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Monday 29 February 2016

Triumphant Trumbo or Hideous Hedda?

No Oscar for Best Typewriting Performance was handed out last night at the 88th Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Had there been one, Bryan Cranston would have romped it in, with comfortably the finest cinematic typing display since Paul Dano in 2012's Ruby Spark. Both, it might be added, were well armed for such credible and sustained efforts - Cranston with an Underwood 5 and Dano with an Olympia SM9.
As it was, Cranston even failed to take home the Best Actor Oscar, for his portrayal of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo. I have not seen Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, nor am I now likely to. But I did take in Trumbo, two days before the Oscars, and left the cinema less than convinced that Cranston was a genuine contender. As things transpired, I also caught DiCaprio at a typewriter or two (like Cranston, both manual and electric) on TV the next night, in 2002's Catch Me if You Can, and he wasn't in the same league as Dano or Cranston. Far be it for me, however, to deny DiCaprio his long-awaited best actor gong.
The thing about Cranston in Trumbo is that, for all his fine typing, he had the show stolen right out from under his cigarette holder by the indomitable Helen Mirren as Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper
So one was left wondering, as the credits rolled, whether this movie was really about the ultimate triumph of Trumbo or more tellingly about the intimidating influence of the absolutely horrid, hissing Hedda. Talk about the Wicked Witch of the West - the meddling Hopper comes across as that in spades.
 Mirren as Hopper, above, and the real Hopper below:
And Hopper in bed with her Olivetti Lettera 22:
One thing certain about Trumbo is that there hasn't been an on-screen typewriter fest like this since Hitchcock (also from 2012, and which also starred an influential Mirren). After all, nothing beats a typewriter in a movie than two (or three):
And, whatever damage it may have done to the facts of the matter - or to Edward G.Robinson's reputation, by claiming he was a stool pigeon - Trumbo did at least try to stay true to Trumbo's typewriters:
My favourite performance in Trumbo came from New Zealander Dean O'Gorman as a dependable if slightly height challenged Kirk Douglas (with the ever-reliable John Goodman close behind):

Friday 26 February 2016

Why It Didn't Pay to be a Travelling Royal Typewriter Salesman: Effa and her Electric Vibrator

