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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Announcing a Grandchild

My son Danny and his wife Emily were finally able last evening to officially announce an upcoming addition to the family, after a series of ultrasound and blood tests showed everything is coming up roses. Emily and Danny came up with a very novel way to make the announcement, to the delight of their many friends and to family members. I've already found the temerity to suggest that, if it's a boy, they should call him Remington Royal Hansen-Writing Ball-Messenger!
Meanwhile, my bonny grandson in England is now more than a year old, and already frequenting bars!:

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Bath Ruth's Ghostwriter

This shot of Bath Ruth talking to his ghostwriter was organised by Ruth's agent Christy Walsh and taken in New York in 1922.
Walter Christy Walsh, born in St Louis on December 2, 1891, is considered baseball's first agent. As a young man he played the part of a gravedigger in an amateur production of Hamlet, providing an omen for his future.
He was introduced to the art of ghostwriting in 1912, when working for the Los Angeles Herald he secured an interview with baseballer Christy Mathewson, who was vacationing in California. After over-spruiking the story to his editors, they decided it sounded too good for a cub reporter to write, so handed it to Adela Nora Rogers St Johns (1894-1988), the later novelist who wrote screenplays for silent movies but is best remembered for her groundbreaking exploits as "The World's Greatest Girl Reporter" during the 1920s and 30s and her celebrity interviews for Photoplay magazine. Her soon-to-be-husband, chief copy editor William Ivan St Johns, remarked to Walsh, "That, young man, is your first lesson in the art of ghostwriting." Walsh later recalled, "And indeed it was. Having one's notes transcribed and set down in flowing phrases by such scriveners as W. Somerset Maugham, S. S. Van Dine or Adela Rogers St Johns is the last word in the ancient and honourable craft of literary make-believe. So I learned about ghosting from Adela."
A would-be sports cartoonist, Walsh went on to form a highly successful syndicate of ghostwriters for baseball’s most celebrated players, cementing the term “ghostwriter” in the vocabulary in the process. Among Ruth's early ghostwriters was the great Westbrook Pegler, but Ruth's most famous ghostwriter was Ford Christopher Frick, later baseball's third commissioner.
One of Walsh’s most heralded PR feats was to get a team of doctors to administer tests to Ruth to determine whether Ruth possessed any extra physical or psychological advantages.  The results were reported in a Popular Science Monthly article - "Why Babe Ruth is Greatest Home-Run Hitter" - and picked up by The New York Times
After working as a reporter and part-time cartoonist in Los Angeles, and in advertising for Maxwell-Chalmers automobiles, Walsh saw an opportunity for ghostwriting. He began by ghostwriting for World War I air ace Eddie Rickenbacker, describing the 1921 Indianapolis 500 and earning a half share in $874. In 1921 Walsh staked out the Ansonia Hotel, where Ruth and his wife were staying, and got the chance to stand in for a beer-boy to deliver grog to Ruth’s room.
In his 40-page 1937 memoir Adios to Ghosts, Walsh described how the next day he produced "a badly wrinkled contract in the form of a short, informal letter and without question, [Ruth] inscribes 'George Herman Ruth' in the correct spot and I go in search of a ghost to do the writing". Walsh's team of stars and ghostwriters quickly grew - to 34 in the case of the reporters, who included Damon Runyon (below).
