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Sunday, 13 September 2020

The Hite Report and the Lies About the Olivetti Typewriter Ads

Shere Hite appeared in "Olivetti Girls" ads to help her pay college fees
while at Columbia University in 1971.
Now that Shere Hite, sex educator and feminist and author of 1976’s The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, has passed away, it’s time to bury the false story about the Olivetti typewriter advertisement which allegedly propelled Hite toward the women’s movement.
The story relates to Hite being one of the models who appeared in the “Olivetti Girls” series of ads, which appeared in US newspapers from February 1972 and in magazines such as LIFE and New York in March and April that year. The ads were part of Olivetti’s drive to break into an office electric typewriter market dominated by IBM with the Olivetti Editor series and the Praxis 48. (Ironically, Hite herself used an IBM.)
More than 10 years later, in November-December 1982, a series of newspaper articles about Hite claimed that the tagline in the 1972 Olivetti ads contained the words, “The typewriter is so smart she [that is, the Olivetti Girl] doesn't have to be.” This was simply untrue, as the ads said nothing of the sort. Yet in obituaries which have appeared for Hite around the world this weekend, the false claim has been repeated ad nauseam, unchecked and unsubstantiated. A few minutes’ research would have confirmed the truth. Surprisingly, the supposed fact-checking New York Times is among the many guilty parties.
What the ads really said were words to the effect that the Olivetti Girl was someone about whom “people [are] saying terribly nice things”,  because she typed mistake-free copy as a result of using a typewriter with a “brain” – a machine which could “actually think for itself”. “She may  be prettier than other typists, but she’s not necessarily brainier.” She was “sharper, looser, never uptight” and could have fun. The typewriter eliminated common mistakes such as “flying caps”, improper spacing, “shading or ghosting” and “crowding or piling”.
Now, no matter which way one interprets these words, or thinks of them as seeming to be condescending, they do NOT state that the typist did not have to be smart. Nor is there any suggestion the models used in the ads are “leggy dumb blondes”, as so many articles would have us believe. That is purely a personal interpretation, and not the stated view of the advertiser. The whole premise of Hite’s argument for becoming a feminist fails. At best she has exaggerated what the Olivetti ads said, or worst she lied. Just because Hite said the story was true doesn’t make it true.
The false story (some versions of which stray so far from the truth as to claim the ads appeared in Playboy magazine), dates back to at least 1977. In its May 9 issue of that year, German news magazine Der Spiegel said, “Just a few years ago, Shere Hite from New York could be seen as a two-legged office machine in the canyons of Manhattan. At that time, the young woman had to play the part of a typist in a TV commercial: As ‘Olivetti Woman’ [sic] it was her job to ‘introduce a typewriter that was so smart that the user could easily appear a bit stupid’. The mimodrama was the trigger for the sex world bestseller of the 70s and made the former Columbia doctoral student a star guest on American talk shows. Because New York feminists who protested the Olivetti commercial convinced Hite that their strip was typical of the role played by many women in the United States - a silent majority of sexual objects ‘whose feelings are suppressed and exploited’. Hite began to be interested in the attitudes of her sex comrades on the subject of sexuality and sent out the first questionnaires. Four years later (and $35,000 in debt) she submitted the Hite Report - a work that summarises the statements of 3019 women on the subject of sexuality and appeared on seller lists almost overnight.”
Hite died from the rare neurological disorder corticobasal degeneration last Wednesday in North London, England, aged 77. She was born Shirley Diana Gregory in Saint Joseph, Missouri, on November 2, 1942. 