John Thomas Whitehead (1876-) was an Englishman who in 1914 was the New York-based European sales manager for the Royal Typewriter Company (distributed through the Visible Writing Machine Company of London). Tommie Whitehead had earned his stripes as a travelling salesman in the American Mid-West.
In Omaha in 1898 Tommie married 17-year-old Effa Mary Van Cleave, who was born in Beaver City, Nebraska, in September 1880. I swear, I'm not making this stuff up.
The couple were together for 12 years, during which time they moved to New York, where Tommie joined Royal soon after its foundation in September 1904. The new company was in need of expert, experienced salesmen and, given his English connections, Royal boss Ed B. Hess had little hesitation assigning Tommie to the European beat. Sometimes Effa travelled across the Atlantic with her husband, on his regular typewriter-related visits there, but not always.
Eventually Effa grew tired of Tommie's long absences on his typewriter selling trips and in 1910 she left him. In 1912 they got back together, but the reunion didn't last long and by the next year they were permanently separated. Effa, a trained nurse, remained at 400 St Nicholas Avenue, where she let rooms to provide herself with some extra income. 
This left Tommie wanting a divorce and Effa wanting some male company.
In the summer of 1913 Effa took herself off to Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn and there she met Walter A. Vaughan, a sales manager for an electric vibrator company. Effa told Walter she suffered from chronic indigestion and back pain and Walter suggested a visit to his electric therapeutic clinic in Brooklyn, to have some magnetic wave treatment. The magnetism between them grew, they went to the theatre and dinner together, one thing led to another and the next thing Walter was visiting Effa at her home, and then staying overnight. The fact that Effa let rooms on St Nicholas Avenue proved a convenient cover.
Ace Royal typist Millicent Woodward
Meanwhile, Tommie had met a nice lady in England, Jessie Mabel Bettridge, 14 years his junior, a woman of independent means and a member of the typing Woodward family. Her cousin Millicent Woodward was the European champion speed typist and worked for Royal in London.
So divorce had become an imperative for Tommy - and this was long before the enlightened era of blameless divorces.
Ace New York private detective Ray Schindler
In the spring of 1914, just before he was due to return to England from the US, Tommie hired the famous (and very expensive) private detective, Raymond Campbell Schindler, of New York's Schindler Bureau of Investigation (opened in New York in 1912). Tommie and the renowned sleuth had something in common - Schindler had started his working life as a typewriter salesman in New York. Schindler was a smart operator - and in his employ was a pretty young trainee called May Gruer. Schindler had Gruer rent one of Effa's rooms so she could keep on eye on Effa. Effa was naïve enough to include Gruer in dinner parties she held for Vaughan and soon the honey trap was set.
At midnight on Tuesday, May 5, 1914, Whitehead, Schindler and Gruer let themselves into Effa's house and charged into her bedroom with a flashlight - finding Effa and Vaughn in flagrante delicto.
No divorce - Judge Delehanty
In Tommie's absence in Europe, on June 25, 1915, the evidence of Schindler and Gruer was presented in the Supreme Court of New York before Judge Francis Blase Delehanty and a jury. Effa denied everything and Vaughan gave nothing away. Within two minutes of being sent out to deliberate, the jury returned with a verdict. Effa was found not guilty.
Tommie's "stag" party - only Tommie is smiling
Tommie returned permanently to England and eventually did get a divorce. In 1920 he married Jessie. Back in New York, Effa decided to call herself a widow, which became true to a point in the mid-20s, when Tommie died, leaving Jessie to spend the rest of her life as a grieving though very well-to-do widow in the family home, Pennel Dene, Sutton, Surrey. She died in 1961.