Baseballer Walter Johnson was pursued by Walsh into the Pullman’s washroom of a train station in New Haven, Connecticut, to sign up for the syndicate. The syndicate, wrote Walsh, was "founded as a matter of dire necessity by an out-of-a-job cartoonist, started on a shoestring; and in 1937, after having weathered 16 October classics in the ball parks of seven major league cities, voluntarily shuffled off its World's Series coil."  
Shirley Povich, above, wrote a column in the Washington Post describing Ruth’s failed plans to cover the 1924 World Series. "My neighbour in the press box, according to the seating plan,  was to be, of all people, Babe Ruth. He had signed on to cover the World Series for the Christy Walsh Syndicate. That sort of thing was commonplace for the game’s big stars. They would be provided a press box seat, along with a ghostwriter and a telegraph operator, and never set their pen to paper. But minutes before the game, the word had come over the wires that Ruth had suffered an appendicitis and had been rushed to Emergency Hospital.  His ghostwriter also dismissed himself for the day. When Christy Walsh arrived and was told about Ruth’s absence, and why, he bellowed quickly, 'Get me an operator!' Walsh took Ruth’s seat and began to dictate: 'Washington DC, October 1, by Babe Ruth, paragraph, quote.  As I lie here, in Washington’s Emergency Hospital, as a native New Yorker my heart is with the Giants, but as an American Leaguer, it is my duty to root for the Senators.' And so it went."
Walsh was sports director for the 1939-40 World’s Fair in New York City. He died on December 29, 1955, in North Hollywood.
Ford C. Frick was commissioner of baseball from 1951-65, having been elected unanimously to replace Happy Chandler by the 16 club owners on September 20, 1951, after Cincinnati Reds president Warren Giles withdrew from the contest. Frick had served 17 years as National League president, where he was succeeded by Giles.
Born on December 19, 1894, in Wawaka, Indiana, Frick attended high school in Rome City and DePauw University in Green Castle, graduating in 1915. In the fall of 1916, Frick joined the Colorado High School faculty as an English teacher. He also began working for the Colorado Springs Gazette and soon gave up teaching to concentrate on newspaper work. In 1918 he became supervisor of training in the rehabilitation division of the War Department for four states - Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. In early 1919, he worked for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before returning to Colorado Springs to open an advertising agency and write an editorial column for the Colorado Springs Telegraph. Frick went east in 1922 to join the sports staff of the New York American. In August 1923, he moved to the Evening Journal. While employed there, he covered the Yankees and joined Walsh's team to became a ghostwriter for Ruth, writing everything from newspaper articles to books, including Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball.
During his National League presidency he was instrumental in saving the Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Boston franchises from bankruptcy and also helped place the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh clubs on firmer financial footing. In 1947 Frick threatened to ban players on the St Louis Cardinals who had proposed to sit out in response to Jackie Robinson’s debut in the National League. “If you do this you are through, and I don’t care if it wrecks the league for 10 years,” Frick told the strikers. “You cannot do this, because this is America.” Frick retired in November 1965 and died on April 10, 1978, aged 83.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Booking Hero uses Consul 222.1 Semi-Portable Typewriter to write Great Dutch Novel

Further evidence that it's Far From Over for the typewriter and that the manual portable is on the way back comes in the Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam Booking.com Booking Hero commercial released last month. The ad was made by production company MJZ and directed by Dante Ariola.
It's a great promotion for the typewriter, as a man's most cherished dreams come to reality after he stays at a hostel he found on Booking.com.
And that includes getting to use a Czechoslovakian-made Consul 222.1 semi-portable typewriter in a log cabin to write the great (Dutch? Czech? American?) novel.
Oddly, however, the storyline for the commercial doesn't even mention the typewriter!
It says: "One man's life changed when he stayed at a hostel he found on Booking.com. The last night he spent there turned into the first day of the rest of his life. An unforgettable journey soon began as he got engaged at a romantic chateau, got married, had children and led a life of exploration. Later in his life, while staying at a log cabin, he writes [ON A TYPEWRITER, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!!] the story that was living inside of him. That story becomes a masterpiece and the book release is announced at a Tokyo five-star hotel. As he celebrates with his wife and children at a tropical paradise by going hang gliding, he takes in the full life he's been living. When you get your booking right, life can get as extraordinary as this one."
AS LONG AS YOU REMEMBER TO TAKE YOUR PORTABLE TYPEWRITER!

See post about my Consul 222.1 here.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

It's Far From Over

If memory serves me right - and on the subject of the Sport of Kings, it's some furlongs from being infallible - it was Richard Polt who first pointed out there is a champion racehorse in Jamaica called Typewriter. (In the mid-1970s there was also an American thoroughbred called Typewriter, by Donut King out of Via Bendita.)
Indeed, just last week Typewriter was unanimously voted Jamaica's 2014 Horse of the Year, beating off Potcheen (which takes its name from smokin' Irish moonshine, Poitín) and Perfect Neighbour. Not sure how Typewriter got its name, but it's by Western Classic out of Doc's Paladin, and is part-owned by a lady called Valentine. Typewriter was also voted champion stayer.
Mention of staying brings me to footage of a horse race at the New York Racing Association's Aqueduct Racetrack in Queen's, NYC, which I stumbled across on the Irish Press Facebook page yesterday. I'm no expert of racing, but this performance SO put me in mind of typewriters ...

I think the evidence suggests the run of typewriters is Far From Over! Typewriters have hung in there, while overtaken by electrics and wedges and word processors and whatever, but they might still finish up in front.
W.C.Heinz with his Remington portable typewriter
On the subject of horse racing in Jamaica, I am reminded of the wonderful tribute paid to the great New York sportswriter W.C.Heinz by ESPN's Gare Joyce when Heinz died, aged 93, in a Bennington, Vermont, nursing home, almost exactly seven years ago.
Joyce pointed out that Heinz was covering a race meeting in Jamaica in July 1949 when he wrote for the New York Sun one of the all-time classic pieces of sports journalism, Death of a Racehorse. Of course, this was not Jamaica in the West Indies, where Typewriter runs, but another Queen's, NYC, racetrack. Ten years after Heinz wrote his famous piece, this Jamaica racetrack was redeveloped as a housing project. Rochdale Village now stands there.
Joyce said, "The impact on sportswriting of W.C. Heinz cannot be overestimated." His 1949 story about a horse called Air Lift "would have left only a hoofprint on the heart of his owner when he broke down if W.C. Heinz had not witnessed it from a seat behind a typewriter on press row at a racetrack in Jamaica." Joyce described the story as "a classic piece of literature. Not sports literature, mind you. No, a short story that would stand up with those knocked out by the acknowledged American master of the form, Ernest Hemingway."
"Death of a Racehorse is not even a 1000 words long, but any abridged version insults it. Heinz kept it short, what turned out to be a favor to a couple of generations of sportswriters who tried to memorize it over the years. And in keeping it short, Heinz probably made it easier for a couple of his other longer stories to appear alongside it in the Best American Sports Writing of the Century, a collection edited by David Halberstam. Heinz was the only writer that Halberstam rated as deserving three entries in the anthology."
Joyce said Heinz's story, written in less than an hour, "one draft, on a manual typewriter, in the rain" was "as close to perfection as sportswriting could be".
Joyce made a forceful argument for a posthumous Red Smith Award for Heinz. I must confess my own first sports writing award, in 1979, was for a story about horse racing, although in my case it was harness racing and, happily, a horse didn't die. But I like to think it was written, if unconsciously, in the style of Heinz, and with an awareness of what the horse goes through, perhaps unwittingly, for the sake of the unfeeling punter. My story was about a match race between Pure Steel and Satinover, and it's timely for me to recall it, on the eve of the Interdominion in Sydney, a once great sporting event to which few in Australia now pay much attention, such are the vagaries of the sporting and punting public.
Red Smith covering the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson world heavyweight title fight on an Olivetti Lettera 22 in Miami in March 1961.
Finally, mention of Red Smith brings me to this lovely "Mulligan's Stew" column, headed Typewriter Thoroughbred: Best of Breed and written by the Associated Press's Hugh Mulligan in February 1982:

Thirty odd years on, try finding a sports columnist who can write like that today. Or even a match in writing about sports writing.
Red Smith switches to an Olympia SF to cover the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston fight beside Jimmy Breslin on a Royal in Maine in May 1965 


*Robert Messenger will present "Fans With Typewriters: A History of Sports Writing" at the University of the Third Age in Hughes, Canberra, on March 11.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Typewriters in the News

Thank goodness
for the typewriter
Ben Macintyre is a British author and historian who writes a regular column for The Times of London. His columns range in subject matter from current affairs to historical controversies. This column appeared in The Times (paywall) on Friday and was republished by The Australian in Sydney:
Thanks to the digital age
we’re all losing our memory
The Russian Federal Guard Service, the body given the task of protecting the country’s top officials, recently invested in 20 old-fashioned portable typewriters. These were to be used to ensure that documents of a particularly sensitive nature would not be written electronically and stored digitally, but typed out by hand and then filed away. The message was clear and as old as writing itself: if you want to preserve something, write it on paper and then put it somewhere safe.
The digital age was supposed to render obsolete the traditional ways of preserving the past. Everything written, recorded, filmed or photographed could now be safeguarded forever at the push of a button. No more filing, storage or dusty archives: the present would be captured and the past curated by the machines themselves. Increased computer power and ever-expanding digital storage would ensure infinite memory-retention, an end to forgetting.
The reality has proved very different. Digital memory has proven fragile, evanescent and only too easy to lose. Technology has moved on so fast that the tools used to access stored material have become obsolete: CD-ROMs degrade, tapes crumble, hard disks fall apart; the laser disk and the floppy disk have gone, soon to be followed, no doubt, by the USB and memory card. I have half a novel, written 20 years ago on what was then a cutting edge Amstrad and “saved” on a 3 1/2-inch disk. I will never know how unreadable it really is, because I now have no way to read it [ditto here, also on an Amstrad. RM].
As the Internet pioneer Vint Cerf warned recently, the disappearance of hardware needed to read old media means we are “nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become a digital black hole”. In 1986, the BBC Domesday project set out to record the economic, social and cultural state of Britain on 12-inch videodiscs. Today, those disks cannot be read, unlike the Domesday Book itself, written 1000 years earlier.
The Internet will carry more data this year than was created in the entire 20th century - some 330 petabytes, or enough capacity to transfer every character of every book ever published 20 times over - but our descendants may be unable to read it.
Quite apart from the technical inaccessibility of the past, the assumption of digital permanence has eroded the habit of archival hoarding. Earlier generations wrote letters, diaries, postcards and notes, on paper, stored them, and forgot them. Who archives their emails, let alone texts, tweets, or posts?
We blithely assume that these are being preserved somewhere, when most are simply evaporating into the ether. The old-fashioned photo album has given way to the digital photo-file - as prone to sudden wipe-out and technical obsolescence as every other “saved” electronic artefact. The images of your grandparents may be better preserved than those of your grandchildren.
What looks like never-ending growth on the Internet is really a form of endless decay. The average lifespan of a web page is 44 days. Pages are constantly being updated, overwritten, shifted or left to expire in the process known as “reference rot”. We may lecture our children that anything posted on the net will be there forever, but in fact it’s true of very little on this strange, unstable, ephemeral medium.
A web page link that leads only to a “page not found” message encapsulates the transitory nature of digital data: solid information that has shifted into nothingness, with no clue to where it has gone.
Historians looking back on our time will face a mighty challenge, with a patchy digital record and a culture lulled into believing that the past is being preserved every time the save button is pressed.
Bizarrely, despite the vastly larger flood of daily information, we may end up knowing more about the beginning of the 20th century than we will know about the start of the 21st.
The world is waking up to the danger of collective memory loss. Cerf has called for the creation of “digital vellum”, technology that can take a digital snapshot, at the time of storage, of all the processes needed to read it at later date. The British Library now routinely gathers information from millions of public websites as well as tweets and Facebook entries, to create a constant, rolling record of the digital present. The American Library of Congress is archiving the whole of Twitter.
Immediately after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France set out to gather the rolling digital story and the web response - media reportage, public reaction, blogs, Twitter, online commentary - to create a genuine digital archive of the moment.
A similar shift in attitude towards digital preservation is needed in the wider culture. Psychological studies show that people who gather evidence of their own lives are happier and more self-confident.
Just as our grandparents hoarded the physical evidence of their worlds, so we should print out the photographs, preserve the emails, write, cut, paste, and print the stories, memories and relics of our own lives and times, and put them all in the attic.
Thankfully, as the Russians know, a machine has already been invented that can solve the problem of digital impermanence: the typewriter.
Throwing the
typewriter at it
