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Saturday, 18 January 2020

Death of a Great Journalist

                            Bernard Diederich typing his copy on a Remington-Rand portable
                                       at his newspaper, the Haiti Sun, in the early 1950s.
Checking my blog's page views just now, I noted that there had been, in the past few days, 438 views of my December 14, 2015, post on the great New Zealand-born journalist Bernard Diederich. I immediately sensed that Bernard had passed away, and sure enough glowing obituaries in The New York Times and elsewhere confirmed he had died, aged 93, in Haiti last Tuesday. He will be buried today, with a rock from Makara Beach, outside Wellington in New Zealand, in his hand.
Bernard, who braved dictators and disasters in covering civil wars, coups, earthquakes and hurricanes across the Caribbean islands and Central America, must rank as one of the greatest journalists of the 20th Century. He was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on July 18, 1926.
To my enormous pride, Bernard himself absolutely loved my blog post of 2015. I recommend reading it here.
See also The New York Times obit, which for detail about Bernard's remarkable life relied very heavily on my post, here.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Tom Hanks Downsizing, Knocks Back Treasured Typewriter

Last week a retired library director in Johnsburg, Illinois, posted on Twitter about an exchange of correspondence she had had early last year with typewriter collector Tom Hanks. Marie Zawacki, 62, had offered Hanks her late father’s Erika portable typewriter to add to an already sizeable Hanks collection. Mrs Zawacki said her father, Josef Metzger, had "smuggled" the Erika out of Germany when he immigrated to the United States as a World War II refugee. Under the International Refugee Organisation, Hungarian-born Metzger (1928-2017) arrived in New York from Bremerhaven in the then West Germany on the USS General M.B. Stewart in early November 1951, and immediately settled in McHenry County, Illinois.
Josef Metzger on the USS M.B. Stewart
On Facebook last February Mrs Zawacki explained, “I found [the typewriter] in the back of a closet when cleaning out [her parents’] house. [I thought it] might find a new home [in Hanks’s collection]. I was able to ask dad about it before he died [in Woodstock on April 24, 2017] and he said he brought it from Germany in his steamer trunk and he wasn’t supposed to.”
Maria Zawacki with her late father, Josef Metzger
Mrs Zawacki wrote to Hanks through the Knopf Publishing Group, which in October 2017 published his book Uncommon Type. Last week she said “I will treasure Tom’s letter forever … It’s in an archival quality frame, proudly displayed near the typewriter.”
In a warm, tactfully written reply, Hanks turned down the offer of the “smuggle-worthy” Erika and said he was downsizing his typewriter collection. He ended his letter with the words, “A typewriter not in or with no personal connection is a story, a tragic one, in and of itself.”

Sunday, 5 January 2020

The Lives Of Us (And Our Lethal Typewriters)

