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Monday, 6 April 2020

The Hills Were Alive With the Sound of Typewriters

Marta Feuchtwanger (née Löffler; 1891-1987), widow of Lion Feuchtwanger, photographed with a Smith-Corona portable typewriter in 1985, in the library at Villa Aurora, at 520 Paseo Miramar, in the Pacific Palisades north of Los Angeles, a Spanish-style mansion overlooking the ocean. The Feuchtwangers settled here at the start of 1943.The Villa was built in 1927-28 and was a 20-room house with a massive garden that gave direct access to the beach. Marta was captivated by the view from the garden over the Bay of Santa Monica.
The thought "the hills were alive with the sound of typewriters" came to me, naturally, when I read Alex Ross’s article under the banner “Onward and Upward with the Arts” in the March 9 edition of The New Yorker. The article, titled “Exodus: The Haunted Idyll of Exiled German Novelists in Wartime Los Angeles” appears online as “The Haunted California Idyll of German Writersin Exile: Wartime émigrés in LA felt an excruciating dissonance between theircircumstances and the horrors unfolding in Europe.”
Bertolt Brecht with his Erika portable.
Ross opened thus: “You can visit all the addresses in the course of a long day.” He went on to list the writers: “Bertolt Brecht lived in a two-story clapboard house on Twenty-sixth Street, in Santa Monica. The novelist Heinrich Mann resided a few blocks away, on Montana Avenue. The screenwriter Salka Viertel held gatherings on Mabery Road, near the Santa Monica beach. Alfred Döblin, the author of Berlin Alexanderplatz, had a place on Citrus Avenue, in Hollywood. His colleague Lion Feuchtwanger occupied the Villa Aurora [at 520 Paseo Miramar], a Spanish-style mansion overlooking the Pacific; among its amusements was a Hitler dartboard.
Vicki Baum with her Mignon.
“Vicki Baum, whose novel Grand Hotel brought her a screenwriting career, had a house on Amalfi Drive, near the leftist composer Hanns Eisler. Alma Mahler-Werfel, the widow of Gustav Mahler, lived with her third husband, the best-selling Austrian writer Franz Werfel, on North Bedford Drive, next door to the conductor Bruno Walter.
Elizabeth Hauptmann at her Corona 3 portable, with  Brecht.
“Elisabeth Hauptmann, the co-author of The Threepenny Opera, lived in Mandeville Canyon, at the actor Peter Lorre’s ranch. The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno rented a duplex apartment on Kenter Avenue, meeting with Max Horkheimer, who lived nearby, to write the post-Marxist jeremiad Dialectic of Enlightenment. At a suitably lofty remove, on San Remo Drive, was Thomas Mann, Heinrich’s brother, the august author of The Magic Mountain.

The New Yorker illustration by Cristiana Couceiro, showing, clockwise from top: Franz Werfel, Salka Viertel, Lion Feuchtwanger, Thomas Mann.Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro. 

“In the nineteen-forties, the West Side of Los Angeles effectively became the capital of German literature in exile. It was as if the cafés of Berlin, Munich, and Vienna had disgorged their clientele onto Sunset Boulevard. The writers were at the core of a European émigré community that also included the film directors Fritz Lang, Max Ophuls, Otto Preminger, Jean Renoir, Robert Siodmak, Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder, and William Wyler; the theatre directors Max Reinhardt and Leopold Jessner; the actors Marlene Dietrich and Hedy Lamarr; the architects Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra; and the composers Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Seldom in human history has one city hosted such a staggering convocation of talent.”
Cyd Charisse (at an Olympia portable), Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, and Joseph Buloff in Silk Stockings (1957).

Friday, 3 April 2020

What Is It About Typewriters and Boxing? (Part 1)

“There’s blood on my typewriter.”
Psychologist Dr Joyce Brothers (1927-2013) in an interview with Rosemary Jones of the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Morning Call, April 11, 1993.

