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Wednesday 19 June 2013

1957 Typecast from Gore Vidal

These undated photographs of Gore Vidal using his Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter were probably taken in the late 1950s, or possibly early 1960s. 
Below is a photo taken of Vidal in 1957, so one can gauge from this whether the typewriter photos were taken at around the same time. Vidal is seen here with Australian actor Cyril Ritchard on the set of Vidal's comedy A Visit to a Small Planet, directed by and starring Ritchard at the Booth Theatre, Broadway:
The photo below was taken of Vidal with Tennessee Williams and Russian-born British actress Maria Britneva in 1959. (Britneva, by the way, was in real life Lady St Just and a lifelong friend of Williams. She became the executrix of Williams's literary estate. The Independent's 1994 obituary for her said, "Tennessee Williams astounded the theatrical world by making Maria St Just his literary executrix. She vindicated his trust completely. Too rich to care about money, she was concerned only for the integrity of the performances which she was empowered to authorise. There hasn't been a dud since his death in 1983; and that his reputation is now restored is thanks to her.")
Below: Vidal at his home Edgewater on the Hudson River, Barrytown, New York, in 1960
In the autumn of 1957 Vidal sent a typewritten letter on Claridge's of Mayfair, London, notepaper to his half-sister Nina Gore Auchincloss Steers Straight.
 Nina A.Straight
The letter was published by Vanity Fair earlier this year.  Here I have typed the opening words of it on an Olivetti Studio 44 and have achieved a matching font. However, the letter may well have been written on Vidal's Lettera 22. It is, after all, an "Olivetti" font. What's more, Vidal is more likely to have travelled with the lighter portable - unless, of course, Claridge's supplied a Studio 44 to guests?:
Nina Straight was also a  step-sister of Jackie KennedyThe Bouviers and the Auchinclosses can be seen in this 1946 family photo: From back, left to right: Jacqueline Bouvier (eventually Kennedy), Yusha Auchincloss, Nina Auchincloss, Caroline Lee Bouvier (eventually Princess Radziwell), Janet Auchincloss (holding baby Janet Auchincloss), Tommy Auchincloss, Hugh D. Auchincloss.
Vidal wrote to Nina Auchincloss Straight in response to news of her first pregnancy. Straight was 20 at the time, and married to Newton Steers.
Straight's Vanity Fair article of February this year, "On the Other Side of Eternity", began, "The death of Gore Vidal in July of 2012 removed a steady mentor from my life - though, as with so many people who live long lives, afflictions other than death effectively removed my half-brother from me several years earlier. Gore and I shared the same mother, Nina Gore (Vidal Auchincloss Olds). She married my father, Hugh Auchincloss Jr, after having Gore with her first husband, Eugene Luther Vidal."
In this May 11, 1936, image, Gore Vidal, then aged 10, is seen with his father, Eugene Vidal, director of the Bureau of Air Commerce, a branch of the US Department of Commerce. They are together in a Hammond "Flivver" type plane. Gore actually took off and landed the plane, to  "prove to sceptics that the plane possessed all the safety and stability claimed for it by its builders".
It seems both First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Eugene Vidal were in love with the same woman, aviatrix Amelia Earhart. An article on Gore Vidal, "The Gore They Loved", by Judy Balaban, in the February 2013 edition of Vanity Fair, revealed:
Gore Vidal appears to have had a devotion to Olivetti portable typewriters for much of his life. However, in this image, taken in Los Angeles on March 1, 1981, he seems to have temporarily switched camps - this looks to me like it might be a Smith-Corona? Or perhaps a Royal Apollo?:
Columnist Dick Cavett wrote, "I once did a half-hour show, seen on PBS, with Gore from his fabulous castle-like home perched above a gorgeous valley at Ravello, Italy. Jet lag awoke me early one morning, and I peeked into his closed writing room. An old-style Royal typewriter sat at the precise centre of a long, heavy antique table. Books extended outward from both sides of the typewriter for a couple of feet in both directions, all of them written by the occupant. I closed the door again, quietly, and got my breath."
