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Thursday, 16 September 2021

Typewriter Needed in Tapachula Crisis

An Olympia SG3 typewriter is being used this week in the main square of Tapachula in the Chiapas state of Mexico to fill in 
regularisation forms for migrants who are part of a caravan hoping to reach the United States. Hundreds of Haitian and Central American migrants remain stranded in the square in search of solutions to their situation, and in need of employment and food. The typist is filling out a form headed “Regularisation by expired document or performing unauthorised activities”, a “procedure form for the regularisation of immigration status in the modality by having [an] expired document or performing unauthorised activities.” It is applicable to the foreign person with irregular immigration status who has an expired immigration document or who performs activities different to those authorised so that he or she no longer satisfies the requirements by which a determined stay condition was granted. The Mexican Government asks that the form for procedure presentation to request an immigration stay should be filled out electronically through its website, but most of these stranded migrants have no access to the internet. So for them a typewriter and typist are required

Newsweek quoted Associated Press today in saying migrants have repeatedly clashed with Mexican authorities as they've attempted to leave Tapachula to continue travelling north amid an enormous backlog of asylum cases. More than 77,000 people have applied for protected status in Mexico this year, 55,000 of them in Tapachula. Activist Luis Villagrán of the Centre for Human Dignity estimates there could be as many as 100,000 migrants stuck in Tapachula, nearly one for every three of the city's residents. Frustrated with a system that was already behind and further bogged down by the pandemic, hundreds of migrants have attempted to leave the city this month.

Mexican authorities have stopped the migrants each time they've attempted to leave, sometimes violently. Threatened by the US with tariffs if it fails to slow the flow of migrants to the border, Mexico has deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents in an attempt to contain migrants in the south. As many of the migrants clashing with authorities are travelling as families, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has voiced frustration with the containment strategy, saying it's not sustainable.

Unable to find other work because they still lack legal status, Haitian migrants sell meals, soft drinks, clothing and offer services such as haircuts, manicures and tailoring under umbrellas in the street market.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Where Is 'Wasp's Nest' in the Lexikon Typewriter?

Where is “wasp’s nest” in the Lexikon? In our The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, third edition, 1974, it’s under “W” and way back on page 2390. In this Ivrea-made Olivetti Lexikon (no serial number yet spotted), it was found under the carriage. This is a machine that has been brought into my typewriter workshop to see if I can get it typing again. Not alone was the shift key not shifting, none of the other keys would budge. Nor would the carriage. I figured there was some sort of “foreign” matter jammed in between the carriage and the escapement rack. Sure enough, it was a rock-solid wasp’s nest - and I mean ROCK-solid. The wasps had brought the wet red clay into the machine and made the nest – you can see from an emboss on part of the nest where they built it on to the machine.

Watch this space for word on when I get it working again. I’m keen to save it, because it has the embossed brandname on the paper plate and nickel rings on the keytops. But it will take some saving …

Sunday, 12 September 2021

The Sleazy Scottish Traitor: A Remington Portable Typewriter For A Japanese Spy

Bill Sempill gives German aviator Ernst Udet a look
at the controls of a British aeroplane in 1936.
There was American blood on the hands of the man who was gifted the first “all-Scottish” Remington Rand portable typewriter. Australian and New Zealand blood, too. Remington Rand directors presented the portable, the first to be fully British-made, to Lord Sempill of Craigievar in the House of Lords in London on June 28, 1950. The typewriter had been built at Remington Rand’s factory in Hillington, Glasgow, which was opened in October 1948 after $2 million worth of manufacturing equipment had been shipped on a Norwegian freighter across the Atlantic from the company’s Syracuse plant.

Outwardly, for the benefit of the reporter from The Scotsman newspaper who covered the handover of the typewriter, Lord Sempill expressed enthusiasm for the “immaculate streamlined grey machine”. But Sempill was no doubt seething inside. If he had had his way, Europe would have been by 1950 ruled by Fascists, and his friends in Japan would be controlling the Pacific. Tens of thousands of Americans and ANZACs died preventing what Sempill had helped the Japanese set out to achieve. A Scottish newspaper in May last year called Sempill a sleazy traitor”.

Sempill dancing with Princess Sibylla of Sweden in London in 1950.