Typing his “Sports Splutterings” column on a Woodstock in Cleveland, Ohio, Walter Lawrence Johns (1911-2002), long-serving sports editor for the Central Press Association, a division of King Features Syndicate, declared her the “new flyweight boxing champion of the TV world”. She’d “kayoed a flock of heavyweight questions” in a long count bout that matched Tunney versus Dempsey at Soldier Field, Chicago in 1927, wrote Johns. Blonde psychologist Joyce Diane Bauer Brothers, a 5ft tall, 101-pound, 28-year-old mother had, in a sustained campaign of 20 months in the mid-1950s, seen off all other contenders and her challengers to win a purse that would equate today to $1.24 million. The challengers included former world light-heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, a man who’d beaten Jack Sharkey, Max Baer and James J. Braddock, all world heavyweight champions.

Aside from promotional photographs to celebrate her wins, Joyce Brothers never donned a pair of gloves. On December 6, 1955, just turned 28, Joyce Brothers became only the second person, and the only woman ever, to win CBS’s The $64,000 Question by answering seven questions on the TV show. Brothers won another $4000 on June 24, 1956, by beating a challenger to her title. On October 27, 1957, Brothers repeated her 1955 effort by winning the $64,000 Challenge, for a grand total of $132,000. Her subject each time? The history of boxing, ancient and modern. 
Joyce Brothers and Bobo Olson at the weigh-in
Brothers’ expertise reaped other rewards. Three nights after winning her first quiz jackpot, she covered the world middleweight title fight between Sugar Ray Robinson and Carl “Bobo” Olson at the Chicago Stadium for the United Press wire service (the story she typed at ringside revealed Stanley Ketchel was her favourite fighter, “although he was considerably before my time”). Hers is possibly the only title fight report byline which started with “By Dr …” and the words “I couldn’t have been more wrong” (she had tipped Olson to win). On March 25, 1958, Brothers also became the first woman to commentate on a world title fight on television, when she provided between-rounds “colour” for CBS during the Robinson-Carmen Basilio middleweight bout at the Chicago Stadium.

The Newspaper Enterprise Association wire service, in a nod to Damon Runyon, quoted Mushky Magee of the International Boxing Club as saying, “This gal has to be 8 to 5 – that’s in man-to-man betting – to go all the way. Couldja imagine her and all she got stuck in her cropper talking about percentages with Al Weill [former matchmaker at Madison Square Garden]? She might wind up conning him out of the whole building.” Sammy Richman added, “We all wanna know who’s gonna be the dame’s manager.”
“Truly, the typewriter of the heavyweights has been busy these days.”
New York newspaper heralding the coming of Jack Johnson, 1906
For six solid days there’d been talk of nothing but typewriters (with the odd old map thrown in). Then it came time for me to leave Cincinnati, and Richard Polt drove me to the Union Terminal. As we passed through Over-the-Rhine and across the West End, I noticed we were on Ezzard Charles Drive. I was as surprised to see the Cincinnati Cobra thus honoured (he was Atlantan by birth, a Buckeye by early adoption) as Richard was than I knew of him. But then the conversation quickly got back on track, because there’s a 1951 Press photo out there of Ezzard Charles sitting, behind an L.C. Smith standard typewriter, at a newspaper sports desk.
Herbert Slade and John L. Sullivan
        Once inside the Union Terminal I soon found a wonderful picture card of the Galveston Giant himself, John Arthur Johnson. But was genial Jack really the first non-white to fight for the world heavyweight championship? Oh, no. That honour belongs to the Māori Herbert Augustus Slade (1851-1913), who faced the Boston Strong Boy John L. Sullivan before 12,000 people at the Madison Square Garden on August 6, 1883, five months after Slade had given exhibitions in Cincinnati with Jem Mace. The Cincinnati Enquirer said of the Sullivan fight, “It is over, and again the laurels of victory encircle the brows of the champion. Sullivan, our pugilistic Alexander, having conquered all who dared face him from New or Old Worlds, adds the antipodean scalp to his belt, and can now rightfully claim to be the champion of the world.”