An early Torpedo 18, the typewriter of choice for East German playwright Georg Dreyman before he acquired a Groma Kolibri in the movie The Lives of Others.
Housebound by blistering heat (111+ degrees, 44 Celsius) and a dense shroud of suffocating bushfire smoke, we have found some brief hiatus in watching DVDs of old movies. First up was the German language The Lives of Others, which I hadn’t seen in more than a decade, since it first appeared on cinema screens. Back then I suspect I was so engrossed by the appearance of the little green Groma Kolibri portable typewriter with a red ribbon – which I had considered to be the true star of the movie - that I missed many of the nuances in this brilliant work of art from Florian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck. Now, having watched it again and taken in much more of its rich texture, I’ve been looking at reviews which had appeared in 2007. My favourite movie reviewer is Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, and I thought this line of Lane’s - from “Guilty Parties” in the February 12, 2007 issue - especially topical and telling: “This [obligation to write about the terrible suicide rate in East Germany] means smuggling in an untraceable typewriter - more lethal than a gun, in the land of a controlled press - and smuggling out the copy.”
            Some critics had apparently not appreciated the “humanisation” of one of the two lead characters, Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler (played by Ulrich Mühe). But with the benefit of my much later viewing – the viewing, I might add, of a far calmer, more congenial viewer – I found myself agreeing utterly with Lane’s appraisal: “One of the marvels of Ulrich Mühe’s performance - in its seething stillness, its quality not just of self-denial but of self-haunting - is that he never distills Wiesler into a creature purely of his times. You can imagine him, with his close-cropped hair, as a young Lutheran in the wildfire of the early Reformation, or as a lost soul finding a new cause in the Berlin of 1933.” With 2020 hindsight, it's clear that one could also see Wiesler as a fundamentally decent man in these troubled times, increasingly compelled to resist the forces of blatant political corruption, bastardry and malice.
           Not much has changed in 13 years - perhaps in a unified Germany, but certainly not in the Ukraine and not in the US of A. As Lane went on, See [Wiesler] crouched in a loft above [Georg] Dreyman’s home with a typewriter, a tape deck, and headphones clamped to his skull. Watch the nothingness on his face as he taps out his report on the couple’s actions … Slowly, the tables turn. Wiesler steals Dreyman’s copy of Brecht and takes it home to read; he starts to omit details in his official account; and, for some fathomless reason - guilt, curiosity, longing - he lets the lives of others run their course.” As part of this engrossing process, Lane might have added Wiesler’s listening to Dreyman’s piano playing, of Sonata for a Good Man from sheet music given to playwright Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) as a 40th birthday gift by the suicidal, blacklisted director Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert).
      The superslim Kolibri
The Lives of Others was released in 2006 and was the feature film debut of Donnersmarck (whose name, Lane wrote, “makes him sound like a lover with a duelling scar on his cheekbone in a 19th-century novel”). The movie went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  Its ending is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a movie. Lane summed it up well: “Against all odds, though, the best is yet to come: an ending of overwhelming simplicity and force, in which the hopes of the film - as opposed to its fears, which have shivered throughout - come gently to rest. What happens is that a character says, ‘Es ist für mich’ – ‘It’s for me.’ When you see the film, as you must, you will understand why the phrase is like a blessing. To have something bestowed on ‘me’—not on a tool of the state, not on a scapegoat or a sneak, but on me—is a sign that individual liberties have risen from the dead. You might think that The Lives of Others is aimed solely at modern Germans—at all the Wieslers, the Dreymans, and the weeping Christa-Marias. A movie this strong, however, is never parochial, nor is it period drama. Es ist für uns. It’s for us.”

Not only is it for us, but it is also – as I found to my great delight today – a film very much for our times. It speaks to our present-day fears, in a world where political corruption – in just about every major country one can think of – is more rife and strident than ever before. The film unobtrusively signals the demise of the Communist Bloc with a newspaper headline announcing Mikhail Gorbachev’s elevation to Soviet presidency, but the end of the USSR has merely ushered in of new era of extreme Right Wing Fascism and an almost universal undermining of democracy. The Lives of Others is definitely well worth watching all over again. It very much remains timely.
An East German forensic document examiner demonstrates different typewriter fonts to the Stasi.
A.O. Scott wrote in The New York Times on February 9, 2007 (“A Fugue for Good German Men”), Wiesler and Dreyman, as true patriots, needed to commit treason. And treason is exactly what Donald Trump is accusing Democrats of committing in their efforts to impeach him.  Scott said,  “ … as Georg is driven toward actions that implicate him, for the first time, in dissident activity, Wiesler becomes convinced of Georg’s essential innocence and takes steps to protect him. The plot, as it acquires the breathless momentum of a thriller, also takes on the outlines of a dark joke. The poet and the secret policeman - both writers, in their differing fashions - may be the only two true patriots in the whole German Democratic Republic; in other words, the only people who take the Republic’s stated ideals at face value. But since the nation itself functions by means of the wholesale and systematic betrayal of those ideals, the only way Wiesler and Georg can express their loyalty is by committing treason.” How pointed is that in terms of the republic of the United States and its stated ideals, and a “wholesale and systematic betrayal of those ideals” in 2019-20? East Germany and the Stasi may be gone, but their ghosts appear to be living on, at least in Washington DC.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Typewriters Return to The Canberra Times!

Great piece by our Typospherian and journalist friend Jasper Lindell in this morning's Canberra Sunday Times. This was on page 2 and Jasper's stories led pages 1, 2, 3 and 4 - must be some kind of a record (for a typewriting reporter).

