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Monday, 28 February 2011

Typewriters and Stars

A Corona 3 bought in a San Francisco junk shop in 1992 by hard-drinking, twice Oscar-nominated actor Richard Harris now belongs to fellow movie star, typewriter collector Tom Hanks. This is the story of how all that happened.

Richard St John Harris was born in Limerick, Ireland, on October 1, 1930, and died of Hodgkin's disease in London on October 25, 2002. He first made his name of a screen actor in the starring role in This Sporting Life (1963), based on David Storey’s superb novel. Harris played a rugby league professional in the north of England. He was made for the role: Harris had played fullback for the famous Garryowen club in Limerick and, until his dying day, followed Garryowen, Munster and Irish rugby union. “How to you explain a love affair?” he wrote in London’s Daily Telegraph five months before his death. How indeed.

Harris’s intention in buying the Corona 3 was to use it as a prop in the movie Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993). Shamefully, instead of the typewriter, a sports cap was used in the movie as a posted birthday gift from the uncaring son of Harris’s character.  The filmakers apparently thought Harris’s idea of a typewriter being delivered to the Harris character’s door by motel owner Shirley MacLaine was impractical.

Ernest Hemingway, of course, used a Corona 3 in his early writing career (he called it “the only psychiatrist to which I’d submit”). In the movie, Harris plays a retired Irish sea captain, Frank Joyce, who claims to have wrestled Hemingway in Puerto Rica in 1938 the prize being Hemingway’s typewriter (Hemingway had long since discarded Coronas for Underwoods and Royals). Wrestling Ernest Hemingway was written by Steve Conrad and directed by Randa Haines. In a scorching Florida summer, Harris’s character befriends Walter, a retired Cuban barber played by Robert Duvall. The movie stars another Oscar winner in MacLaine, as well as Sandra Bullock.

Harris used the typewriter but later gave it to his second wife, Ann Turkel, to keep at her gated villa in Beverly Hills (photo above). She sold the typewriter after moving to a small condo on the Wilshire Corridor area of Los Angeles in October 2006. Harris lived in the Bahamas - where he won an estate in a bet - and kept a suite at the Savoy Hotel in London.
An associate of Turkel’s, actress Brooke Skulski, a “Hollywood wife” of LA*Stars and Terence Michael Productions, a Tinseltown Independent Movie Production company, sold the typewriter to me. Skulski played a reporter in the movies Eastside and Bulworth.
        Last year, Australia’s Channel 9 network came to me looking for a typewriter to give to Hanks. Nine’s 60 Minutes team had scored an interview with Hanks, to be filmed in Tokyo. The 60 Minutes people did their research and discovered Hanks had a passion for collecting typewriters. One thing led to another and  the handing over of the present was filmed as part of the screened interview. Hanks was a most gracious recipient. Here is a transcript:
LIAM BARTLETT: And that obsession for detail runs deep. Now we know you have a very unusual hobby - this collection of old typewriters.
TOM HANKS: O-oh, be careful now.
LIAM BARTLETT: We've found something reasonably rare in Australia that we'd like to add to your collection.
TOM HANKS: A typewriter.
LIAM BARTLETT: That's right - the world's most bankable star has a collection of more than 80 antique typewriters.
TOM HANKS: If this is just, you know, somebody's junky old portable that was taking up space in their closet, that's one thing. But if this is, if this is an actual heirloom, an object of art, a piece of historical importance...
LIAM BARTLETT: We hope you will like it.
TOM HANKS: are going to intimidate me. Here we go, are we ready? Oh, dear lord! Now here, let me tell you about this typewriter. Now, you'll notice it's a Corona.
LIAM BARTLETT: But this is no ordinary Corona typewriter. It was owned by the legendary actor Richard Harris and dates back to 1912.
TOM HANKS: Get out!
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah, yeah and when he died...
TOM HANKS: I don't deserve this.
LIAM BARTLETT: went to his wife and his wife sold it, as it turned out, to a fellow in Australia and now we've brought it back here for you.
TOM HANKS: You guys should never have done this. You're wasting your... ..I don't deserve to own Richard Harris's coffee mug. much less his... ..and I can almost get the I can almost get the paper in. Well, let's try it out anyway. I've probably screwed it up somehow. Well, this is a treasure and I will treasure it forever.
LIAM BARTLETT: Well, I hope you like it.
TOM HANKS: So, thank you very much.