        John L. Sullivan’s quick-fire bare-fisted jabbing on white and coloured faces so impressed Kansas writer Joshua Short that in 1891, a year before Sullivan relinquished the world title to Gentleman Jim Corbett, with gloves and under Marquis of Queensbury rules in New Orleans, Short conjured a machine called the “John L. Sullivan Automatic Typewriter” for a story titled “A Typewriter Romance” in the Salina Vade Mecum. A “beautiful and winsom damsel” called Rosalinda Matilda Fortier was the agent for the Sullivan Automatic in Short’s little homily. A half-tone illustration of the typewriter appeared on the lower left hand corner of the wedding cards when Rosa married W. Wolsey Wycliffe. Sadly, the John L. Sullivan typewriter never existed outside of Short’s fertile imagination. 
           A latter-day Joshua Short was Russell Baker (above), who died, aged 93, on January 21 last year. Baker was a columnist for The New York Times. In 1977 he wrote a piece satirising a Manhattan party set-to between Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, in which Baker matched Henry James (“working out on the big typewriter”) with John L. Sullivan (“hanging around James’s typewriter urging the great belletrist to discuss existentialism …”).

“No other subject is, for the writer, so intensely personal as boxing. To write about boxing is to write about oneself - however elliptically, and unintentionally.”
Joyce Carol Oates (1938?-) in her preface to On Boxing, 1987, written with a Remington manual portable typewriter, or was it a Smith-Corona by then?)
        What is it about typewriters and boxing? (And Joyces who are boxing fanatics?) Richard Polt, of course, spent his formative years in Oakland, California, a place closely associated with at least two famous typewriter-wielding boxing writers. Well, one in particular: Jack London. The other was the man who gave the English language the word “hype”, Herbert Anthony Aloysius “Hype” Igoe (1877-1945), who came from Santa Cruz but spent time in Oakland. Igoe was considered by no less an authority than Damon Runyon as “probably the best informed writer on boxing who ever lived”.          
The other Oaklander, London, grew up in the East Bay area but didn’t write a lot about boxing. Yet by chance he came to cover arguably the most significant bout in history, the one in Sydney on Boxing Day 1908 when Jack Johnson became the first African-American world heavyweight champion. London boasted in his fight story in The New York Herald, “I often put on the gloves myself, and, take my word for it, I am really delightfully clever when my opponent is a couple of stone lighter than I am, half a foot or so shorter, and about half as strong. On such occasion I can show what I’ve got in me, and I can smile all the time, scintillate brilliant repartee and dazzling persiflage, and in the clinches talk over the political situation and the Broken Hill [Australian mining] troubles with the audience.”

“My writing is nothing. My boxing is everything.”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) in an interview with Josephine Herbst, Key West, Florida, 1930.
        Following in the shuffles of Jack London, many other writers have put aside their typewriters and pulled on the gloves, most notably Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabakov, Norman Mailer and George Plimpton (the last two sat ringside together for the greatest bout ever, when Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974).

In Paris in July 1922 Hemingway cajoled Ezra Pound into teaching Hemingway to write in exchange for Hemingway teaching Pound to box. Hemingway and his first wife Hadley also sparred with Gertrude Stein, until things got a bit ugly and Stein drew blood. Pound and Hemingway were part of Stein’s The Crowd, which jollied together at The Jockey. Another member was Mina Loy, whose Swiss-born husband, Fabian Avenarius Lloyd (better known as Arthur Cravan), was a nephew of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, whose lover, Lord Arthur Douglas, was the son of the aforesaid Marquess of Queensland, of boxing rules fame. Whether this dubious connection emboldened said Lloyd-Cravan is not known, but in the most brazen act yet of writer-crazily-takes-on-fighter, the begloved poet Cravan entered a bullring in Barcelona and faced none other than the mighty Jack Johnson. Johnson was, for the time being, cash-strapped and exiled in Barcelona, and needed funds to hire two American jazz bands for the café he was running. Cravan, described as a prototype for the Dada movement, was left gaga after six rounds of Johnson gesticulating rather than jabbing.