American broadband and telecommunications company, a corporate component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Verizon Communications is so mad at new net-neutrality rules, they’re throwing the whole typewriter at it. In a press release issued after the US Federal Communications Commission narrowly passed new rules prohibiting broadband providers from throttling legal content or charging for fast lanes, Verizon used a 1930s-style typewriter font to complain about it. Verizon said the rules on broadband Internet “were written in the era of the stream locomotive and the telegraph” and are “badly antiquated”.
Stone the crows!
Not sure why American actor and director Ezra Stone (1917-1994) is in the news, but it's a nice image that was issued last week. Stone had a long career on the stage, in films, radio and television, mostly as a director. His most notable role as an actor was that of the awkwardly mischievous teenager Henry Aldrich in the radio comedy hit, The Aldrich Family, for most of its 14-year run.
The typewriter: symbol
of a more thoughtful way of life
The Los Angeles Times has warmly reviewed Australian author-illustrator Karla Strambini’s 2013 book The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty: In a world of "Frozen" dolls and Lego Minecraft, how can a mere book - one without a movie tie-in - compete for a young child’s attention? Those who hope to best the lure of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle merchandise would do well to select a title with beautiful illustrations, one that offers the chance of a whimsical experience. The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty might qualify.
Melbourne's Strambini
It also reviews The Lonely Typewriter by Peter Ackerman and illustrated by Max Dalton (they first collaborated on 2010’s The Lonely Phone Booth). This book follows a boy named Pablo with a homework deadline and a computer on the blink. He is introduced to his grandmother’s typewriter, a machine with a storied history that involves the Civil Rights movement but is covered in cobwebs. Pablo is bemused by the contraption, accepts the challenge of mastering its use and bangs out a paper. When he turns it in, his teacher can’t help but notice that it was typed. Pablo is quite proud of his new skill: “It doesn’t need a screen or electricity or anything! … We had it stuck up in the attic, but now I’m going to keep it in my room with me.”
The Lonely Typewriter is directed at children ages 6 to 9, but it’s quite possible their parents - or grandparents - will be the ones to linger over its pages. The first illustration in the book is a beautiful diagram of a manual typewriter. It might prompt memories of a pre-digital high school typing class, an era of term papers that actually required a bit of forethought because it was so time-consuming to correct them. A computer allows the words to flow, almost spontaneously. Fixing, changing, revising … over and over … is a given. A typewriter, on the other hand, is a symbol of a more thoughtful - and often more frustrating - way of life.
Is there a moral here? Is there any circumstance in which we would willingly use a typewriter, other than a power outage? Is the end result so much more interesting that we would willingly return to the pre-computer age? You already know the answer to that. A ride in a horse-and-buggy is charming, but it’s unlikely to inspire many of us to ditch the Prius and build a stable. And that’s kind of a pity.
NYC cop shop
typewriter ban?
The New York Post reports: The clackety clack of cops banging out reports behind station-house desks could be gone for good if a lawmaker can get enough votes to ban typewriters in the New York Police Department. Councilman Daniel Dromm (Democrat-Queens) plans to introduce a bill that would phase out police typewriters by 2016. “There’s no a reason a police officer can’t type up a report and put it into a computer,” he said. “I think it’s common sense that we move away from typewriters.” Dromm came up with his ban plan after a constituent complained that cops lost a criminal report she made about being assaulted. The report had been transcribed on a typewriter and only one copy was made. But that’s not the only problem the old machines pose. Instead of being able to fill out a sound permit form online for an outdoor party, people are still forced to visit their local precinct, have it entered on to a form, in triplicate, the old-fashioned way. “Every time I go into a police precinct, I see typewriters,” Dromm said. “I believe they all still use them because they all have the same forms.”
Prison typewriter blues
A prison inmate serving three life sentences for first-degree murder convictions in 1968 has filed a complaint alleging two officials at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Madison Township illegally took his Smith-Corona Office 2000 memory typewriter. He claims the officials took his typewriter by claiming it became contraband when a third party paid a $214 repair bill when it was sent out to be fixed in 2013. There is no regulation that specifically prohibited his sister from directly paying the company that repaired the machine, he stated in his suit. He is seeking compensation for the typewriter and repair costs. And he is claiming $3900 in punitive damages against the prison property room officer and a counsellor who upheld the contraband determination.
Oh, Oliver!
Oh, San Antonio!
"Learn more about the typewriter", said San Antonio, Texas, TV channel KSAT. KSAT would do well to start learning something itself. 
"The typewriter was invented in the 1860s and quickly became a machine many professionals used in offices. The machine works by means of keyboard-operated types striking a ribbon to transfer ink on to a piece a paper. Bye the end of the 1980s, word processors and computers had mostly displaced typewriters, but some can still be found. In India, as of the 2010s,  the typewriter is still prominent."

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Sholes' Vision

Christopher Latham Sholes certainly had vision. After all, he gave us the typewriter. Yet in the northern summer of 1878, he wrote a letter on his prototype portable typewriter to James Densmore's brother Amos, saying the typewriter enterprise he had started in 1867 would be dead by 1883. "The trouble [with it] is just where I have always placed it - to wit: that the machine, taking everything into account, is not a labor-saving machine. The public doesn't need it - doesn't want it. It doesn't sell itself ... If you recollect, I gave 5 years for the enterprize to play out in. It will in less time."
Sholes thought he was dying and wouldn't even see the end of the enterprise. But as to his forecast about the typewriter's longevity, he was of course dead wrong. One hundred and thirty-seven years later, the typewriter is still being made.
Only a few months before writing this exceedingly pessimistic letter to Amos Densmore, Sholes believed he was "big with prophecy". And indeed he was.
In July 1877 Sholes' lungs began to bleed. After a serious relapse that September, he decided to escape another Milwaukee winter and join his son Clarence Gordon "Cass" Sholes (1845-1926) in Colorado. In November he spent a few weeks recuperating at the foot of Pikes Peak in Manitou.
Sholes returned to Manitou Springs in February 1878, in time to celebrate his 59th birthday there. He resigned from the Milwaukee board of public works, hoping and praying what little money that came in from the typewriter enterprise would be enough to keep him going.
He stayed on in Colorado through the spring, his mind following a chain of thought that had started with the news of the invention of Thomas Edison's phonograph.
Sholes saw a future in which newspapers would be obsolete. Daily news would be recorded on tinfoil cylinders and then reproduced on a clockwork mechanism in every home. "While the family breakfasted or dined, the children and the older folk alike would become well informed in spite of themselves. The correspondence and records of business offices would be served by the same mechanical magic, and so the typewriter would be eliminated along with the printing press."
Sound familiar? Yes, Sholes might have been very wrong about the typewriter and its ability to survive beyond 1883. But in the spring of 1878, in Manitou Springs, he envisaged 2015, with a clarity that matched the crisp Colorado air around him.  