There was enormous irony in all this. On the page of The Scotman’s edition of June 29 where an item announced Sempill’s accepting of his gift from Remington, the main photo was of General Douglas MacArthur at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. While still in Japan on occupation duties as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, in October 1949, MacArthur had accepted a $100,000-a-year executive role with Remington Rand. He went on to become chairman of the board. At Remington MacArthur joined Lieutenant General Leslie Richard Groves Jr, the US Army Corps of Engineers officer who directed the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb which smashed Japan into submission - and Sempill’s scheming with it. Groves took up a position as general manager of Remington Rand’s scientific research division in February 1948 and went on to become vice-president of Sperry Rand.

MacArthur with John Foster Dulles in Tokyo in June 1950.

MacArthur and Groves had in large part thwarted Sempill’s hopes of Japanese domination in the Pacific. And in 1950 they were both employed by the company which was giving Sempill a portable typewriter!

Groves in June 1949.

Scottish peer William Francis Forbes-Sempill, the 19th Lord Sempill, had been working for the Japanese military since 1920, initially in an official capacity but before and during World War II as a spy. His “handler” was Teijirō Toyoda, who served as Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1941 and was an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy. In the 1930s Sempill was an active member of  Far-Right, Fascist and Anti-Semitic organisations in Britain, including the Anglo-German Fellowship and The Right Club, a secretive organisation trying to rid the Conservative Party of Jews.

Sempill in 1955.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Sempill was given a position in the Department of Air Materiel at the British Admiralty, allowing him access to secret information about British aircraft. By June 1941, MI5 found Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Field Marshal Prince Yamagata Aritomo's Tokyo headquarters had Sempill on their payrolls and that Sempill was passing on top secret information about Fleet Air Arm aircraft. Special Branch arrested Mitsubishi Shoji’s London boss Makihara Satoru on suspicion of espionage, but Sempill got him freed. In August 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met in Newfoundland to discuss the military threat posed by the Japanese. Soon after, communications between the Japanese embassy in London and Tokyo were deciphered by the Bletchley Park code breakers: Sempill was suspected of giving the Japanese transcripts of the conference notes. Three months later, notes from Churchill's personal agenda and inner circle were intercepted as they were being sent by the Japanese Embassy in London to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. Admiralty had Sempill posted as far away as possible, to the North of Scotland, because Churchill wanted him cleared out “while time remains”. On December 13, 1941, six days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sempill's office was raided and secret documents were found. Two days later Sempill was discovered making phone calls to the Japanese Embassy.

Sempill showing a Gloster Sparrowhawk to Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō in 1921.

Most of the intelligence files on Sempill's activities during the 1930s and 1940s mysteriously disappeared from the National Archives. However, Public Record Office intelligence records released in 1998 and 2002 showed Sempill had been a spy for Japan from the 1920s and during the war. The National Archives said Sempill had also worked on behalf of Fascist contacts.

Remington standard typewriters going through quality control testing
at Hillington in Glasgow in the 1950s.

Quiet why the bounder Sempill was given the first “all-Scottish“ portable typewriter by Remington Rand was never published. It appears the presentation had something to do with a promise Remington Rand had made to Sempill in June 1949, eight months after the Hillington factory was opened, that it would have a fully British-manufactured typewriter on the market within a year.  Why Remington Rand made the promise to Sempill is not known. But it is safe to assume that, with MacArthur and Groves on its board, the company would have shied well clear of Sempill had it known of his pre-war and wartime activities.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Shocking Errors: When a Pristine 72-year-old Sholes & Glidden Typewriter Called 'Rosie' Was a Movie Star

Syndicated movie critic Harold Heffernan reported in his “On the Flicker Front” column, published in a string of newspapers across the US in 1945, that 20th Century-Fox had struck a deal with Remington Rand to use one of Remington’s most prized possessions, in a film called The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Remington had removed a pristine, fully decorated 1874 Sholes & Glidden typewriter from its place of pride in the company’s Ilion, New York, museum to be used in Hollywood by a number of actors, most notably by 20th Century-Fox’s major box office star, Betty Grable. In exchange, studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck had written a passing reference to Remington into the script and Grable was made available for cross promotional work - she appeared in Remington newspaper and magazine advertisements which were tied in with the movie’s release.

