strictest Computation of the general Proportion there is in the Book between the Numbers of Particles, Nouns, and Verbs, and other Parts of Speech.
18    I made my humblest Acknowledgement to this illustrious Person for his great Communicativeness, and promised if ever I had the good Fortune to return to my Native Country, that I would do him Justice, as the sole Inventer of this wonderful Machine; the Form and Contrivance of which I desired leave to delineate upon Paper as in the Figure here annexed. I told him, although it were the Custom of our Learned in Europe to steal Inventions from each other, who had thereby at least this advantage, that it became a Controversy which was the right Owner, yet I would take such Caution, that he should have the Honour entire without a Rival.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

The New Zealand Journalist and His Jeeves Called Watson

At Christmas 1933, the place to be in London was the palatial mansion owned by American romantic novelist Baroness von Hutton zum Stolzenburg in highly fashionable Clifton Court off St John’s Wood Road, a couple of straight drives away from Lord’s Cricket Ground. Except ‘Betsey’ wasn’t at home – she was “wintering” in Rome. Her vast abode was being rented by a free-spending New Zealander, Stanley East, and it was “open house” for a stream of parties eagerly patronised by, among many others, fellow Australian journalists and South African footballers. The South Africans quickly wore out their welcome, however, and after “bursting out into their war cry, some kind of Boer song” in the early hours of one Yuletide morning, an incensed East, his eyes bulging, bellowed at them, “I will not have German songs sung in my house. Out of the house, all of you, before I throw you out with my bare hands.” The interlopers duly obliged, unaided, but Australian cricket writers Arthur Mailey and Gilbert Mant stayed on to enjoy a few more quieter ales.
Stanley East was born at Addington in Christchurch on April 4, 1886, the son of the Church of St Mary the Virgin resident curate Herbert East, a one-time compositor with the Lyttelton Times. Stan East started as a journalist with the Lyttelton Times in 1909 and went on to work for the Christchurch Star until 1917, when he moved to the Evening Post in Wellington. He was also an advertising agent in the capital before packing up his trusty portable typewriter and decamping for Sydney in the early 1920s. Stan soon established a wide reputation for his love of throwing parties, as a prominent member of Sydney’s hell-raising Bohemian set in Bondi. To pay for this high life he worked for Daily Telegraph and was later chief sub-editor of The Sun on comparatively meagre wages. Yet, having discovered in 1915 P.G. Wodehouse’s immortal creation Jeeves, and his “gentleman’s person gentleman” relationship with Bertram Wilberforce “Bertie” Wooster, East had begun to harbour a surreal dream - of having his own, real life, English butler.
In July 1933 East and his second wife Milba May won £25,000 in the Queensland Exhibition No 2 Monster Casket, and Stan’s Jeeves dream suddenly became a reality. Stan had a flutter on a few faltering Sydney nags, bought beers for all his mates, handed over some of the cash to needy young lift operators, messengers and printers, and then set off with Milba and their 13-year-old daughter, Raukura Margery De Villiers East, for London. Once there, he immediately hired a valet called Watson (and Watson’s wife as a cook and chief bottle washer). In his October 1965 Nation obituary for Stan, Mant recalled his first encounter with Watson as a “baffling experience”. Watson, dressed in chauffeur’s uniform, arrived at Mant’s West Kensington flat at the wheel of a magnificent Bentley. After driving Mant and his wife to St John’s Wood, he quickly opened the back doors of the limousine and, without saying a word, sprinted to the back of the house. “In some bewilderment,” wrote Mant, “we walked to the front door and rang the bell”. It was opened almost immediately by Watson, by now dressed in immaculate striped trousers and a frock coat. “‘Please come inside, sir,’ he murmured respectfully. ‘The master is expecting you.’ The master, also playing his part to perfection, ushered me into his library (another fulfilled ambition) and flung open the door of a cupboard containing every conceivable type of alcoholic beverage.”
    Having his own Jeeves wasn’t the only aspiration East achieved. He went to the races at Longchamps and travelled to the Riviera, Monte Carlo and the Alps. His big spend lasted a little more than six months, however, and Stan eventually had to find work with the Australian wire news service operating from The Times building. By August 1934 the Easts were back in Australia – having held on to a sufficient amount of their winnings to fulfil another of Stan’s stated goals - to buy a poultry farm. The Easts settled at Wiseman’s Ferry, Milba’s old home town, 45 miles north of Sydney in the Hornsby Shire. The loyal Watson and his wife came with them and moved in when the Easts in March 1935 settled in a restored old stone house (renaming it “Rawhiti”, Māori for East) beside the Hawkesbury River. But Watson didn’t last long. He was “out of his element there,” wrote Mant, and soon returned to England. Stan East, meanwhile, kept his hand in with his typewriter, writing articles about his European travels and the cost of prime Canterbury lamb in Britain for newspapers across Australia, including The Sun. Naturally, he was also president of the Wiseman’s Ferry Cricket Club.
    By 1939 Stan was back in Sydney, as manager of radio station 2UE, and boldly predicting in The Sun that there would be no World War Two. He volunteered when war did break out, and in 1943 a role was found for him in a Federal Department of Information set up by Arthur Calwell, the minister in John Curtin's Labor Government. East retired in 1947 and became librarian and official historian for the Canberra Club, as well as helping produce a short-lived Canberra-published political and literary fortnightly called the Australian Observer. Mant said East “turned into a benign old gentleman, though subject to sudden outbursts of histrionics when he would cry out passionately, ‘Thank God, sir, there are such men in England today’. It was the punch-line from a play which East, in his younger days as an actor with Pollard’s Opera Company in New Zealand, using the stage name Owen Hardy (‘I was always owin’, and crackin’ hardy about it’), had been fond of reciting throughout his colourful life in Australia.
    The great humourist Lennie Lower, still considered by many to be the comic genius of Australian journalism,  is alleged to have based his 1929 novel Here's Luck on Stan East, “distorting the real into the truly comic” by disguising East as Jack Gudgeon (who with his feckless son Stanley goes on a wild rampage through Sydney's racecourses, gambling dens, pubs and cafes and hosts never-ending parties in their increasingly derelict home). Lower’s editor said the book “remains pre-eminently Australia's funniest book, as ageless as Pickwick or Tom Sawyer, a work of  'weird genius' … written by a ‘Chaplin of words’’’. Stan East died in Canberra on September 10, 1965, aged 79.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Typewriter Books for Christmas