By comparison, Plimpton did actually go through the motions of boxing. In January 1959 Plimpton survived three rounds of “sparring” with the immortal Archie Moore in Stillman’s Gym in Manhattan for a Sports Illustrated story. There’s an hilarious blow-by-blow description by Plimpton of the day Moore “kilt some guy” at Stillman’s at The Sweet Science. Did Plimpton offer himself up for further humiliation, at the hands of “pound for pound, the greatest fighter ever”? It seems like half a million online experts (including Wikipedia) will have us think so, and that Plimpton also sparred with Sugar Ray Robinson – there’s even a photo which purports to show a bloodied Plimpton with a laughing Robinson. The truth is Moore felt he was too out of shape to play his 1959 self in the 1968 film of Plimpton’s 1966 book Paper Lion, so the script was changed and Robinson, at age 48, stepped in and sparred with Alan Alda, who was acting the role of Plimpton. Robinson was paid $1500 for a day’s light work.

        Plimpton had been inspired to face Moore after being told by America’s Cup yachtsman Mike Vanderbilt in Palm Beach in 1958 about another writer who’d challenged a champion boxer. And without a doubt, the funniest typewriter pounder versus punchbag pounder mismatch was when Paul Gallico took on Jack Dempsey while Dempsey was in Saratoga’s White Sulphur Springs preparing to defend his world title against Argentine’s Wild Bull of the Pampas, Luis Ángel Firpo, in September 1923. No so funny for Gallico, perhaps, but side-splitting for all those who saw Gallico, down on all fours, trying to hang on to the canvas and stop the ring from spinning backwards and forwards. Gallico, sent to Dempsey’s den by the New York Daily News, looked the part – he was 6ft 3, 190lb and had stroked the varsity rowing crew. But he had never boxed. Hype Igoe warned him Dempsey never took it easy on anyone, and the “bout” lasted 1min 37sec, most of it spent with Dempsey holding a groggy Gallico up and dancing. Gallico wrote, “I was assisted from the enclosure and taken some place else to lie down until my addled wits collected themselves sufficiently for me to get to my typewriter. I had a splitting headache and was grateful to be alive.”

Dempsey might have made a dizzied mess of Gallico, but typewriters would, on behalf of writers, soon have their revenge.
                      TO BE CONTINUED

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

From World Champion Type-writer to Oakland Champion Golfer: The True Story of the Turbulent Life and Times of Frank E. McGurrin, Self-Made Millionaire (Part I)

Frank Edward McGurrin was just 17, a trainee stenographer and a law student when, in 1878, he set off on a quest to find the ultimate speed of a manual typewriter. At Butte, Montana, on May 25, 1891, he reached it: a world record 167 words in a minute, typing one full sentence 10 times and reaching “Now is the time for all good” of the 11th.
Frank was of Irish stock. His surname comes from the Irish Mag Corraidhín, which is derived from corradh, or spear, and when it came to using a typewriter, Frank’s fingers were like rapid javelins. Frank’s father, Manus McGurrin (1812-94), from Crossmolina on the River Dee in the Barony of Tyrawley in County Mayo, arrived in the United States in 1849. Manus McGurrin settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he married a Kilkenny-born woman, Ellen Malone (1829-1894). Manus worked as a carpenter and with Ellen raised a family of nine children. Their offspring included two world record-breaking typists.
Frank McGurrin certainly knew how to spear the typebars of his Remingtons – or should I say not spare the tinny first typewriter’s workings. From 1888 until 1906, McGurrin held audiences spellbound right across the United States and in Britain, typing at such blinding speeds that his typescripts had to be passed out among the crowds, so that people could judge his staggering, near perfect output with their own eyes. McGurrin usually typed blindfolded, and was then only restrained by the dictation of an assistant – he could type far faster than anyone could read the copy and speak the words.
When McGurrin began his quest, typewriters had only been on the market for four years and, regardless of whether they were Sholes & Gliddens or the marginally improved and somewhat steadier version, the Remington No 1, they were still clunky if not solid, the keytops heavy to the fingers and the carriages relatively slow in movement. Any thoughts that typewriters might be operated by a person using all eight fingers and one thumb, or could be used to type 167 words in a minute, were very much a long way distant.