Unreliable Memories: Why the McCarthy Olivetti Lettera 32 Story is Full of Holes

"I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet."
 ― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
Peter Crossing is one of those mates for whom one would always make an exception - and an effort. After all, Peter has gone out of his way, dragging along his ever-loving wife Deborah in the process, to not alone find but photograph for me the Sholes & Glidden in the Smithsonian in Washington DC, the "Rose in the Barbwire Forest" Voss in the women's history museum in Hanoi, and typewriters in a museum in Bridgetown, Barbados. Better still, Peter and Deborah hosted that superb QWERTY Award evening at their home in Curtin last October.
So when Peter came looking for a portable typewriter for his friend Michael back in his native Adelaide, I naturally got on with the job. After bad experiences with some brain dead South Australians last year, I vowed I'd never again send a typewriter beyond MacCabe Corner. But this request was, as I said, an exception.
Michael, Peter explained, has a desire to try his hand at writing, and had mentioned he'd like to return to the typewriter after many years of being left utterly uninspired by using computers. Michael had a birthday coming up in the New Year, and Peter planned to make the journey west and surprise him with a suitable writing machine.
For weeks Peter and I tossed around what would qualify as "suitable". I had I mind an Olympia SM9 (Paul Auster's name was bandied about) or an Erika, the same model as the one our leading poet David Malouf uses. But as the birthday began to approach, I acquired a spare Olivetti Lettera 32, and had the thought that Michael might find getting back on the bike easier with something smaller and simpler, something that would quickly restore his confidence in riding a typewriter.
Since Auster and Malouf had previously come up in conversation, I thought I'd better throw in a few Lettera 32 users too: Robert Hughes, Will Self, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, John Cheever, Francis Ford Coppola, James Herriot ... and then I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy and his battered $254,000 OL32.
Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32. That it is branded an Olivetti Underwood, not an Olivetti, can clearly be seen on the paper plate.
What brought the McCarthy portable back to mind was an article in the arts section of The Australian on Saturday in which a grossly misinformed Sydney literary editor, Stephen Romei, wrote about "David Vann’s way with words, writers’ typewriters and [the] Stella Prize".
Romei wrote, "When Colleen McCullough died in late January, one of the small, fine details of the writer’s remembered life came from HarperCollins publishing director Shona Martyn. 'We looked forward to ... the arrival of each new manuscript delivered in hard copy in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name.'’ One McCullough legend is that she went into town one day to buy a new overcoat, spotted a Blue Bird portable typewriter and on impulse spent her five quid on that instead.
"This came to mind as I was browsing Writers’ Typewriters, a charming little book by Sydney book designer, illustrator and writer Zoe Sadokierski. It features 44 writers and their typewriters: on one page is a drawing of the machine in question, on the other a little story, usually with a quote from the typist. Here’s Raymond Chandler, who used an Underwood Noiseless: 'Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.' I find it interesting that while some writers have intimate relationships with their typewriters (Paul Auster says of his Olympia SM9: 'I have trouble thinking of my typewriter as an it. Slowly but surely, the it has turned into a him.'), others are more ambivalent (T.S. Eliot, a Smith Corona man, observes: 'The typewriter makes for lucidity, but I am not sure that it encourages subtlety.'’) Australia has two representatives, Patrick White and David Malouf, and the latter is typically lovely. Recalling that the cost of two new ribbons for his Erika was $5, he adds: 'I couldn’t believe something so precious could be so cheap.' 
"Who knows what McCullough’s Blue Bird portable would be worth now? As Sadokierski informs us, Cormac McCarthy bought his Olivetti Lettera from a Tennessee pawnbroker for $US50 in 1963. In 2009, post The Road, he sold it at auction for $US254,00, donating the proceeds to scientific research."
Thus the furphy gets repeated and compounded and gains further unwarranted currency. Sadokierski didn't check her facts, Romei simply assumed she had and duplicated her incorrect statement ... and on and on this false story goes. "Sadokierski informs us" wrongly.
How much of what is written about typewriters today is misguided, and based on falsehoods and misconceptions?
Judging by what I've seen of a typewriter book to be published in Britain later this year (not the well-researched and well-written The Typewriter Revolution, which is to be published in the US in November), the answer to this question is: An awful lot of it, if not most. Sadokierski's book is just another example of a typewriter tome being written without the necessary original research work being put into it. I gather the authors of the British book don't know the difference between a platen from a typebasket.