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Tytell Collection Goes to Internet Archive

One could easily sense in the comment from Richard Polt that a great wave of relief had swept across the world of typewriter historians and collectors when Jason Scott revealed last month that the Internet Archive had taken possession of the Tytell Collection. “You are doing a wonderful thing by taking care of this unique collection and sharing it with the world,” said Richard. “Thank you.” John Cooper also responded: “Thank you so much for preserving this priceless collection!” And so say all of us.
Jason’s blog post, “An Archive of a Different Type”, told all. For those who haven’t already seen it, it’s at
Pearl and Martin Tytell
Elaine Wooton, a protégée of Peter Tytell’s and herself a forensic document examiner (in Washington DC), had contacted Jason, asking if the Internet Archive “might want some of what is destined for deep storage or the trash compactor”. After looking at what Elaine was sorting through, Jason announced, “We will take all of it.” He described it as “standing at the final chapter of a family history that spanned many decades and represented both a disappearing world and a fascinating story”.
“While some of the items in the Tytell Collection might be outside the realm of what we would normally acquire, it seemed right to just accept the entire set, as together it tells a stronger story than having parts of it discarded or stored elsewhere. This was, after all, a multi-generational family business and the already-whittled results of years of maintenance and caretaking by Peter Tytell; there didn’t seem to be a reason to arbitrarily cut it down further.”
The collection has been moved into classifications, such as books, ephemera, typewriters and equipment. Jason lists some notable examples: “The subject matter of the hundreds of books in the collection range from criminal law (related to the investigative arm of the company) to graphology (study of handwriting) as well as overviews of law enforcement, detective work, and extensive guides of typewriter history.
“Hundreds of samples, both printed and hand-made, of typewriter output, separated by years, brands and models. This may be one of the most important pieces of the collection, and one that will be digitised as soon as possible; they represent hard knowledge and evidence of what typewriters were capable of or what brands had which abilities at what time. These cards were used by the Tytells in court cases …”
“Brochures, stand-ups and manuals related to typewriter and print. There are thousands of pages of documents in this collection related to the sale, operation and overview of typewriters.
“Typewriters of every description; standard commercial models now long out of production and sale, as well as custom or extremely-low production examples, such as machines that type in Arabic or Hebrew. They will not be stored away never to be seen again; they will, however it is worked out, play a part in telling the story of typewriters and the family that lovingly worked on them for so long.”
The Internet Archive already provides an enormously useful service to typewriter historians, and by taking care of the Tytell Collection it will help add a great deal to our collective knowledge. I add my thanks to those from Richard Polt and John Cooper.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Spot the Portable Typewriters: Ringside at Muhammad Ali v Cleveland Williams, Houston Astrodome, 1966

I counted 22 portable typewriters being used by ringside reporters working before a then world record indoor crowd of 35,460 - four Olivetti Lettera 32s, three Olivetti Lettera 22s, three Olympias, two Royals, a Hermes Bay and a Hermes 3000, plus eight I couldn't identify (I think I accidentally circled one of the many portable telex machines around the ring). See how you go with it:
The overhead photo was shot by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated. One minute, eight seconds into the third round, Muhammad Ali is slowly making his way back to his corner as referee Harry Kessler counts down a spreadeagled hometown hero Cleveland "Big Cat" Williams in a one-sided world heavyweight title boxing match at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, on November 14, 1966. Ali's TKO is regarded by many experts as his finest performance, but that opinion obviously doesn't take into account Williams's poor health, nor Ali's win at the Stade du 20 Mai in Kinshasa in October 1974.

Just two years before he faced Ali, o
n the night of November 29, 1964, Williams was stopped by Dale Witten of the Texas Highway Patrol for suspicion of speeding. During a scuffle Witten fired his 357 Magnum and the bullet ripped through Williams's colon and right kidney, lodging against his right hip. In hospital he stopped breathing three times on an operating table. He had four operations over seven months, but he lost the kidney in June 1965, as well as more than 10 feet of small intestine, and the bullet remained in his body. Williams's purse for the Ali fight was absorbed by his 1964-65 medical costs of $67,615 - so he went into the ring against Ali knowing he would be taking a beating but getting not one red cent out of it. It was 21 years ago this week that Williams, returning home from dialysis treatment, was knocked down by a car in a hit and run accident while walking across a street in Houston; he died 12 days later, on September 15, 1999, aged 66. 
The Spokesman-Review, Monday, November 14, 1966.
Where the Williams-Witten story diverges from parallels with today's Black Lives Matter issues in the United States is that Witten visited Williams to wish him luck the day before his fight with Ali, with both men saying they had "no hard feelings" toward the other.  Williams gave Witten two ringside tickets, which he used to sit among the portable typewriters. 