In 1878 McGurrin was using a Remington No 1 standard in the offices of New York-born lawyer Daniel E. Corbitt (1835-1921) at 57 Pearl Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Corbitt had bought the Sholes & Glidden typewriter second-hand and he and McGurrin competed while practising to use the machine, on which the hefty tug of a string returned the carriage and “a sledgehammer blow was required to depress the keys”. McGurrin proved the faster after some months of rivalry, and Corbitt gave up, turning his attention instead to backing Harry Martin Geiger’s invention of a typewriter-style cash register. But in order to “take the conceit” out of McGurrin, Corbitt concocted a story about seeing a young woman, Lillias Lavina Haney (1856-1933), typing “blind” in the office of Kent county court stenographer Henry F. Walch (1848-1920) at 101 Sheldon Street. Corbitt, talking loudly enough for McGurrin to overhear him, told of how Miss Haney typed quite rapidly from Welch’s dictation while looking out a window. It was not until 1880 that McGurrin met Haney and learned the truth – that she had never attempted to type without looking at the keyboard.
Lillias Lavina Haney
By then, events which would transform the entire history of the typewriter were well and truly underway. Before the end of 1878, McGurrin had firmly established, at least for his own benefit, the tenets of touch typing. “ … boy like, I made up my mind that whatever a girl could do I could, so I set to work to learn to operate without looking at the keyboard. I discarded my former method of two or three fingers and determined to use all my fingers. Before the end of the year 1878 I could write upwards of 90 words a minute in new matter” (that is, previously unseen copy).
        In his own little typewriting world, things had moved very quickly for Frank McGurrin with his special skills. Yet astonishingly, given the impact the advent of touch typing would have on the typewriter industry, there was to be a full decade between McGurrin’s mastery of the technique and the wider world finding out about it. In the interim, there was scant recognition of McGurrin’s typing achievements. On September 1, 1881, Ithaca stenographer Theodore Cuyler Rose (1843-1921) gave a talk on “The Future of the Profession” at Palmer House, Chicago, during the convention of the International Association of Shorthand Writers of the United States and Canada. In his speech, Rose said, “Within the past week I saw a young man in an office in Grand Rapids write on a test 97 words on the typewriter and read the copy. He did not look at the machine at all but kept his eyes on the copy.”
        Rose’s words about McGurrin, however, remained pretty much confined to those who heard him utter them that day in Chicago. They were not reported in newspapers at the time, but eventually found their way into various magazines and books recording proceedings and transactions of national and state stenography, shorthand and phonography associations. Even then, it would be almost 6½ more years before someone decided to take up their implicit challenge.
In the meantime, McGurrin got on with his life. On July 8, 1885, he was appointed by Michigan Governor Russell A. Alger as official stenographer of the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Kalamazoo (a position in which he was later succeeded by his brother Charles H. McGurrin [1866-1915], who also succeeded Frank as world speed typing record holder). On June 30, 1886, Frank McGurrin married Jennie A. Darling in Paw Paw, Michigan, with Charles as a witness. On September 15, Frank was appointed official stenographer for the Third Federal Court District in Salt Lake City, after a contest against other contenders in which he’d shown “marked ability”. He was to hold the post for eight years.
