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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Maurice Maeterlinck and his Typewriters

"Maeterlinck does not 'speak' his productions before putting pen to paper, to try the anticipated effect; they bud and burgeon silently within him, like a fruit ripening to maturity before it may be plucked; the words are there, the sentences flow freely, and are written out almost without erasure, directly he sits down at a table to transcribe the work of the brain ready for the typewriter ..."
LIFE, March 31, 1941
Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand, August 1924
Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck was born in Ghent, Belgium, on August 29, 1862, and died in Nice, France, on May 6, 1949, aged 86. A playwright, poet and essayist, he was a Fleming but wrote in French. Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911 "in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations". The main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life. His plays form an important part of the Symbolist movement.
In 1920, Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn lured Maeterlinck to the US and when Maeterlinck finally submitted two scripts, Goldwyn was horrified to discover the hero of one of them was a bee. After reading the first few pages, Goldwyn burst out of his office, exclaiming: "My God! The hero is a bee!" But Goldwyn reassured Maeterlinck, "Don't worry, Maurice, you'll make good yet."
A typewritten note Ernest Hemingway addressed to the late Maeterlinck in 1952:

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

RIP Ben Bradlee (1921-2014)

"You never monkey with the truth."
- Ben Bradlee
Benjamin Crowninshield "Ben" Bradlee (born Boston, Massachusetts, August 26, 1921) died today of natural causes at his home in Washington DC, aged 93. Bradlee was executive editor of The Washington Post from 1968 to 1991. He became a national figure during the presidency of Richard Nixon, when he challenged the Federal Government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers and oversaw the publication of Bob Woodward's and Carl Bernstein's stories documenting the Watergate scandal. At his death he held the title of vice-president at-large. Bradlee was also an advocate for education and the study of history, including working for years as an active trustee on the boards of several major educational, historical and archaeological research institutions.

It Was Time: A Giant Passes From Australia

Graeme Fletcher's photograph of Gough Whitlam with singer Little Pattie outside what is now called Old Parliament House in Canberra was taken on July 21, 1972. "It's Time" was the Australian Labor Party's slogan for the 1972 federal election.
Unlike many of my contemporaries, I have no recollection whatsoever of where I was when I was told President John F.Kennedy had been assassinated. I do know, however, precisely where I was when the word came through that Gough Whitlam had been elected Prime Minister of Australia. One reason might simply be, I suppose, that I have a natural inclination to prefer to retain memories of triumphs, and to try and forget disasters. Whitlam's election unquestionably brought great hope for a better future for Australia; Kennedy's death brought nothing but despair for all civilised nations.
Old Parliament House in Canberra, a political arena dominated by Gough Whitlam from December 1972 until his infamous "dismissal" on November 11, 1975.
Whitlam making his brilliant "Kerr's Cur" speech outside what is now Old Parliament House in Canberra on November 11, 1975.
In my mind, the erasure of one distant memory, and the still fresh presence, after 42 years, of another, reflects a differing response to a time of mourning and a time of rejoicing. There can be no doubt, as we have so often been reminded since the death yesterday of Gough Whitlam, at the age of 98, that his rise to power on December 2, 1972, was a time for celebrating the rebirth of this nation. As many commentators have said, there was an Australia before the prime ministership of Whitlam, and another, much better Australia after Whitlam had led Labor back to Government, following an absence of 23 years. One striking line has it that Whitlam was an "Orpheus in a Bogan Underworld". And the 6ft 5in tall Whitlam was truly a giant among statesmen, bestriding a land of political Lilliputians. It was if, with his election, the lights went on across the country. 
Gamboa in the Panama Canal
I didn't, admittedly, live in this country at that time, to see first-hand the lights go on, but the glow from a happier, more free and enlightened Australia still reached me, wherever I was. It's difficult now to adequately express just how forlorn it felt like to live in politically darkened and dank Australia and New Zealand in the late 1960s and early 70s, such physically beautiful countries being run by such short-sighted reactionaries, going nowhere as nations. Put simply, it was demoralising. Nineteen seventy-one was an annus horribilus on both sides of the Tasman, it felt awful to be here, to a part of it. By contrast, 1972 was to turn out to be an annus mirabilus.
When I heard of Whitlam's election victory, it was a bright Sunday morning and we were sailing past the old Canal Zone township of Gamboa in Panama. We had picked up the news on the ship's short-wave radio. The day remains so memorable because there was such a joyous celebration among all on board. All the crew were young, all escapees from what had been, with heavy lashings of satire, labelled the "Lucky Country" and "God's Own".
The late, great Norman Kirk meeting British Labour Party Prime Minister  Harold Wilson in 1971.
A week earlier, as we crossed the Pacific northward from Tahiti, another Labour leader, Norman Kirk, had been elected Prime Minister of New Zealand. Having just left the pristine harbour of Papeete, the daydream that these sparkling waters would no longer be threatened by French nuclear weapons testing gave rise to an immense sense of delight.
Pristine Papeete
We had a month or so earlier sailed from the shores of Australia and New Zealand (in particular, Kirk's electorate of Lyttelton), thinking of both countries as political, social and cultural backwaters. Suddenly, it seemed to us that Australia and New Zealand had overnight become the most sensible, the most politically enriched nations in the whole wide world. 
The euphoria didn't last all that long. Kirk died in office on August 31, 1974, and Whitlam was controversially dismissed a little more than 14 months later. But much had already been achieved, and things were never to be the same again. We were out of Vietnam, and South Africa's apartheid policy was no longer so readily tolerated. New Zealand finally took a firm stand against the French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. In Australia, China was recognised, university fees abolished, and universal health care, blame-free divorce, legal aid and a new national anthem were introduced, and the long road toward recognising Aboriginal land rights embarked upon. 
Australia and New Zealand came of age in late 1972. Yes, it was a time to party, to celebrate having the keys to the doors of enlightenment, even in the middle of the Panama Canal.
Before we'd reach Panama City, to tangle with overly zealous zone guards and Omar Torrijos' flamboyantly-dressed, heavily-armed cops on white Harley Davidsons, I'd sat down at my Olivetti Lettera 32 and pounded out letters of congratulation to friends and family back home. I didn't care which way they'd voted, they had been party to history-making events in their nations.
Ten years ago I got finally the chance to meet Gough Whitlam, at the National Museum. I have never interviewed so impressive an individual. I was in total awe of him, as were all around me. Yes, a true giant has passed from us.   