Martin Tytell: 'A Man Who Loved Typewriters'

Last month I posted a tribute to the late Peter Tytell, and since it has had 1200 pages views I can safely assume there is a lot of interest in the Tytell family (of whom Peter's mother Pearl is the remaining survivor). Yesterday, Father's Day here in Australia, I chanced upon this obituary for Peter's dad, Martin Tytell, while going through my boxes of typewriter-related clippings. The obituary appeared in The Economist on September 20, 2008, and is still very much worth a read.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

The Demise of Spikus vulgaris

I don’t get my news from Facebook, so its threat to Australia won’t bother me. One reason I look elsewhere for news is that what appears on Facebook is usually what we old print newspaper hacks call “unsubbed”, which means it’s beneath contempt. Shaun Micallef’s weekly Mad as Hell take on Sydney Daily Telegraph headlines is a fair indicator that sub-editors with even the most tenuous grasp on the English language no longer work for Rupert Murdoch.
The other day an old newspaper friend mentioned that seriously endangered species Spikus vulgaris, better known by its common name “sub-editor”. There obviously aren’t many still employed in Australia or New Zealand, nor in Britain or, it seems, the United States (where they were called copy editors). Their demise has been a long time coming. More than 27 years ago Robert Richardson, author of the “Ode to the Ancient Sub-Editor” (see below), declared in the London Independent that Spikus vulgaris was “a retiring beast inhabiting the jungle of journalism.” That jungle has now overrun the sub-editor, so it’s worthwhile looking back on what Richardson described.
“On morning papers, he - the female of the species was not discovered until the ’60s, so the masculine pronoun will suffice - spends his life in the twilight zone, arriving anonymously in the afternoon, ruminating over spelling and syntax as the day dies, and padding softly into the night when all is finished. For him there are no picture bylines, no glamour of a regular column, no politicians seeking his ear or agents lunching him at Le Gavroche, no encounters with the rich and famous, no lucrative appearances on television chat shows. His gifts are unsung, his merits undervalued, his contribution scorned, his . . . (That's enough poncy phrases. Get on with it - Ed.)
“Subs are the people who make sure there is always exactly enough material to fill each day's paper and that it bears some resemblance to sense. Their creative input comes principally in the form of headlines, and any gathering of the tribe eventually lapses into nostalgic recall of classics. One example of this high art must represent all the rest. Many years ago, the Hollywood actress Gloria Swanson arrived in Southampton on a Monday, after crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary; at her dockside press conference, she complained that it had been an awful voyage and she had been violently seasick. A forgotten sub headlined the story 'Sick transit Gloria, Monday'. That, children, is true genius.
“From the reporters' (or writers', as some preciously insist on being called) point of view, the sub is either friend or a tacky form of life that they are faintly surprised to discover has mastered the art of walking upright; it is a relationship now symbiotic, now hostile. There are writers who consider their prose only slightly below God's on a good day and visibly bristle at the heresy of removing a comma; queries regarding style/ accuracy/ clarity/ sense/ grammar/ are akin to suggesting that their daughters sell their bodies nightly behind King's Cross station. Others grasp the fact that if the sub does not understand their copy, there is a possibility the reader may not either; that an adjective should not be used as an adverb; that there really is a law of libel; that 58-line paragraphs written all as one sentence take on a certain tedious quality fairly quickly.
“One common curse of the sub's life is the writer who inserts some alleged fact, adding the memo 'Subs please check'. By the time his copy reaches the subs, all known sources of checking are unavailable and the writer is in a wine bar without a telephone, surrounded by beautiful women inexplicably impressed by a 12-point byline. Back at the darkened office, the sub vainly consults the library, pores over reference books, and finally tosses a coin in despair. If the published fact is correct, the writer takes the credit; if wrong, it was the sub's fault. But all this, of course, concerns the Good Sub. There is also the kind of sub who would brutally chop the final couplet off a Milton sonnet or cut the Ten Commandments down to six because they wouldn't fit the space; the kind who can take any well written piece and cold-bloodedly butcher it; who uses 'gilding the lily' in a headline and all the saints since Peter could not persuade him it's a misquotation.
Know him by his markings - shabby sports jacket and pullover, dirty fingernails, overweight, bored, impregnated with the faint odour of a four-ale bar, obsessed with the times of trains that take him home - and avoid him. As the great Samuel Johnson said dismissively of the compilers of dictionaries, the sub-editor is a harmless drudge.”