Cormac McCarthy could NOT have bought an Olivetti Lettera 32 second-hand in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963. Why? For the very simple reason that no one could have bought a brand new Olivetti Lettera 32 anywhere in Tennessee, or anywhere else for that matter, for any amount of money in 1963, let alone a second-hand one.
The Olivetti Lettera 32 did not go on sale in the US until mid-April 1964. And even then the Lettera 22 was still being sold brand new. These adverts introduced the new model between May and December 1964. A brand new Lettera 32 was a standard $74.50 plus federal taxes right across the country during this period, but a trade-in could drop the price to $49.50 plus taxes. The Lettera 22 was being sold brand new for $68 at Christmas 1963.
What's more, the serial number on McCarthy's Lettera 32 doesn't add up to 1963 or 1964. In his covering note before its sale, McCarthy said its serial number was 2143668. My Lettera 32, which I bought in New Zealand in March 1966, has the serial number 2144159, just 491 below McCarthy's. Mine has the lowest Lettera 32 serial number I have seen first-hand. The Typewriter Age Guide and the databases have the Lettera 32 serial numbers starting at 2396736 by the end of 1965, a difference of more than a quarter of a million typewriters after mine. 
My Lettera 32, bought a long way from Knoxville, Tennessee, and a long time after autumn 1963.
McCarthy later revised the year of purchase from 1958 to “a few years later”. At the time of the sale, it was claimed the typewriter had been bought in 1963.
'This typewriter was purchased by me in a pawnshop in Knoxville Tennessee in the fall of 1958. I paid fifty dollars for it. It is an Olivetti Lettera 32 and the serial number is 2143668. It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dirt with a service station airhose and by the fall of 2009 it was beginning to show fairly serious signs of wear. I mentioned this to my friend John Miller at the Santa Fe Institute where we both are fellows and he said that he would get me another one, which he did. Then he asked what I intended to do with the old one and I said I don’t know and he said: Why don’t you auction it off and give the proceeds to the Institute? I thought that was a good idea and my friend Glenn Horowitz arranged the matter with Christie’s auction house. I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not yet published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of fifty years.'
An official history of British Olivetti Ltd confirms that the Lettera 32 was introduced “in the (northern hemisphere) summer of 1964", that is sometime between June and August, "following its successful launch in Italy at the end of the previous year. It was designed to meet the needs of the fast typing journalists and plodding schoolgirls. This mass-seller was priced [in Britain] at £27 10s 0d."
It would seem far more likely that McCarthy bought his Lettera 32 in the first half of 1965 - not the fall of 1963 - which would explain why its serial number is far closer to the one on my Lettera 32. He must have bought it in the US, as it is labelled an "Olivetti Underwood", not an "Olivetti".
During that summer of 1965, McCarthy, using a travelling fellowship award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, left the US on the liner Sylvania, headed for Ireland. He had previously used a Royal portable, but before crossing the Atlantic had "I tried to find the smallest, lightest typewriter ..." 
Clive James typing on a Remington as art students the Orientation Week issue of Honi Soit at the University of Sydney in February 1960.
I thought again of McCarthy's unreliable memories when I read in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday that P.J. O'Rourke has written a new introduction to Clive James' Unreliable Memoirs. 
O'Rourke wrote, "What accounts for Unreliable Memoirs being the best memoir in the world? And by that I mean no backhand compliment. The memoir genre has suffered an over-grown pullulating decadence of bloom in the 35 years since Clive's work was published. One need only be bitten by a shark or fondled by a step dad to unload one's history upon the reading public. Nowadays to say 'best memoir in the world' is almost to say 'best fart in an elevator'. But do not blame Clive. His book trails none of the stink of the up-to-date memoir. Especially it has no funk of message - no fetor of 'setting goals', no reek of 'courageous persistence', no effluvium of 'self-acceptance', and none of the fetid compost-heap putrescence of 'finding my inner me'. Nor does Clive ever fall back upon that most pathetic trope of storytellers,   'And it really happened'. On the contrary Clive starts his preface to Unreliable Memoirs by saying, 'Most first novels are disguised autobiographies. This autobiography is a disguised novel.' Thus Clive becomes, so far as I know, the first honest memoirist. And, so far as I see, the last."
Oh, if only writers of typewriter books (other than Richard Polt, of course), and sellers of expensive typewriters, were as honest as Clive James. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they started doing their own real research, and stopped relying on the memories of others and previously published stories for what they write? Instead, what are purporting to be typewriter books these days are just farts in elevators. That is, putrid.