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Portable Typewriters Popular at Christmas 1919-1989

1919 - 100 Years Ago
1929 - 90 Years Ago
1939 - 80 Years Ago
1949 - 70 Years Ago
1959 - 60 Years Ago
1969 - 50 Years Ago
1979 - 40 Years Ago
1989 - 30 Years Ago

Monday, 23 December 2019

Not So Many Happy Returns: The Future Prime Minister's Typewritten Letter to a 'Noble' Son

On Boxing Day 1931, future Australian Prime Minister and knight Earle Christmas Grafton Page (1880-1961) sat at his typewriter in the Federal parliamentarians’ room of the GPO in Brisbane and typed his eldest son, Earle Charles Page, a letter. The senior Page wished the young man “many happy returns” on his 21st birthday, and congratulated Earle Jr “on attaining your majority”.
Sadly, Earle Jr was not to enjoy “many happy returns”, but just the one.
A year and three weeks after Page had typed his Boxing Day letter, Earle Jr, still aged just 22, was dead. On January 14, 1933, he was killed by a lighting bolt while on horseback, driving 112 head of cattle with his younger brother Iven (correct spelling) from Nettle Creek on the Baryulgil Road, 11 miles outside Copmanhurst in the Clarence Valley of the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, between Grafton and the Page property Heifer Station (now a vineyard).
Still, young Earle had packed a lot into his short life. He had graduated from Sydney University as a Bachelor in Veterinary Science in 1932, and that same year, as a lightweight wing forward, had won his rugby Blue and played in two “Test” matches against New Zealand Universities, as well as being a reserve for the NSW State team.
Page senior's Boxing Day letter was full of moralistic fatherly advice – “Avoid fast women” was one recurring theme. “Fast women,” warned the politician, “are the hounds of disease & death”. “Live as far as far as possible with noble thoughts … Live clean, think straight, act honestly, despise dirt & hate it whether physical, sexual, literary or spoken. Remember that you bear an honoured name …” “Do not drink till you are 45 & then you will not want to. Avoid every form of gambling, even the simplest, like the plague.”
Earle Page Snr at his desk in Canberra.
The senior Earle Page and his wife were so traumatised by their son's death that Page immediately retired from politics. However, he later returned to Canberra and as Sir Earle Page became this nation’s caretaker Prime Minister upon the death of Joe Lyons in 1939. He held the office for three weeks until Bob Menzies began his first term as PM. In the House, Page was to accuse Menzies of ministerial incompetence and cowardice for failing to enlist during World War I. Whatever one may think of his overly righteous instructions to his son, in this case Page was obviously a very good judge of character.
Page’s letter to Earle Jr is on display in the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) in Canberra, beside the “Yours Faithfully” exhibition.
 Page Snr was the grandfather of noted Australian poet Geoff Page (below).

Sunday, 22 December 2019

'Yours Faithfully' - Letter Writing With Typewriters

Last week we were invited to have a look at the way the "Yours Faithfully" exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) had been set up. The exhibition, which had opened the day before (December 17th), is expected to continue until at least the middle of 2021. The curators have "held back" four of the 10 manual portable typewriters I either supplied or serviced, thinking it a good idea to have "fresh" interchange reserves for what they expect will be a steady fray of typing letters. Waiting in the wings for their turn to go into action are a Facit TP1, an Olympia Traveller, a Remington Envoy III and a Silver-Reed 100.
The six typewriters already out for use are evenly spread around the large room. I very much like the arrangement and the various posters on display. It's good that the curators (one of whom, by the way, comes from Richard Polt's home city of Cincinnati) have asked visitors to treat the typewriters with respect and kindness, and to take good care of them. That's not always going to be the case, we know that full well. But I'm on stand-by to make any running repairs that may be necessary.  The first thing I noticed on entering the room was that little fingers can't resist playing with well inked ribbon - there were already black smudges over most of the typewriters. Sydney typewriter collector Richard Amery is also on stand-by, to supply new ribbons, as the stock at my local supplier has been exhausted (until March!).
The curators have a good collection of typewriter- and letter writing-related books to peruse, and they'll soon be adding Richard Polt's still highly-relevant "The Typewriter Revolution" to these shelves.