Typewriters and Masters

Quite apart from  Glengarry Glen Ross and Wag the Dog being among my favourite movies, what stands David Mamet in such good stead with me is that he still, apparently, uses a manual portable typewriter.

I’m not 100 per cent sure yet what model of typewriter, but by the end of the day I’ll know.  One clue was in Mamet’s State and Main, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman played a screenwriter called Joseph Turner White, who used an Olivetti. Yet Santa Monica screenwriter Todd Alcott, a victim of the little green-eyed monster when it comes to the master, calls Mamet "Mr ‘I only write on a portable Smith-Corona in a cabin heated with a wood fire’ Mamet". And columnist John Baker claims that in the making of Spartan, “Mamet rewrites the movie [on top of a cardboard box], taking cues from his daughters and Val Kilmer, and does so on his Smith-Corona typewriter!”

Mamet says he sometimes also uses an IMB Selectric, the same model Hunter S. Thompson occasionally took out into the Colorado snow and shot in loathing with a high-powered rifle. When John Steinbeck graduated from Canary Row to Hollywood, he somewhat incongruously moved from one of the tiniest and prettiest typewriters ever made, the Hermes Baby, to one of the heaviest and ugliest, an IBM Executive.

I find it hard to believe Mamet could stoop to such a thing. In a 2000 profile for The Guardian, Stephen Moss wrote, “Mamet continues to write on a typewriter; his office does not have e-mail; ‘it's Victorian here’, says his assistant.” Richard von Busack, reviewing State and Main for metroactive movies, said the Hoffman character was “a man of old-fashioned leanings, dependent on his manual typewriter (a quirk of Mamet's, no doubt-it must be hard to get that rat-a-tat-tat dialogue on a computer)”.

Actually, it’s not. All my home computers sound exactly like typewriters, because I use the “home typist” program from This way I don’t feel at all guilty about not using a typewriter for such things as this. As for State and Main, Matt Heffernan on pointed out that “several films from 2000 were about writers. Generally, the act of writing isn't very cinematic [but] looking at most films about writers, there is a common element: typewriters. Even in the age of word processing, modern characters prefer the good old-fashioned clickety-click of the venerable contraption. From Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys to … State and Main, writers have absolutely insisted on typewriters. From a cinematic standpoint, the action of a mechanical typewriter is far more interesting than a static computer, so screenwriters have made the old machines significant plot points. Mamet practically centred his film around a typewriter.”

Many of Mamet’s stage and screenplays feature typewriters. I believe he used to get his own serviced at Osner Business Machines on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where, allegedly, among other notable customers was Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities. Wolfe was among the great typewriter traditionalists. He disdainfully recounted a single failed venture into the world of word processing. What he intended was a single word, "this". What his fingers wrought, instead, appeared quite differently: "tttttttthhhhiiiisssss.” "I had a typewriter touch, not a computer touch," he said. "I have a very fast typewriter, a 1966 Underwood - like a 1958 Thunderbird." Mary Adelman of Osners explained the typewriter's enduring allure: "Firstly, it doesn't hiss at you. It's quiet. It doesn't say anything until you put your hands on it and make it - click! - go along. They never crash. They never run out of memory.” Mamet, like Wolfe, shunned the computer, calling it an "hermaphrodite typewriter-cum-filing cabinet". He said, “I have no doubt that using a computer would affect my style. Just the scrolling. You do something 10 hours a day. Over the years you get used to the sound, the rhythm of the keys, the rhythm of the line, and all of a sudden there is no sound of the keys, there’s no resistance or rhythm of the line.” Another playwright, studying the Mamet style, adopted the same implement and came to the conclusion: “The great thing about writing on a typewriter is that you don't tend to get bogged down the way you do when you word process. With a typewriter, you maintain a certain amount of forward momentum, rather than endlessly chewing over your work until the spirit and spontaneity of what made you sit down and start writing in the first place is no longer recognisable.”

Mamet and Wolfe, of course, are just two of a number of great living American writers who used manual typewriters. Larry McMurtry famously thanked his Hermes 3000 when he received a Golden Globe for his work on the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain. He should really have spoken in the plural, since I understand he has at least seven of them waiting for his tender touch in various parts of the US.