As for his search for typing speed, McGurrin acquired a Remington No 2. Compared to the Sholes & Glidden and Remington No 1, the No 2 was a vast improvement. It was far sturdier, much better designed and more competently made. Plus it had carriage shift. In an article published in The Phonographic World in February 1889, McGurrin persuasively argued that the carriage shift gave Remington typists a distinct advantage when speed typing against double-keyboard operators. “In typewriting,” he said, “the speed is limited by the action of the mind, and not of the fingers.” McGurrin’s typing system, in which he did not use his left thumb, was to hit the spacebar with his right thumb - he employed the shift key fleetingly with his left little finger – was ideally suited to the Remington No 2. There was no wrist movement. McGurrin wrote, “The method commonly in use, of depressing the shift-key first, and then striking the capital desired, is erroneous. The proper way is to make the depression of the shift-key and the stroke of the letter exactly simultaneous. A perfect capital letter will be obtained in this way without loss of time.”
On June 7, 1887, McGurrin left Salt Lake City on three months’ leave, travelling east in the hope of finding speed typing competition. The Salt Lake City Daily Tribune boldly forecast he would “make the typewriting fraternity there [in New York City] feel like looking around for a final resting place by his unparalleled speed on the machine.”
Frank McGurrin publically laid claim to being the “first typewriter in the country” (first that is, in terms of speed) in an article announcing his Salt Lake City appointment, which appeared in the Salt Lake Daily Tribune on September 10, 1886. The article went on to report that McGurrin was “willing to put up $500 [$13,500 in today’s money] that no one can beat him”. At the time McGurrin’s top speed was put at 100 words per minute. There were no takers, so McGurrin repeated the challenge in The Typewriter Operator in January, February and May 1888. The last was picked up and reprinted in The Cosmopolitan Shorthander in Toronto, Canada, and finally McGurrin found someone willing to take him on.
Louis A. Traub (1859-1916), a German-born typing and shorthand instructor in Cincinnati, Ohio, had arrived in the United States in 1882 without a word of English. Yet he quickly established himself as not just a typist and stenographer in his newly adopted language, but as a willing and competitive sportsman, always up for a challenge. In September 1883 he won a pedestrian (race walking) match by walking laps to amass 46 miles. Traub also bowled $500 stakes and attended the fight nights at Eureka Hall in the West End.
Initially he worked for A.J. Graham’s Phonographic Academy, but was to take over Longley's Short-Hand and Type-Writing Institute as manager after Margaret Longley joined her ailing husband Elias in Pasadena in 1885. Traub conditionally accepted McGurrin’s challenge on May 27, 1888. One of three revised terms for the typing contest that Traub insisted upon in his reply to The Cosmopolitan Shorthander was that Wyckoff, Seaman & Benedict, makers and sellers of the Remington, must not be involved, nor any other typewriter manufacturers. Traub and McGurrin staked $250 a side.
In a very strange connection, Traub once saved a woman from drowning herself after a domestic dispute, many years before McGurrin was involved in a very similar and in his case far more tragic event. Typing and shorthand aside, the only thing the pair really had in common was that they were both members of the Knights of Columbus.
Graham’s, like most such operations, had a deal with one of the then three extant typewriter manufacturers – in the case of Graham, it was through general agent C.G. Muller with Caligraph, a double keyboard machine with space bars on either side of the keyboard and a long central spring instead of a rear mainspring and drawband. Whatever led Traub to believe this machine could match the Remington No 2’s comparatively compact single keyboard with carriage shift will never be known. With the benefit of hindsight it would seem an impossible task. But Traub had a commercial commitment to the Caligraph company. Admittedly, no one could be certain until Traub faced McGurrin exactly how the Caligraph would fare.
Now called the Cincinnatian Hotel, it was the Bradford Block and the Palace Hotel, on the corner of Sixth and Vine, Cincinnati, when McGurrin and Taub faced off in 1888.