Monday, 20 October 2014

Sensible Schools, Sunny Sunday Scones, Schreibmaschinen Mittelgroß & Ruby Sparks

This charming photograph was taken by Nina Leen at the Matthew Fontaine Maury Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia, on May 1, 1950. It was published in a US schools special edition of LIFE magazine on October 16, 1950 ("They Face a Crisis'). LIFE said this Maury was possibly the best public elementary school in the US at that time.
The young Maury students used typewriters to write their own stories, which they then illustrated and produced as books:
The image at the top of this post is exactly how I see Ray and Alice Nickson's now 15-month-old daughter Cynthia in about eight years' time. As I left the Nicksons yesterday afternoon, the livewire little Cynthia, a right charmer, was following me out the door carrying, unaided, a 1930s typewriter case - admittedly an empty one! Such an endearing sight, I wish I'd captured it, just as Nina Leen had done at the Maury School in Richmond 64 years ago. Cynthia already owns her own burgundy Princess portable and seems destined for a life surrounded by typewriters. No bad thing.
There's not a doubt in the wide world that writing on typewriters can fuel the imagination in a way computers simply cannot match.  A chance suggestion from the Nicksons over afternoon tea was later in the evening to reinforce that view, in spades.
Yesterday was one of those lazy, hazy days of a promising summer ahead. First, I received welcome word from my young journalist friend Michael Ruffles in Thailand that Nanchanok Wongsamuth's latest feature article on typewriter repairmen, this one about Suttiporn Chatviriyatam, had appeared in the Bangkok Post Lifestyle magazine. The story starts with reference to an Olympia SM3 (though it's an Olympia Traveller de Luxe he's working with here):
Motivated by reading this charming piece, I completed my Giger Triumph. Then I went off to visit the Nicksons, to enjoy freshly home-baked scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream while viewing their fantastic collection of Depression Era typewriters. Their Remington 3B is still in the US and waiting to join these nine. Ray also just last week saved another Monarch Pioneer from a US keychopper.
After I left the Nicksons, I decided to drop in on the Down Memory Lane bric-a-brac shop on my way home. The owner, Chris Lund, brought out a lovely little crinkle black US-made 1930s Royal portable which had been sold in Zurich, Switzerland. She couldn't get the platen to turn. In a few seconds I sorted out the problem. The rubber on the paper bail rollers had become stuck so solidly to the platen that the platen wouldn't budge - the first time I'd ever encountered such a thing. As soon as I had prized the paper bail off the platen, the Royal sprung happily back to life. Gee, I was SO tempted to buy it, but thought that to do so at a time when I am downsizing my typewriter collection with such vigor would be ridiculous. I texted the Nicksons instead and suggested they might like it. After which I took considerable pride in my new-found strength, by turning my back and walking away from such an appealing purchase. But it was hard, hard, hard! And no rain's a-gonna fall.
During afternoon tea, the Nicksons had casually raised the subject of the movie Ruby Sparks, which I had vaguely heard of but never seen. The Nicksons recommended the movie as a charming romance, and not just because of the constant presence in it of an Olympia SM 9 portable typewriter, upon which the protagonist, suffering writer's block, conjures up the girl of his dreams. (The script was written [on a typewriter?] by lead actress Zoe Kazan, another real charmer.) Having made a metal note to try and find the movie on DVD, I was almost spooked when I got home to find Ruby Sparks was screening on TV that very same night! So I sat up until the early hours and watched it, and was thoroughly, thoroughly charmed ...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Triumph of Giger