Jimmy Breslin, author of I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me: A Memoir, says a floppy disk doesn't give a writer that feeling of accomplishment. "All the charm is out of it. Maybe it's more reliable, I don't know. Maybe it's quicker. Sometimes, you know, I just want to hold the finished thing." Paul Auster wrote a book, The Story of My Typewriter, about his Olympia SM9.  Auster refers to it as “one of the last surviving artefacts of 20th century homo scriptorus”. As I typed those words, Word Document turned “homo” into “home”. When I end a line and start a new one, Word automatically gives me a capital letter. Ee (see, it’s done it again!) cummings would have hated these things. Sometimes I think I do, too.

My Little Typewriter Book

I have published a typewriter book. And I'd really love you to buy it and read it and enjoy it, as so many other typewriter lovers already have.

It costs $20 Australia, plus $7.80 for postage anywhere in the world outside of Australia and $4.10 anywhere in Australia (costs including $1.30 for a padded envelope).

It can be bought internationally through eBay (listing #280637007438).

Or you can contact me directly at and pay through PayPal to that email address.

Richard Polt has given the book a wonderful endorsement on

I really recommend that you read this, and the comments that have been made on it.

My own "plug" with the listing says:

Forget expensive outdated reproductions! Avoid cheap imitations! THIS IS THE REAL THING! The best little book ever written about typewriters.
And it's been written THIS YEAR, by an AUSTRALIAN. How could anyone write a book about typewriters and make it fascinating?
Well, ROBERT MESSENGER, who owns the Australian Typewriter Museum in Canberra, has Australia's largest collection of portable typewriters, and who is a typewriter historian without peer, has done just that and more.
Did you see Robert Messenger on the ABC TV show The Collectors in November 2008? If you did, you will know he knows his stuff and has a wonderful collection of typewriters, old and new. And now he has turned that incredible knowledge about these beautiful machines into the most entertaining and readable little book ever published about typewriters.
Buy it now while the chance exists. These are already collector's items in themselves, are personally signed by the author, and they are a strictly limited edition.
100 glossy pages in A5 size, plus cover and perfect binding.
Richard Polt of The Classic Typewriter Page website says, "This really is one of the most fun and 
delightful books about typewriters out there."

A happy buyer wrote, "The book has been invaluable to me as far as information regarding the classic models ... enjoyable reading."


Typing to Everest

On the weekend Sir Edmund Hillary died, in January 2008, I attained my very own Everest. I was on my regular prowl from Mitchell and Fyshwick to Queanbeyan, Hume and Phillip, of the op shops, Salvos, Vinnies, Green Sheds and Aussie Junks, looking for old typewriters to lovingly restore, when for once it looked like I would be headed home empty-booted. Just as I was leaving Revolve, a car and trailer pulled up, and Helen yelled, ”Look what’s here”.

It was an Everest. I knew such a typewriter existed, I’d seen them on Will Davis’s Portable Typewriter Reference Site (photo below). But I’d never touched one in the metal, as it were, until that moment. Davis says the Everest was made by Industrial Dattilografica  in Milan from 1931 until Olivetti, as it had done with so many other Italian, Swiss and US rivals, gobbled it up in the early 1960s.

Will Davis doesn’t dwell on the Everest portable model called the K2, but climbers will know K2 as the second-highest mountain on earth, 237m short of Everest, but the highest in Pakistan. K2 was first conquered by the Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli on July 31, 1954, 14 months and two days after Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the peak of Everest. The Everest which now sits atop my collection dates from about that time.

What Will does emphasise is that the Everest is near the bottom of the pile among Italian typewriters. It is, he said, “inferior in quality [with] a dull, almost dead feel.  Yes, they're durable, but unfortunately they're not great to type on.  They're also more than a little odd-looking … curved and bulged sides [give a] styling treatment that is absolutely unique, one that collectors seem either to hate, or to appreciate as ‘different’.

I eagerly embraced my Everest and rushed it home, convinced  from my brief test type it would prove the exception to Will’s rule, the one machine on which I could comfortably write The Great Australian Novel.  But, as always, Will was proved right. For one thing, the “1” and the “q” have hung out so long together at the top left of the typebasket, they seem to want to dance arm-in-arm all the way to the platen, and stay there, jammed in an embrace at the chapel of the ribbon vibrator. Nothing I do to pour oil on the smooth waters of this relationship will part them.

Thus The Great Australian Novel will have to be written on some other typewriter and a typewriter it assuredly must be. Perhaps a model which was more common to this city in the days when Canberra was, most decidedly, the typewriter capital of the Southern Hemisphere (which is doubtless the reason such treasures keep bobbing up these days at our recycling depots).

It may not be eked out of an Everest, but will The Great Australian Novel include my memories of Hillary? Perhaps. One never quite knows how these things will pan out.

When I was a very young reporter, flying on a DC3 from Wellington to Auckland, the plane passed over the crater of Tongariro (a mere 1978m) and the pilot suggested we might like to avail of the uncommonly cloudless sky to have a look down into the mouth of the volcano. As I did so, I noticed one passenger stayed seated, his nose buried in my newspaper, The New Zealand Herald. So curious was I about such an obvious show of disinterest, I pretended to head for a mimi, and glanced down between paper and man. It was Sir Edmund. For him, by then aged 48, looking into Tongariro was unquestionably passé.

Someone said, when The Big Fella died, that he was New Zealand’s most famous person. I wondered about that. How does one judge true fame, anyway? International renown? Does Courtney Love really, as Wikipedia suggests, qualify as a Kiwi? Please say yes. Peter Jackson, Neil Finn, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Rachel Hunter, Keith Urban, Holly Valance and Russell Crowe are all possibly better known that Hillary, simply because their industry is entertainment and entertainment speaks a global language. Sir Peter Blake, too, as much for being killed by pirates in the Amazon delta while on an environmental mission as for winning the America’s Cup. But knighthoods don’t necessarily count for much. 
Charlie Upham, VC and Bar, has been mentioned a bit lately, as has Nancy Wake. My own favourites in terms of warriors are the the Maori, Hone Heke and Hongi Hika, Te Rauparaha and Te Kooti.

Then there’s the sports people, Bob Fitzsimmons, Bruce McLaren, Burt Munro and Sean Marks, all in this day far better known in, say, the US than Hillary. And Rewi Alley, ardent friend of the Chinese Communists, though possibly forgotten by the hordes today. And Fred Dagg, Wal Footrot and his dog, and Dame Edna’s pal Madge Allsop.

As a child, my dad, who had a particular interest in the fame and worth of his countryman, often used to talk about two, both of whom grew up in the Nelson-Marlborough area, where my father’s family had close ties.

Both, in their own distinctive way, had put man much higher than a foot on the earth’s highest peak. One was Sir Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, and the other was Bill Pickering, the NASA rocket scientist who pioneered the exploration of space. Both went to school at Havelock.

A person’s fame is contained within one’s own perspective. I am proud of Hillary, and proud to still hold the first day cover posted to me from Scott Base in Antarctica to mark Hillary’s meeting with Fuchs, which is now more than 50 years old. But in my little world, George Canfield Blickensderfer is most famous. I wonder if I can bang out The Great Australian Novel on a Blickensderfer? After all, John Millington Synge wrote The Playboy of the Western World on one, so Blick-written great literature is possible.**.

*The photo at top is of Hillary typing at the foothills of the Himalayas. I can't identify the typewriter - if anyone out there can, I'd love to hear from them.
**Manuscript and typewriter are on display, along with the Book of Kells, in the grand library at Trinity College, Dublin.

Earth Hour: Use a Typewriter and Save the World!

I presume I am far from being alone among people of my age - I will be 63 in April - in having developed in my twilight years a not inconsiderable sense of guilt about the state of the environment, if not exactly a feeling of corresponding compulsion, or indeed a driving passion, to do anything about it.

However, with Earth Hour (starting at 8.30pm on March 26) offering the chance to make, as so many of its promoters have pointed out, a small contribution which might well go toward a significant overall difference, I have started preparations to do my little bit.

No electric bulbs will be burning at my home. I have taken from the shed and cleaned up the old nickel element oil lamps, and before environmentalists reach for their cudgels, I hasten to add I will be using olive oil, which will provide me with significantly more light than candles. Olive oil is, of course, a 99 per cent pure renewable fuel which produces no smoke, fumes or odour and doesn't aggravate allergies. Also, it can't catch on fire if accidentally tipped over (a possibility if, by chance, I do happen to sneeze in the comparative dark and trip on a typewriter). I could also, in these lamps, burn any vegetable oil, or liquid fat or grease, or so I am assured in my now well-thumbed copy of the Lehman's book, I Didn’t Know that Olive Oil Would Burn!

By the light of these olive oil lamps, I shall be making even greater efforts to save the earth for the enjoyment of future generations, of which, admittedly, I am so far responsible for only one. No computer shall be switched on in my house, nor will any television set, radio or stereo system. Indeed, all of these implements, save the computer, have, in advance, been removed from their previous place of employment, to make way for more energy-saving devices, of which I have many.

No kettle will be whistling, no toaster toasting and no microwave will be shooting electromagnetic waves into my food. Instead, weather permitting (and with the La Niña-related weather we’ve been having lately, who would know what to expect?) I shall be heartily singing Blue Moon whilst my billy boils over a fire of wood waste - my granny taught me this trick on a sawdust heap out back between her fence and the railway line more than half a century ago; a sawmill had once stood there, until an ember from a passing steam train had done away with it, providing an early Guy Fawkes Night for granny.

And as I happily hold bits of wholemeal banana bread over the flames of my wood waste fire, there will be no more savvy, well sated and self-satisfied soul in all of Greendom.

My most telling contribution to Earth Hour, however, will have nothing to do with lighting, cooking or being entertained. With my computer cooling its cloven heels in what once passed for my dining room, the stupefyingly silly animated paperclip of its Word program safely shoved away in its place (hopefully, never to return), I will be contently and with all due environmental consciousness banging away on a manual typewriter. In this case a gorgeous deep cream and pale metallic blue 1961 Voss Privatr, one of almost 600 manual portable typewriters at my disposal (though this photo, admittedly, is from Ricvhard Polt's collection).

This is an exercise I would thoroughly recommend to each and every one who is in the slightest bit interested in doing something positive for the environment during Earth Hour. Go get a manual typewriter from somewhere, write a poem, and find out how positively uplifting the exercise of creating one’s very own “word document” can be.  The first word on each new line will not be automatically capitalised, no squiggly green or red lines will appear uninvited on one’s copy (and if one thinks Word knows better about spelling and grammar, think again), and one can write “theorise” (rhythms with “Elizabeth’s beautiful brown eyes”) to the extent of the heart’s content, if one so wishes, without once having to adjust the words to proper English (“z”s are for sleep). Most importantly, one can allow one’s creative forces to forge forward utterly unimpeded, undistracted by the urge to scroll back to see what one has written. Goodness, with the earliest typewriters, there was no way of seeing anything until the page fell out of the machine that is, until Franz Xaver Wagner invented the “visible” Underwood.

One of the first things ever typewritten, by William Austin Burt on his “typographer” in New York on March 13, 1830, was a sort of love letter to his wife, Phoebe, back home in Mount Vernon, Michigan. “My Dear Companion”, it began. How romantic! Try it and feel the exhilaration. Have that satisfaction of the gratitude handwriting love letters these days is a forgotten art form, and one printed off a Word Document would be tantamount to asking for a divorce.

Some of the finest historical works of recent times (The Path Between the Seas, Truman, John Adams, 1776) have been written by Pulitzer winner David Gaub McCullough the “master of the art of narrative history” in the shed out the back of his West Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard, home, using a 70-year-old Royal typewriter by the light of an oil lamp, as storms cut the power supply from the Massachusetts mainland. No stopping McCullough when the computers shut down. Believe me, it’s easy, just start writing a life story.

It certainly seems relevant right now to try where possible to return to an age when, every time we flicked a switch or struck a match, we weren't burning holes in the ozone layer. Typewriters don’t do that, computers do. Don’t think about it, just type it … I type, therefore I am.


Calling a Typewriter a Spade

My patience worn tissue-thin by customer questions such as "Where is the return button?" and "Where do I put the ink?", I once developed the reputation on eBay as the Basil Fawlty of typewriter salesmen. So I gave up selling them. Now I can sit back, relax and smile at some of the other typewriter item descriptions which appear on eBay (one which Richard Polt drew my attention to a few months ago ran to 2000-words! But it was hugely entertaining). I'd like here to share with you perhaps my all-time favourite description, one which appeared about five years ago now (so the statute of limitations should be well and truly up):

Classic Portable Type Writer
The original lap top, word processor, printer in one!

What can I tell you? It works like this, you press the buttons and the words appear on the paper. 
It couldn't be easier, not like the silly new fan-dangle gadget ones, no. This one doesn't even need power, and you know it will always print on the right side of the paper - unless you are an idiot. You can see it print as you type! Borders are easy to set -  just slide them in. Great for envelopes, cards, whatever, no more  printing in the wrong place. Use flash paper to impress. These things are great and no one can hack into them and steal your info. Safe as anything and a lot easier to use than the electronic ones, no cords! No mouse! And the font is always legible - like this. And you don't lose your document in a blackout, in fact you can keep typing!
It is a wonderful invention but there are only a few around so don't miss out.

The only optional accessory is a dictionary, but no one can spell anymore from what I see, so you can get by without that now.

Amaze the kids with this wonderful machine!

DISCLAIMER: I wish I could lay claim to having written this masterpiece, but I'm afraid none of it is my own work.

Any of you out there like to share a favourite eBay typewriter listing?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Typewriters and Sportwriters

Sportswriters were once called “fans with portable typewriters” with the best seat in the house and a desk to boot. In its sports special edition of October 1974, Esquire magazine published an article headed, “The Writing of Sports”, by Randall Poe, which started with a Robert Lipsyte quotation: “Well-meaning people often ask sportswriters ... what they are going to do when they grow up”.

Poe claimed that “probably the most influential sports story ever written” was Grantland Rice’s famous report of the 1924 Notre Dame-Army football match, which he began, “Outlined against a blue-grey October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again”. (It was written, by the way, on a Remington Model 1 portable typewriter.)

The Rice story has been described as a mess of brawling - not mixed, note - metaphors, and of “foaming hype”. Wells Twombly, of The San Francisco Examiner, said Rice wrote “for dolts … he mixes metaphors 24 times in the first paragraph alone”. But who remembers Twombly? Well may he have derided Rice’s writing, especially with the goodness of 50 years’ hindsight, but without having ever himself written a line of sports copy that was quoted and re-quoted down through the last three-quarters of the 20th century, I hardly think he was qualified to pass comment.

In the same issue of Esquire, a well-crafted, highly readable piece by Leonard Gardner about the rise of George Foreman and his world heavyweight bout with Ken Norton in Venezuela in 1973 begins, “Along the ridges of the low, bleak shoulders of the mountains surrounding Caracas …” It’s simply Rice repeated almost half a century later except Gardner had an awful lot more time in which to compose his story than Rice did when he filed his copy against tight newspaper deadlines in 1924.

Rice’s example of letting go the facts and allowing his emotions to rule eventually turned, of course, into Gonzo journalism, as promoted by Hunter S. Thompson, who poured his immediate stream of thoughts and often odd reactions into a red IBM Selectric typewriter for a sports column for ESPN right up until the time of his suicide.

It’s been said, and with sometimes clear reason, that in every half-decent sports writer there’s a real writer trying to break out, and among great writers it could also be said there is very often a sports writer trying to break in. Those who broke out, one way or the other, include Ernest Hemingway, especially in his Toronto Star days, Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Paul Gallico, Westbrook Pegler, Irwin Shaw, Gay Talese, George Plimpton and Tom Wolfe not to mention Thompson, of course. Hemingway started out with a tiny Corona 3. Runyon used a hefty Royal 10, even at ringside.

Runyon’s robust Royal was the exception, not the rule. Portable typewriters were the work tools that changed sports writing. Jack London took a Standard Folding on the very distant road when he travelled to Rushcutter’s Bay, Sydney, to cover the Jack Johnson-Tommy Burns world title fight on Boxing Day 1908 for the Australian Star, The Los Angeles Times and William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. Clearly the idea of taking a typewriter out of the newsroom and down to a yachting or rowing regatta, or an outdoor swimming meet, had entered someone’s head by at least 1913, because a spread on the Blickensderfer in The Guide to Nature included photographs of just such scenes.

Hemingway, writing in France, Spain and elsewhere in Europe, called the Corona 3 “the only psychiatrist to whom I’d submit”, but Corona was more justly proud of a more tangible quality: the durability of its little typewriter. On September 14, 1923, Jack Lawrence of The New York Herald Tribune was using a Corona 3 at ringside to cover the Jack Dempsey-Louis Angel Firpo ("El Toro de las Pampas - The Wild Bull of the Pampas”) world heavyweight  title fight at the Polo Grounds in New York. During a Firpo onslaught at the end of the first round, the Argentinean caught the champion’s chin with a right and Dempsey went out of the ring through the ropes landing on his neck and shoulder on top of Lawrence’s Corona 3 and cutting the back of his head. Lawrence and his colleagues got Dempsey back on to the canvas at the count of nine. Dempsey was able to recover, continue and retained his title in the next round, knocking Firpo down three times before the fight was stopped at the 57-second mark. Lawrence went on using his Corona 3 to describe the action. When the Corona Typewriter Company heard about the incident, it launched an advertising campaign stating, “Dempsey knocked out Firpo, but he couldn’t knock out the Corona 3.”

Dempsey entered the portable typewriter promotion business again on September 22, 1927, when the Royal Typewriter Company desperate to break into a portable market being completely dominated at the time by Corona, Underwood and Remington sponsored the first nationwide radio broadcast of a world title fight. This was Dempsey’s famous bout with Gene Tunney at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

In Australia, the Olivetti Lettera 22 was to get its first exposure, and to gain a firm market foothold, through a deal between Olivetti and the Organising Committee of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. This also brought to Australia the Studio 44.
Olivetti’s deal with the Melbourne Games came about because the organisers needed to save on the time, money and effort required to handwrite thousands of individual participation diplomas. Olivetti offered machines with a suitably-sized (3-16ths of an inch, as described by the Official Report) cursive typeface. Olivetti thus won the rights to exclusively supply typewriters to all Press Centres, Press tribunes and other Press venues, and to all hotels were visiting Press representatives were staying. Olivettis literally proliferated everywhere at the Melbourne Games. In photographs of Press facilities contained in the 1956 Games Official Report there are Olivettis by the dozens. They are hugely visible by their distinctive design.

As a marketing exercise, the ’56 Games were a major breakthrough for Olivetti. So much so, the Japanese company Brother attempted to do the same thing in Rome in 1960. This was, however, Olivetti’s home country, and its supply of 1000 typewriters free of charge to the Press Centres and venues at the 1960 Olympics was never in doubt.  In 1964 the Olympics went to Tokyo and naturally Brother thought its turn had come, to “greatly help improve recognition of the Brother brand”. But Olivetti was by this time so well established with the International Olympic Committee that Olivetti’s Japanese operation retained the rights. Brother did give 300 typewriters away to visiting journalists, having taken note of the curious style of goodwill gained by Olivetti from the waylaying of typewriters from the Melbourne and Rome press centres. (Royal had recognised the “good publicity” value in reporters pilfering portables as far back as 1926.)

Brother went on to sign on as the first official supplier of any goods to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (on January 19, 1981), supplying 3000 machines of a model called the 750TR and “thereby gaining international recognition as the No 1 typewriter brand”. The Official Report states, “Material management was the vital link between planning/development and physical production of the Games. Without raw materials and effective management, the Olympic Games could not be held; the stadia and arenas would exist, the crowds would arrive to watch the athletes, but the Olympic staff would not be able to do its job. There would be no javelins for the field events, no typewriters for reporters and no chairs for the staff.”

Brother continued the relationship with the IOC in Seoul in 1988, where there was a sea of orange Brother 210s in the main Press Centre, and Barcelona in 1992, where 2000 machines were supplied. Brother also supplied 500 typewriters to the Albertville Winter Olympics that year. The typewriters were adapted to 20 languages and technical service was also provided. Yet even by the time of the Seoul Olympics, the day of the sports writer’s typewriter was all but over. There are sports writers who, to this day, still use them at international sporting events, but they are curiosities rather than the once customary figures.

Still, the typewriter had made a major impact on the trade, in more ways than one. In 1939’s Jack London and His Times, his daughter Joan wrote of him, " ... The typewriter translated his sprawling longhand into clear type that the 'silent, sullen peoples who run the magazines' could read. 'If typewriters hadn't been invented by the time I began to write," he would chuckle, 'I doubt if the world would ever have heard of Jack London. No-one would have had the patience to read more than a page of my longhand!'"

Little Raymond and his Simplex Typewriter

For Christmas 1913, Raymond Koessler, aged nine, of Cashton, a village in Monroe County, Wisconsin, got from Santa Claus a Simplex Special No 1 typewriter. He had mastered the use of this wonderful little machine by January 16, 1914, when he wrote to a German-speaking uncle in La Crosse, 38km west of Cashton on the Mississippi River:

Dear Sir
I thought I would write you a little letter. I am going to school to-morrow. We have very much fun down at school. We are going to have a sleigh next Tuesday. We have to have our wood piles before we have the wood. Ha. Sleigh ride. Mr Joellies and Mr Luck and Mr Hansen are going to take us to St Marries. I guess I will quit for this time.
Yours truly
Raymond Koessler

St Mary’s is a Catholic church on the Monroe County Highway just out of Cashton. Raymond was a good, God-fearing little soul, himself of German stock. Best still, he was blessed with a fertile imagination. He started to use his Simplex to write what he called his “About Stories”:

Once there was a little boy who was praying his morning prayer one morning his sister came up stairs and tickled him on the feet. Then the little boy said, Wait God till I nock hell out of Susie.

Susie wasn’t Raymond’s sister, she was the figment of a bright young mind, one already well capable of composing charming little notes and letters, if occasionally lacking in spelling skills. Raymond’s sisters were Frances and Coletta. Frances would grow up to marry a neighbour, Martin Von Ruden, and the couple would take over the farm where Raymond’s father, Anton, had lived almost all his life. Coletta would marry Joseph Stevens, and Anton moved in with them in his dying days, in early 1949.

On February 21, 1914, Raymond wrote another letter:
Dear Friend
I thought I would write you a little letter. I went to church to day. We was just going to start out to go to church but then it rained to hard then Mama said, We should put the horse in the barn and Pete did. We prayed the Rosy. Papa and Pete and I were playing Rummy.
Yours truly
Raymond Koessler

Mama was Anna, nee Hauser, of Tony, Wisconsin, whom Anton had married in 1889. She died in 1928. They had six children, four of them sons: Frank, Peter, Joseph and Raymond. Peter, like Frances and Coletta, stayed on in Cashton, but Joe moved to Sleep Eye, Minnesota.

In early March 1915, the Wisconsin winter had had its effect on Raymond, who became seriously ill and was confined to bed. He took some comfort in writing on his Simplex on March 9:
Dear Sir
As I have some news to tell you I would write you a little letter. I was sick, but I am better again. I got sick last Thursday. I had the doctor twice this week. He said I had the newmonea. May be I will get up to morrow. I guess I will stop for this time.
Yours truly
Raymond Koessler

But Raymond was not better. On April 11, 1915, he wrote his last known letter:
Dear Sir
As it is Sunday to day and I have a little time now I thought I would write a little letter to you. I was not to church this morning. Only Peter and Frances went to church. I was sick from last Thursday on.

As Raymond’s body weakened, his mind seemed to become more agile. In December 1915, with his sister Frances showing an interest in a member of the Von Ruden family, Raymond wrote an odd little note to Santa Claus, about the children who were looming as his prospective relations by marriage:
Dear Santa
Elaine wants a new rubber doll. Bob wants a testing. Chuck loves his new dress. Please bring her or him another. End of report.

I now own Raymond’s Simplex Special No 1 typewriter. I won it on an eBay auction. It came to me in almost perfect condition, except for a small ink stain on its wooden base. The paint has not worn in the least, and its black box looks almost as new as it did that 1913 Christmas Day morning when Raymond first opened it on his family’s farm in Cashton, Wisconsin. It came with the tiny ink bottle Raymond used, and, best of all, it came with all his letters and notes. Raymond’s Simplex takes pride of place among my collection of toy typewriters, many hundreds of them dating from 1891 to the present day.

The Simplex is a unique typewriter. It was invented by Analdo Myrtle English and for 14 years was built by Philip Becker and promoted as a real typewriter. But the public wasn’t buying it, literally. It worked like a real index typewriter, it just didn’t look like a real typewriter. So in 1905 it was “re-invented” by Samuel A. Thompson as a toy typewriter, and for the next 35 years heavily marketed, especially at Christmas, with Santa advertising cards. At Christmas 1914, a British soldier used one on the Western Front, to write home saying he’d saved 7/6 and could he get some nice, warm socks.

I wanted to know more about the boy who had once owned my Simplex Special No 1, this boy whose letters had foretold such a brilliant intellectual and literary future. I myself had first used a typewriter at the age Raymond was when he got his Simplex. So I contacted Jeanne Hesselberg, a photographer and writer from nearby Sparta. She kindly put me in touch with Dr Jim Brown, a Wisconsin rail historian, who passed my query on to Jarrod M. Roll, the Monroe County historian at the Monroe County Local History Room and Museum in Sparta.

Jarrod Roll was extremely helpful, sending me details about the Koessler family and Anton’s obituary. On his advice, my story about Raymond’s typewriter was published in the Cashton Record at Christmas 2008, and through that article a living relative of Raymond’s got in touch with me. Yet all this has left me with mixed feelings about now owning Raymond’s Christmas present of 1913, and his letters. Jarrod deeply saddened me with the information that Raymond had died, in the year of the Spanish flu epidemic, 1918, aged 14.