          In the event - on Wednesday, July 25, 1888 - the Caligraph fared very, very badly. The showdown started at 10.10am and ended at 12.20pm at the Longley Shorthand and Typewriting Institute at rooms 20-21 Bradford Block in Cincinnati. (The venue was close to what is today the Cincinnatian Hotel.) There was much praise for Traub’s performance in trying to stay the pace with McGurrin, but all could see it was a hopeless cause, and it was the machine rather than the man that McGurrin beat so convincingly. The Cincinnati Equirer reported, “It was evident that Mr Traub could operate faster than his machine would respond.”
        The Enquirer had previewed the contest, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, under the banner headlines: “Racing Typewriters. Championship of the World. Crack Operators on Rival Machines”. The event lasted 105 minutes, with a 15-minute rest between 45 minutes of typing from dictation and 45 minutes of typing from copy, all matter being ordinary court proceedings, new to both typists. The second half was a distinct advantage for McGurrin, who didn’t need to look at his keyboard. The judges and timekeepers were leading Cincinnati stenographers and typists Norman F. Dean, Edwin N. Williams and Buchanan Perin. McGurrin won the toss and chose dictation first, with Traub, in another room, typing from copy first. The scores: McGurrin 4294 from dictation (95.55wpm), 4415 from copy (98.11wpm), total 8709 (96.77wpm); Traub 3747 from dictation (83.26wpm), 3191 from copy (70.91wpm), total 6938 (77.01wpm). The margin in favour of McGurrin was 1771 words, or 25.38 per cent. Traub’s inability to type copy “blind” cost him dearly (a 1224-word difference); as well, McGurrin had made few mistakes, while Traub had made plenty. McGurrin had typed at an average of 7½ stokes a second.
        The next morning McGurrin gave another exhibition of his typing skills at the Bradford Block, then travelled east to New York City. By this time his Cincinnati achievement had come to the delighted notice of Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, manufacturers and sellers of the Remington typewriter. The Remington people had never had such positive, widespread free publicity as that generated nationally by the Traub match, and were quick to contact McGurrin and encourage him – with financial inducements - to stay on in the east for a while longer. The company out him up in the Astor Hotel. They were well aware their typewriter’s major test would come up at the first international championship, in Toronto in mid-August, and wanted McGurrin to join their official representative, $4000-a-year copyhouse proprieter Mae E. Orr (real name Mary Orr, 1866-1936) in Canada. Amazingly, Orr was a two-fingered typist, only using the forefinger on each hand.
A competition had been set up for Wednesday, August 1, by the Metropolitan Stenography Association of New York at 208 West 21st Street. The association had sent invitations to compete to Remington, Caligraph and Hammond on July 2, and all three had accepted. But when news came through that McGurrin’s Remington had trashed Traub’s Caligraph in Cincinnati, Caligraph and Hammond immediately withdrew from the New York event. The New York Star reported that McGurrin’s “unprecedented record  … appears to have had a salutary effect on all rival machines”. Naturally, Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict rubbed their hands in glee at this. Orr was the home town favourite, but was to suffer her first defeat. McGurrin had fewer errors deducted and won the $25 first prize by scoring 479 in five minutes (95.8wpm) to Orr’s 476 (95.2wpm). After the contest, McGurrin grabbed a book at random from the association’s library and wrote blindfolded from dictation 101 words in a minute, still well short of his personal best of 114.5.
Two days later McGurrin addressed an open letter to the Caligraph’s manufacturer, the American Writing Machine Company of Hartford, Connecticut, which was published in The Washington Post. He complained that he had travelled 2500 miles to take on Caligraph operators, and challenged the AWMC to send a representative, at McGurrin’s expense, to New York City, offering a prize of up to $500. The offer wasn’t taken up; Caligraph bided its time until the Toronto championships. Perhaps it believed that stiffer opposition than he had encountered in Cincinnati might catch McGurrin by surprise.
        McGurrin had suggested tests of 30 minutes or more for his New York challenge, but he was always willing to “consent” to one-minute exhibition sprints, which often involved repeating the sentence “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party”. McGurrin consistently maintained, however, that he placed little store in the outcomes of these fast bursts of typing, and only indulged in them because “operators of rival machines resort to such one-minute tests in order to produce misleading results. I attach no importance to them”.
McGurrin’s barb was at least in part directed at the Caligraph exponent Thomas W. Osborne (1860-1931), a Philadelphia-born stenographer with Vacuum Oil (and formerly with Little & Griffith) in Rochester, New York, about whom both the Caligraph’s manufacturers and the typist himself made some extraordinary speed typing claims – few of which were borne out by his efforts in competition.
        Osborne carried Caligraph’s hopes into the first official world championships, staged by the Canadian Shorthand Society at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall on Monday, August 13, 1888. The 10 entrants had to type five minutes of legal testimony and five minutes of ordinary correspondence, all new matter to them. It did prove a very different proposition to Cincinnati, but not in terms of an improved Caligraph showing. McGurrin was unable to hold off Remington teammate Orr, who typed 987 in the 10 minutes to McGurrin’s 950.11. Osborne was third with 935. George McBride of Ottawa, also on a Caligraph, finished fifth, a creditable effort given, to his considerable annoyance, his machine broke down twice.
        Notwithstanding the embarrassment its typewriter had caused McBride, the American Writing Machine Company, makers of the Caligraph, went to extraordinary lengths (and expense) to try and convince the North American public that Osborne and Caligraph had triumphed in Toronto. Newspaper advertisements for the Caligraph blatantly lied, claiming Osborne typed 627 words correctly and manipulating the true figures outrageously. The subsidiary event Osborne did “win” was not the world championship itself, for which Orr awarded a gold medal, but a “memorised sentence” contest. Entrants had been given two months to memorise “This is a song to fill thee with delight”. Osborne “won” a silver medal with an average 126.4 “words” a minute, beating McGurrin on 122.66. But what Osborne typed was pure gibberish. At a generous estimate, he actually typed 144 clear, complete words in five minutes, not the 630.7 gross (646 net) he was awarded, so his average was in reality was 28.8, almost 100 wpm short of the score given him. Charles Vonley Oden, in his Evolution of the Typewriter (1917), liberally allowed that Osborne wrote the sentence correctly just twice (18 words), but in the absolute mess Osborne handed in it is very difficult to make out even that much. Osborne’s jumbled words place in doubt other efforts he has been credited with, such as averaging 142.6 wpm in five minutes and typing 179 in one minute and 99 in 30 seconds at G.S. Walworth’s Typewriting and Stenography Institute in Brooklyn on February 27, 1889 (typing “This is how I do it” repeatedly). After this Osborne disappeared from the speed typing front and moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to take up other lines of work.
Notwithstanding Caligraph’s nonsense about Osborne’s feats, McGurrin was most unhappy with the way things had worked out in Toronto.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Much Caricatured Creator of Astérix and his Royal Keystone Typewriter