Miffed by his poor polling in the Richard Polt Underwood Electric survey (43 per cent), Giger has hit back with a small but far-from-Prefekt Triumph. It works fine, it's just that the Giger art needs some fine-tuning:

Prices of Portable Typewriters 50 Years Ago

This Macy's department store display advertisement appeared in The New York Times on December 2, 1964, almost half a century ago now. The Commodore Educator is a Canadian, Jack Tramiel-assembled variation of the Czechoslovakian Consul 233. The Commodore 2000 beside it is, I'm pretty sure, a Portuguese Messa 2000, variously known as an ABC 2000, Sears Chevron and Stott 20. The case behind it is one good clue. The Olivetti-Underwood 18 is an Italian-made Antares clone. See the next edition of ETCetera for its unusual origins. (The reversed image here suggests the carriage lever is on the right side! Mad Men gone mad.) The Olivetti-Underwood 44 is better known as an Olivetti Studio 44 and the Royal 890 as a Royal Safari.
Commodore Educator, Alan Seaver Collection. Below, the Sears Chevron.
An Underwood 18
A Litton Royal 890:

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Memories Are Made of This

It was Herman Price's 63rd birthday yesterday. I tried to send a virtual birthday cake, but couldn't work out how to do it, so sent a virtual card instead. Still, my thoughts naturally began to wander through Herman's Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum in Fairmont, West Virginia, where this coming weekend the seventh edition of the annual typewriter collectors' gathering will take place. This time last year I was at the gathering, hosted by Herman and attended by such other luminaries as Richard Polt, Martin Howard, Peter Weil, Paul Robert, Alan Seaver, Mike Brown, Martin Rice, Dennis Clark,  Greg Fudacz and Will Davis. To suggest I had the "time of my life" there would be the understatement of the 21st century.
A couple of Saturdays ago, when the Melbourne Age Spectrum section ran a feature on Helen Garner's Corona 3 folding portable typewriter, I whipped down to the closest newsagency first thing in the morning and bought a copy. While I was there, I thought I might as well buy a lottery ticket. I didn't think much more about the ticket until about a week ago, when it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't too late to make it back to West Virginia. I went to a travel agency and got a price for a return air ticket, Sydney to Pittsburgh: $1750. Figuring I needed to win a lottery prize of at least $1500, I rushed back to the newsagency and checked in my ticket. My heart skipped a beat when "Congratulations" came up on the screen, followed by the figure $15. But no zeroes followed. Ah well. There was always the guy in Lagos offering me $14 zillion - I just had to reply to his spam mail. But, in reality, all I could really say was ...
When many of the aforementioned luminaries gathered in Milwaukee last month, I had that feeling that you get as a kid, when all your mates go off on some glorious camping trip and you're left at home recovering from the mumps. Miserable. Next weekend it's going to be much the same thing all over again, plus some ...
Some years ago I sent Herman as a Christmas gift a calendar I made up, with each month having a different Royal Bar-Lock typewriter poster on it. Herman got a bit of a chuckle out of that, because one of the posters had, unbeknown to me, been tidied up by Herman himself, playing around with Windows Paint. The thought of us each having "idle hands" (that is, hands away from typewriters) and doing the same thing, fiddling with typewriter-related images, so many miles apart, resonated with me, and in a funny sort of way closed the gap (though not to the extent that "being there" did). So this morning, as my thoughts drifted to far-off West Virginia, I played around with a couple of Bar-Lock posters myself.
I'm really looking forward to seeing plenty of images from the 2014 Fairmont event, and hoping that all those who attend this year will have as much of a ball as we did last year. I know that Herman will, as always, be the host with the most (and I don't mean just typewriters!). 

Last week Herman reminded all who were at the Chestnut Ridge gathering in 2013 of what a time we had, by posting this group photo on Facebook.
 I know he has gone "gently, gently" with this year's gathering, not wishing to divert attention from the preceding Milwaukee event, but anyone who has been to a West Virginia gathering will not forget it easily. Last year I thought of it as a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience. I now realise that having been there once, you just want to keep going back. Three solid days of prowling through Herman's typewriter collection is not enough the soothe that itch to take another look, and another, and another ...
The laid-back man himself.
And here's his virtual cake: