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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Typewriting Couples

Australian partners who
type together, tend to stick together
(But maybe not Canadian-Norwegian partners)
Imagine having two writers in the one household, both busily clickety-clacking away on their typewriters?
Well, in the case of three very famous Australian couples, the strain did not, apparently, prove unbearable.
The couples are Charmian Clift and her husband George Johnston (seen above with their Remington portable typewriters), New Zealand-born Ruth Park and her husband Darcy Niland, and the Lonely Planet founders Maureen and Tony Wheeler.
Clift, who was born at Kiama in New South Wales, started out the at of age 22 as a reporter with the Melbourne Argus in 1946. There she met war correspondent Johnston, a married man. Their employers disapproved of their relationship and three months later they were sacked. They moved to Sydney and married there in 1947. They collaborated on the novel, High Valley (1949), which won the Sydney Morning Herald's £2000 prize for 1948.
Early in 1951 Clift, Johnston and their children went to London, where Johnston was in charge of the Associated Newspaper Service's office. They settled on the Greek island of Kálimnos late in 1954. Clift wrote Mermaid Singing (Indianapolis, 1956), a semi-autobiographical account of life in Greece. In her second travel book, Peel Me a Lotus (London, 1959), she described their move to Hydra and the birth of their second son.
George Johnston and Charmian Clift,
at her typewriter,
with maid Sevasty on Kálimnos in 1954
While continuing to write books, Clift acted as the sounding-board for Johnston during the writing of his Australian classic My Brother Jack (London, 1964).
Back in Australia, and with Johnson seriously ill, Clift also carried the main burden of housework and parenting.
The combination of work pressure and personal pain become too great by mid-1969. On the night of July 8, while considerably affected by alcohol, Clift took a fatal overdose of sleeping tablets at her Mosman home.
Melbourne-born Johnston, almost 11 years Clift’s senior, lived 54 weeks longer, and died of pulmonary tuberculosis on July 22, 1970, at the couple’s Mosman home.
Chris Grosz's illustration from The Monthly shows Leonard Cohen and George Johnston at their typewriters outside the Katsikas Brothers grocery store (Cohen's is orange?; see the "My Old Flame" quote below) on Hydra in 1960. Presumably that's Marianne Jensen, not Charmian Clift, naked in the window with the glass of red wine.

While in Hydra, in March 1960, Johnson befriended a then unknown 25-year-old Canadian poet, Leonard Cohen, totting his pistachio green Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter, which he'd bought in London a few months earlier.
Shane Maloney wrote in the November 2005 issue of the Australian magazine The Monthly that, "As presiding spirits of the island’s shifting cast of foreign artists and writers, the Johnstons put Cohen up in their spare room. George arranged for Cohen to perform some of his songs for the cosmopolitan assortment of authors, painters and musicians who frequented the Katsikas Brothers grocery store, a group that included Marianne Jensen, wife of a Norwegian writer, Axel Jensen.
George Johnston, Charmian Clift, Marianne Jensen, Leonard Cohen and little Axel Jensen on Hydra in 1960
"Cohen said of his Australian hosts, 'They drank more than other people, they wrote more, they got sick more, they got well more, they cursed more and they blessed more, and they helped a great deal more. They were an inspiration.'
"Cohen stayed on Hydra and set up house for himself, with the Johnstons giving him bed and a work table."
Marianne Jensen is seen sitting at the table with Cohen's Olivetti portable typewriter (above) on the back cover of his 1969 album Songs from a Room. Of course, one of Cohen's finest songs is So Long, Marianne. A photo of Cohen and his Olivetti also appeared on the cover of Hallelujah
Later, Marianne emigrated from Oslo to Montreal with her young son Axel. He told a reporter, "I remember little Axel and Leonard sat in the bathtub writing on a typewriter under water ... But he could type fast on a machine."
Leonard Cohen and Marianne Jensen. Cohen's vital bit of luggage, of course, is his Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter.
Ruth Park, who died in Mosman a little more than a year ago, at the age of 93, wrote the novels The Harp in the South (1948) and Playing Beatie Bow (1980). She is seen above working at home on her Underwood DeLuxe Quiet Tab.
Park's first break as a professional writer came in her native New Zealand when she was hired by the Auckland Star newspaper as a journalist, but she found the assignments that she was given to be unchallenging. Wanting to expand her horizons, she accepted a job offer from the San Francisco Examiner, but the United States' entry into World War II forced a change of plan. Instead, she moved to Sydney in 1942, where she had lined up a job with another newspaper.
That same year Park married the budding Australian author D'Arcy Niland, whom she had met on a previous visit to Sydney. Park embarked on a career as a freelance writer. She and Niland would have five children. The youngest of them, twin daughters, Kilmeny and Deborah, went on to enjoy careers as book illustrators. They are seen here with their father.
Niland died of myocardial infarction in March 1967 at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney, aged 49. Born at Glen Innes, New South Wales, his last novel, Dead Men Running was completed two days before he died.
Darcy Niland
Ruth Park types and child-minds at the same time
Maureen Wheeler, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was co-founder of Lonely Planet Publications with husband Tony Wheeler.
The couple had met in London in 1970, when Maureen was 20. Tony Wheeler was a former engineer at Chrysler Corp and a University of Warwick and London Business School graduate.
The Wheelers travelled overland together from London through Europe and Asia to Australia. That trip resulted in a guidebook Across Asia on the Cheap, written in Sydney in 1973 on a small, cheap Japanese-made Royal 200 portable typewriter. It laid the foundations for Lonely Planet, and Australia became the Wheelers' permanent home.
Tony Wheeler with his Royal 200
The Wheelers’ Royal was on display in The Independent Type: Books and Writing in Victoria exhibition at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne in 2009.
BELOW: Leonard Cohen at his Olivetti Lettera 22


Anonymous said...

Started looking for something on Charmaine Clift and ended up reading this very enjoyable piece.

MAML said...

Loved it