The book publishing event of any genre in 2015 was undoubtedly Richard Polt's The Typewriter Revolution, an exceedingly hard act to follow. Happily, however, four other typewriter collector-historians have since been game enough to tackle that task. There are now three new typewriter-related works available for those looking for that very special gift for the discerning friend or partner for Christmas 2016.
Peter Weil and Paul Robert have put out Typewriter: A Celebration of the Ultimate Writing Machine, Tyler Anderson has The Fox Typewriter Company available online, and Typex editor Michael A. Brown has released a second volume of his Stolen Typewriters, nine years after the first came out.
Peter Weil very kindly express-posted me a signed copy of Typewriter and my nose has been so deeply buried in it ever since it arrived that I haven't even got around to thanking him for it yet (shame on me, utter shame). My main excuse is that Peter's book has inspired me to start work on my own new book, A History of Typewriters in Australasia - so inspired, indeed, that I have already written more than 27,000 words and 12 chapters in a month - maybe it will reach its very limited market by Christmas 2017!? 
As with Mike Brown's Stolen Typewriters, Typewriter comes nine years after Peter's and Paul's previous joint effort, The Typewriter Sketchbook, to which Flavio Mantelli and Richard Milton were other contributors. Typewriter follows with a hard cover, many more fine images and a stylish layout. 
The price makes it exceptionally good value, too. I took the copy Peter sent me to the Big Sydney Typewriter Bash last week and it immediately caught the eye of the many typewriter devotees who were there. I know that at least a couple have already ordered copies online and I suspect there will be quite a few more sales in this country. Of course, an embossed cover image of an Imperial Model B (I also took the real thing with me to Sydney) helped, at least in the case of Imperial aficionado Richard Amery, host of the bash. Yes, Richard is one of those who has already bought his own copy of Typewriters. A review of Typewriters by Martin Howard appears in the December issue of ETCetera.
Unlike the various versions of Imperial typewriters, the Fox was never a big seller in Australia. One reason might be indicated by an amusing incident at a meeting of the Hurstville council in Sydney in 1909. Purchasing a Fox was recommended, but when a councillor asked about the maker of the machine, he was told "Reynard and Co."
Had Tyler Anderson been around back then, he would have been able to better inform the councillors. Tyler, perhaps best known to Typospherians as blogger "Words Are Winged", of Spokane, Washington, has written a history of the Fox Typewriter Company, as well as an article on the fortunes of the Fox portable which appears in the latest (December) edition of ETCetera, winging its way to Australia as I write. (It's not too late, by the way, to consider an ETCetera subscription as what would be a greatly appreciated Christmas present.)  Tyler has also air-mailed me, and I was delighted to receive this surprise Christmas greetings postcard a couple of weeks ago. The "It's a Fox" advert seen above was on the front of the card. Tyler's Fox book is available online through Lulu, as was Jett Morton's Oliver Typewriter Company history in 2011.
This full-page spot colour advert for the Fox portable appeared in the May 1917 edition of Typewriter Topics. I used it in my own blog post on the Fox portable, which appeared in April 2013. See it here.
Above is the cover of Mike Brown's first volume of Stolen Typewriters. For a copy of the second volume, contact Mike directly at the Typewriter Exchange (Typex).

Monday, 19 December 2016

LIFE at Christmas: Part IV and last - 80 Years Ago (1936)

In its Christmas 1936 edition, LIFE magazine declared "Australian" actress Merle Oberon "the next movie queen". It added that Oberon's alleged birth in Tasmania was "a romantic fact" (I kid you not!). Oberon was, in fact, born Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson in Mumbai (then Bombay) on February 19, 1911, the daughter of a 12-year-old mother, Constance Selby (herself the daughter of a 14-year-old mother,  Charlotte Selby, a Eurasian from Sri Lanka [Ceylon] with part Māori heritage). Oberon suffered a stroke and died in Malibu, California, on November 23, 1979, aged 68.
With the abdication of her uncle, to marry an American divorcee, Britain's now Queen Elizabeth II became the new heir to the English throne.
Tattoos were LIFE news:
An updated version of this ad appeared in LIFE 20 years later, in the Christmas 1956 edition.