The typewriter Remington rented out to the studio was in its original state and in great working condition, as Grable amply demonstrated. The first thing she typed on it in the movie was an address, all in caps of course. And Grable showed how she had to lift the carriage in order to see what she had typed. But, then, what else would one expect from the young woman The Shocking Miss Pilgrim maintains is the leader among “the first typewriter graduates in the world”? A world, Ms Pilgrim says, in which women are the best typists. What great care she takes of her Sholes & Glidden in the movie - gently blowing off the straw that had protected it in the crate which had carried it from Ilion to Boston in 1874 film fantasy (it had actually gone from Ilion to Hollywood in 1945 wrapped in velvet). And in reality, it was multiple Oscar winner Thomas Little and his assistant Al Orenbach who were in charge of the Sholes & Glidden, among other, much less precious set props, while Australian Orry George Kelly was in charge of costumes. Viewers, crew and cast only caught a glimpse of eight inches of the right ankle on Grable’s famous and heavily insured legs. The Sholes & Glidden was on a treadle base, but viewers didn’t get to see much of its legs at all.

Grable began practising typing on the Sholes & Glidden in the second week of December 1945 – at a time when the film crew had taken to calling the typewriter “Rosie” (see the decorations). “The studio is making as much fuss over the typewriter as they are over their star,” wrote United Press’s Virginia MacPherson from Hollywood on Christmas Eve. MacPherson quoted The Shocking Miss Pilgrim’s director George Seaton as saying, “It’s a valuable museum piece. We had to rent it from the Remington company on an iron-clad condition that nothing would happen to it.
” Zanuck insured it for $5000 - $76,000 in today’s money, and hired a man specially to keep an eye on it for Little and Orenbach. Grable said she wasn’t an experienced typer and was glad touch typing wasn’t in use in 1874.

The final screenplay was written by Seaton from Zanuck’s heavy reworking of a story called Miss Pilgrim’s Progress by Frederica Alexandrina Sagor Maas and her husband Ernest Maas. The couple had sold their tale to 20th Century-Fox for $8000 in October 1939, more than seven years before the movie’s release. (In her 1999 autobiography, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood, written when Frederica was 99*, she said the price was $15,000, when the couple had expected more than $25,000, but documents in the 20th Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department and the 20th Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library say $8000 was the price. *Frederica Maas died on January 5, 2012, from natural causes, at the Country Villa nursing facility in La Mesa, California. She was 111½, at the time the 44th oldest verified person in the world.)

Frederica Maas had been working for a year in charge of the story department at Edward Small’s agency when she and Ernest started to develop the idea of a tale involving typewriter inventor Latham Sholes and the introduction of the typewriter by Remington in July 1874. Interestingly, the movie begins with a full-screen caption saying the story starts on June 10, 1874, three weeks before the Sholes & Glidden was actually launched on the market. The caption says June 10 was the date when “women became free – or at least independence winked at them for the first time. Not because Congress passed a law but because of the newly invented typewriter which was called most impractical - and a handful of daring young ladies who were called any number of things.”

Okay, it’s not only historically inaccurate, it makes no sense. The inaccuracies date right back to Frederica Maas’s original 1939 story. In The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood, she said Sholes invented the typewriter in 1873 (which is actually the year the rights to make it were taken up by Remington) and that Sholes exhibited it at the Chicago World’s Fair. The Chicago World’s Fair didn’t occur until 20 years later, in 1893, and it was the Blickensderfer typewriter which was launched there. Maas in her 1999 book also said the story was written in 1941. But by then the Maases, their agent Paul Kohner, and his story department head Irene Dickenson, had already hawked the story to the likes of RKO, MGM and Columbia. Norma Shearer, Ginger Rogers and Celeste Holm had been mentioned as possible leads. It was passed about before 20th Century-Fox finally purchased the screen rights in 1939. At least Maas got Sholes’ name right, unlike some typewriter ‘historians’, who still insist on calling him Christopher Sholes. She said she and Ernest “had been seriously researching the subject and finding it had intriguing possibilities: the invention of the typewriter and its social and economic influences on the world of business.”

Frederica Maas

The typewriter was, Maas wrote, “a machine strangely resembling a sewing machine, with a treadle to work the carriage, and printing only in capital letters”. Miss Pilgrim’s Progress emerged as “the tale of a young woman entering the field of business, hitherto strictly a male domain. Our heroine is hired to demonstrate the miraculous invention in the window of a New York Wall Street establishment. The historical consequence of that momentous day was the eventual disappearance of male scriveners and their tall writing desks, their office spittoons, their exclusive occupation and domination of the clerical aspects of business. All vanished, to be replaced by tables holding the fantastic treadle typewriter machine, magically manipulated by pompadoured females in high-necked starched shirtwaists tucked into full-length sweeping skirts over double petticoats. Yet the lofty male scriveners had no one to blame but themselves. Smug in the belief that the business terrain was securely theirs, they scorned the novelty machine and refused to learn to operate it.”