It was an ancient sub-editor and he stoppeth many libels,
Fowler's Modern English Usage and the ODWE were his bibles.
We met in the Bodoni Arms, it was his favourite venue,
He sat alone, a pint in hand, and made corrections to the menu.
"Pray tell me, master sub-editor, your secrets and your tricks,
"How many prima donnas you have saved from looking pricks."
He raised his head and gazed at me with a piercing, bloodshot eye,
“'T'would be my pleasure, sir," he said, "but I am rather dry.
"A double brandy will suffice; it helps soak up the ale,
"You get 'em in, then I'll begin to tell my subbing tale."
I hastened to the bar and bought the drink that he desired,
Convinced that what he told me would be sober and inspired.
Returning to the table, I set the glass within his reach
Then sat, a humble acolyte, as he composed himself to speech.
"In the beginning was the word, but which word we'll never learn
"Because a sub deleted it to avoid a widow turn.
"And in the Gospel of St John, one chapter seems too terse,
"Where the two-word sentence 'Jesus wept' appears as just one verse.
"A sub-editor did that, my boy, and I shall tell you why:
"He had to make a par somewhere 'cos the text was one line shy.
"And so it goes, from age to age, in every realm and land,
"You'll find the diligent sub-editor, a style book in his hand.
"We guard our Mother English tongue, keep her pure and unalloyed,
"Just see what dreadful things go wrong when our talents aren't employed.
"We'd have asterisked out those filthy words Lady Chatterley learnt from Mellors
"And if Dickens had but had a sub, his books would be novellas.
"We know 'can' from 'may' and 'may' from 'might',
"And never say 'less' when 'fewer' is right,
"We punctuate punctiliously and are alert for innuendoes,
"We can all spell 'desiccated' and don't rise to crescendos.
"Of grammar and of syntax our knowledge is formidable,
"Though frankly we don't give a toss about an unstressed syllable.
"To denigrate the sub-editor is the action of a moron,
"A word that very nearly rhymes with that little twat Giles Coren.
"When it comes to writing headlines, polysyllables we eschew,
"We have a taste for shorter words, like 'mull' and 'ire' and 'rue'. "
"Your wisdom overwhelms me, no counsel could be finer,
"But can you explain to me, I beg, the role of the designer?"
"Don't speak to me of that lot!" (He gathered spit - and spat),
"A paper needs designers like an oyster needs a hat.
"Oh they'll draw you pretty pages, you can't change them 'cos it's art,
"Then once you've made the copy fit, they rip the thing apart.
"The reason why they do that is a mystery to man,
"But I've a shrewd suspicion that it's just to show they can."
I feared I had offended him, my question had been crude,
But a treble double whisky put him in a better mood.
"And tell me of your colleagues, whose work is so essential,
"That I might dare approach them with demeanour reverential."
"Right across Observer the subs are brilliant, off the scale,
"The Times can only dream of such - and f*** the Daily Mail.
"But even with such talents, sir, once the story's in the queue
"And is 86 lines over, what magic can you do?"
The old sub smiled and shook his head as if he were amused
At meeting one so young and green and easily confused.
"Nothing is writ that can't be cut, that is the Subbing Law,
"Give me the Ten Commandments and I'll trim them back to four.
"Thou shalt not miss the deadline, or write in 'Subs please check',
"And if perchance you use a fact, don't get it round your neck.
"But the first of all commandments you must follow to the letter:
"However good your copy is, a sub can make it better."
"And yet," I ventured cautiously, "can what they say be true?
"I've heard tell that the management wants to get rid of you."
'''Tis true," the gloomy sub replied, now glugging down red wine,
"They got rid of the NGA, now we're the next in line.
"But mark my words, young journalist, the cup they drink is bitter,
"Mistakes will sprout like dandelions and literals will litter.
"Comment it may still be free, but faith in facts will shatter,
"Whatever garbage fills the space, that's all that's going to matter.
"And there will come a day, I fear, when one sub shall remain,
"Facing those damned accountants and battling in vain.
"He'll stand astride the subs' desk like that Dutch boy at the dyke,
"Until, professional to the last, he falls upon his spike.
"And as those bastards stand and jeer, a golden age shall cease,
"But not before his dying words: 'Has the lawyer seen this piece?'
"They'll bury him with honours, even Murdoch will be there,
"FoC will read the Lesson, Rev Indent will say the prayer.
"Good Spot will start the banging out, as flags fly at half mast,
"A choir of solemn hacks will sing 'Oh Sub, our help in ages past'.
"And in the years that follow that tragic last defeat
"You'll find the Tomb of Unknown Sub in St Bride's upon the Street.
"On either side shall angels weep, and proudly in between
"You will see a pencil, blue, crossed with an eyeshade, green,
"And on Carrara marble, carved in ninety-six point caps,
"You'll read subs' eternal question: 'Who wrote this piece of crap?'"