The death in Neuilly-sur-Seine this week of French comic book artist Albert Uderzo, who would have turned 93 next month, recalled Uderzo's long partnership with the writer René Goscinny. The pair created the much-loved and internationally-followed cartoon character Astérix in March 1959. Goscinny is possibly the most caricatured typist in history (usually drawn by his friend Uderzo).
Goscinny was born in Paris in 1926 and spent a happy childhood in Buenos Aires. In 1945 he started his career as an illustrator in an advertising agency. In New York in 1948 he started working in a small studio where he became friends with future MAD Magazine contributors Will Elder, Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman. Goscinny then became art director at Kunen Publishers.  Georges Troisfontaines, chief of the World Press agency, convinced Goscinny to return to France and work for his agency as the head of the Paris office in 1951. There he met Uderzo, with whom he started a famous collaboration.
In 1955, Goscinny, together with Uderzo, Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Hébrad, founded the syndicate Edipress/Edifrance. Under the pseudonym Agostini, Goscinny wrote Le Petit Nicolas for Jean-Jacques Sempé in Le Moustique and later Sud-Ouest and Pilote magazines.
The next year Goscinny began a collaboration with Tintin magazine. An early creation with Uderzo, Oumpah-pah, was also adapted for serial publication in Tintin from 1958-62.
In 1959, the Édifrance/Édipresse syndicate started the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Pilote. In the first issue, 
Goscinny launched Astérix with Uderzo. The series was an instant hit and remains popular worldwide. 
The magazine was bought by Georges Dargaud in 1960, and Goscinny became editor-in-chief. Goscinny died in Paris of cardiac arrest on November 5, 1977, aged 51. His much used typewriter, now seen in many exhibitions about his life and work, was this Royal Keystone portable:
But in later life Goscinny also used an Olympia SF and a larger bodied Olympia.