After 20th Century-Fox had acquired the rights to Miss Pilgrim’s Progress, studio screenwriters worked on the project from 1940, starting with Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, then Darrell Ware and Karl Tunberg (below, with IBM typewriter) and Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt. Even then it was only after producer Bill Perlberg saw Jeanne Crain and crooner Dick Haymes in State Fair in 1945 that he decided to bring the two back together - and dug Miss Pilgrim’s Progress out of the studio’s vaults. Crain didn’t hold on to the lead role for long, as Zanuck opted for Grable to star opposite Haymes. Meanwhile, lyricist Ira Gershwin, working with composer Kate Shift, was going through a notebook of unpublished melodies left by his composer brother George, who had died of a brain tumour in July 1937.  Ira put the words to George’s tunes for what was shaping as a romantic musical (to the considerable chagrin of the Maases – Frederica was later to describe it as “The Desecration of Miss Pilgrim’s Progress”. She said it was “another stupid boy-meets-girl Zanuck travesty”.) The movie was finally released on January 4, 1947. (Marilyn Monroe made her film debut as the uncredited voice of a telephone operator).

The Zanuck-Seaton screenplay stuck to the facts in as much as Packard’s Business College did exist in New York in 1874. It was based in the Methodist Building at 805 Broadway. The movie begins with Cynthia Pilgrim being among a group of women included in a graduating class of typists. Remington’s representative hands out the positions secured by each graduate, and Miss Pilgrim goes to a shipping company in Boston. She ends up running the “Boston Academy of Typewriting”. The original Maas story is about an Abigail Pilgrim, and Frederica said in 1999, “It had the same potential as Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion … It was a good yarn. It still is. With its basic idea of women entering the workforce, it would have made a great picture … It had limitless, rich possibilities, and both Ernest and I knew it.”

The hero of Miss Pilgrim’s Progress initially falls in love with the typewriter the machine, not the typewriter the woman (“She is merely an adjunct to it,” wrote Maas later). He then teaches the heroine shorthand, much like the real-life Longleys. Then there is a tragedy with striking similarities to the 1894 mystery of ‘typewriter’ Martha Fuller’s death. Indeed, given the Maases obviously did do their research, Miss Pilgrim’s Progress may well have been inspired by the real-life Mae E. Orr, a champion speed typist and typing teacher who ultimately became a director at Remington, largely because she knew where the cupboards with all the skeletons were. There’s a scene in the movie (above) of a man making a sketch of Miss Pilgrim typing, just as there was in a very early Remington advert featuring Miss Orr. The Maases had certainly produced a story which was way, way closer to reality than the Zanuck movie portrays. One is chalk to the other’s cheese. For all that, I thoroughly recommend watching the movie, which is available on YouTube (you can skip through the musical interludes). (*The Longleys, Martha Fuller and Mae E. Orr have all been thoroughly covered on this blog.)

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Typewriters in Today’s Colombian Conflict

Manual portable typewriters are the counter weapons of choice in the discord going on in Cali, Colombia. These photos were taken last week showing high school and university teachers and students typing stories about how they have been affected by the armed conflict crippling the country. Many students were among the 78 people between the ages of 17 and 26 who died in encounters with police over the April-June period in protests against right-wing president Ivan Duque. Most of the fatalities were in Cali, the epicentre of a general strike.

The Latin American News Agency reports from Cali that the typewritten stories have been pegged to clothes lines in an exhibit on a hilltop that is home to a park, a food and crafts market and casual eateries. It was known as Loma de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) but came to be known as Loma de la Dignity (Hill of Dignity) during the strike against Duque’s government.

The typewritten stories tell of students who have perished in the course of Colombia’s decades-long internal strife in a “Cartas Ambulantes” (“Walking Letters”) project proposed by the Truth Commission, created under the 2016 peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. One such story tells of a student named Jose, who died in 1971 in a police massacre at Universidad del Valle. Another is about Jonny Rodriguez, a law student who died in 2019, allegedly of an accidental detonation while handling explosives. “The truth is that police threw a bomb at my son,” his mother Alba said as she looked at the stories.