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Seven Degrees of Separation: Seven People, Seven Typewriters

How are all these people connected?
 Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise of Wied (1843-1916), the Queen of Romania as the wife of King Carol I, and was widely known by her literary name of Carmen Sylva.    
Elizabeth Lucy, Princess Bibesco (née Asquith; 1897-1945), an English writer and socialite. The daughter of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, she was the wife of  Romanian Prince Antoine Bibesco
Princess Priscilla Helen Alexandra Bibesco (1920-2004), at aged two. A journalist and daughter of Prince Antoine Bibesco and Princess Elizabeth Bibesco. She was the goddaughter of Marcel Proust and Alexandra, Queen consort as the wife of Britain's King Edward VII.
Dame Cicily Isabel Fairfield DBE (1892-1983), known as Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, a British author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer.
Arthur Koestler CBE (1905-1983) was a Hungarian British author and journalist. 
Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896-1980), a British politician who in the 1930s led the British Union of Fascists. 
Helena Bonham Carter CBE (1966-), English actress. Her paternal grandmother was politician and feminist Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith.

Connecting the typists:
1. Queen Elisabeth was a lifelong friend of Princess Hélène Bibesco (1855-1902, also known as Elena), a Romanian noblewoman and pianist.
2.  Princess Hélène Bibesco was the mother of Prince Antoine Bibesco (1878-1951), a Romanian aristocrat, lawyer, diplomat and writer who married Elizabeth Asquith
3. Their daughter was Princess Priscilla Bibesco.
4. Elizabeth Bibesco was a close friend of Rebecca West in Bucharest before the Second World War. "I remember she used to sit in this café, and just face the wall," recalled West. "And it wasn't coffee she was drinking."
5. Princess Priscilla Bibesco had a romantic liaison with Arthur Koestler, which became widely known amongst her circle.
6. Princess Priscilla's closest Paris friends included Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana, the former Diana Freeman-Mitford. Repartee was Priscilla's forte, as over lunch when Diana, indulging her loves of Hitler and his entourage, said, "Goebbels had the most beautiful blue eyes", to which Priscilla responded, "Such a pity, then, he had to murder all those children."
7. Helen Bonham Carter's paternal grandmother was politician and feminist Violet Bonham Carter, a half-sister of Princess Priscilla Bibesco's mother Elizabeth Asquith.