Cavett may have been mistaken. When Vidal died of complications from pneumonia at his home in Hollywood Hills on July 31 last year, aged 86, he left behind in his hilltop hideaway in Ravello, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, an Olivetti Lettera 35:
For much of the last 40 years of his life, Vidal divided his time between Italy and California. In 2005, he sold his 5000-square-foot Italian Villa, La Rondinaia ("The Swallow's Nest") on the Amalfi Coast, and moved to Los Angeles. He bought La Rondinaia in 1972 and sold it for more than $17 million. Though the plan was for a luxury hotel development, the villa remains as it was when Vidal left it. 
Vidal was a prolific writer who published 25 novels, two memoirs and several volumes of essays. He also wrote plays, television dramas and screenplays. When he died, The New York Times wrote that Vidal was "the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization ..."
In The Paris Review issue of Fall 1974 (No 59), Vidal was asked, "Can you tell me about your work habits? You must be enormously disciplined to turn out so much in such a relatively short time. Do you find writing easy? Do you enjoy it?" He replied, "Oh, yes, of course I enjoy it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. Whenever I get up in the morning, I write for about three hours. I write novels in longhand on yellow legal pads, exactly like the First Criminal Nixon. For some reason I write plays and essays on the typewriter. The first draft usually comes rather fast. One oddity: I never reread a text until I have finished the first draft. Otherwise it’s too discouraging. Also, when you have the whole thing in front of you for the first time, you’ve forgotten most of it and see it fresh. Rewriting, however, is a slow, grinding business. For me the main pleasure of having money is being able to afford as many completely retyped drafts as I like. When I was young and poor, I had to do my own typing, so I seldom did more than two drafts. Now I go through four, five, six. The more the better, since my style is very much one of afterthought. My line to Dwight Macdonald, 'You have nothing to say, only to add' really referred to me."
After his death, Lila Azam Zanganeh recalled of Vidal, "When I went to see Gore Vidal for the first time, in 2005, he was working at his typewriter, hunched over in the baroque shadows of his Italian villa."
A tribute from columnist Taki began, "Gore Vidal was as good as it gets where writing is concerned. I can’t think of a single awkward sentence he ever wrote, and he wrote a hell of a lot for someone from a very privileged background who could do more enjoyable things than sit behind a typewriter."
Vidal was teased (or chided?) by Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh for using a manual typewriter to write McVeagh a letter in 1999. McVeagh replied to Vidal,  "Back to your letter, I had never considered your age as an impediment until I received that letter - and noted that it was typed on a manual typewriter? Not to worry, recent medical studies tell us that Italy's taste for canola oil, olive oil and wine helps extend the average lifespan and helps prevent heart disease in Italians - so you picked the right place to retire to." Vidal's "The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh" was published by Vanity Fair in September, 2001.
I'm afraid I cannot think of Gore Vidal without getting images in my head of Myra Breckinridge. This is a novel which, unlike Julian (written over a period of seven years), Vidal said he "wrote practically at one sitting - in a few weeks. It wrote itself, as they say. But then it was much rewritten."
Vidal once said, “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” If, on the subject of a choice of typewriter, his advice would have been an Olivetti portable, I know many who would concur:
Georg Sommeregger Collection


Miguel Chávez said...

Count me among the ones who would concur... though I'd choose a Studio 46. In blue, please. And may I have a nice blue-and-red ribbon in it?

Richard P said...

Another Messenger tour de force, with fodder for my "Writers and Their Typewriters" page.

Yes, that mystery machine is a Smith-Corona.

Unknown said...

Over the last weekend, I came across a green Olivetti Lettera 22 and bought it for 5 euros in a village garage sale in rural France. I was wondering if I would be able to learn more about this portable typewriter and then my wish had been granted miraculously. You just posted it in oz.typewriter in a perfect timing. What a coincidence!