Thursday 25 February 2016

The Smartest Deal in Typewriter History - the $35 Million Bargain

In the late Spring of 1909, a group of well-dressed New Yorkers knocked on the door at 186 Greenwood Avenue, Brooklyn. They had an offer for the widow who lived there, 53-year-old Catherine Marcley Rose. If the beneficiaries of the will of her late husband Frank signed over to them the typewriter patents assigned to him, as well as ownership of the Rose Typewriter Company, they said, they would give Catherine and her son George Francis Rose $150,000. 
"There's someone at the door, Mum," says George, as he interrupts his piano playing. "I wonder who it could be?"
Franklin Sebastian Rose, who had died almost exactly four years earlier - on May 23, 1905 - had developed the aluminium folding portable while running his typewriter sales, repairs and refurbishing business just a few doors down the block, at 112 Greenwood Avenue.
Franklin Sebastian Rose (1856-1905)
The proposal to Catherine and George was accepted and the rights to the Standard Folding Typewriter - which the Roses, with the backing of Marshman Williams Hazen, had been producing in Harlem and West Manhattan since 1907 - were duly transferred.
Some few weeks later, on Friday, July 9, a new organisation, the Standard Typewriter Company of Groton (omitting the word "folding"), was incorporated in Albany, with capital of $1 million. This company would develop and manufacture the Corona 3 folding portable typewriter, launched in 1912.
By the time production of this latter model ended, with the last 260 machines in 1941, 692,500 had been made. At $50 a typewriter, sales had totalled $34.6275 million. Yes, that's 231 times the original investment of $150,000. It has to be the smartest typewriter deal in history. In a way, I guess, it could be matched by buying a Nakajima for $5 today and selling it for $1154.25 in 29 years' time - but that would still be slim pickings, compared to $35 million.
Here are the seven men who stitched the deal together and pulled off this massive coup (note that many of them didn't subsequently live long to enjoy the benefits):
(October 29, 1856 – February 28, 1922)
A Groton businessman, banker and politician. Educated at Groton Academy and the Union Free School, with his older brothers Frank and Jay (see below) he entered the business world through the large mercantile house started by his father, Corydon W. Conger, in 1870. He was also president of the Groton Mechanics' Bank and a member of the New York State Assembly 1900-01 and a State Senator in 1909-10. In January 1910, he opposed the election of Jotham P. Allds as president pro tempore of the State Senate, and accused Allds of having demanded, and received, a bribe in 1901 when both Conger and Allds had been members of the State Assembly. Eventually Allds was found guilty, and resigned first the presidency pro tempore and then his senate seat. Embroiled in the scandal himself, Conger also resigned his seat, on April 4, 1910, and retired from politics.
(August 1854-December 10, 1920)
Was financial manager of the Groton mercantile enterprise and as a director also represented the family interests in the First National Bank of Groton. Educated at Groton Academy. 
(April 7, 1866-early February 1938)
It was through a distant family connection of Blood's - Marshman Williams Hazen - that the Conger syndicate tracked down the Roses in Brooklyn. Through Cornell University he was also closely associated with brilliant typewriter design engineer John Henry Barr - who would no doubt have advised, "Go for it!" Charles Hazen Blood was the son of a Civil War brigadier general also involved in the mercantile business. Charles was a leading member of the Tompkins County Bar and practised at his birthplace of Ithaca from 1890. He received the degrees of PhB and LLB at Cornell University in 1888-90 and served as district attorney of Tompkins County from 1894-1903, and as county judge and surrogate of Tompkins County from 1904-10. He was a director of the Ithaca Trust Company and the Tompkins County National Bank, and a trustee and chairman of the finance committee of the Ithaca Savings Bank. From 1901-24, he was a trustee of Cornell University, and a trustee of Ithaca College. With his former law partner Jared Treman Newman, in 1901 Blood acquired a tract of 1000 acres of farmland on Cayuga Heights from Ezra Cornell’s son Franklin, They developed it as a strictly residential "high-class" park overlooking Cayuga Lake and the valley below. From the start, Cayuga Heights was envisioned as a community of scholars and professionals. But by 1911 there were just 21 houses built.
(November 13, 1853-April 21, 1924)
A businessman, lawyer and member of the United States House of Representatives from New York,  he was born in Elmira and attended public schools and graduated from the University of Rochester in 1875. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1878 and began practice in Elmira. He was District Attorney of Chemung County in 1878-79 and became proprietor of the Elmira Daily Advertiser. Afterwards he enrolled as a law student at Heidelberg University in Germany. He returned to Elmira in 1882 and began the practice of law. Fassett was a member of the New York State Senate from 1884-91, and was President pro tempore from 1889-91. He was secretary of the Republican National Committee from 1888-92. In 1891 President Benjamin Harrison appointed Fassett as Collector of the Port of New York, a post from which he resigned to run for Governor of New York. After retiring from politics, he resumed his work in the banking and lumber business in Elmira. He died in Vancouver, British Columbia, while returning from a business trip to Japan and the Philippines. He was an investor in various mines, among which was the Oriental Consolidated Mining Corporation in Korea. His son, Jay Fassett, starred in Hollywood films.
(January 6, 1864-January 15, 1923)
Also a former New York State assembly member and a lawyer, he was Benn Conger's counsel and represented Conger in trials related to the bribery scandal outlined above. Born at Preble, Cortland, he spent most of his life in Cortland but left for Mesa in 1920 to grow apples and became an Idaho State Senator. He died of a heart attack in the Hotel Owyehee in Boise while a candidate for State Governor. He graduated aged 16 from Homer Academy in 1880 and taught school in Preble and McLean before entering Hamilton College, graduating with honours in 1886. He entered the law office of Eggleston & Crombie, was admitted to the bar and entered into partnership with O.U. Kellogg. 
(November 30, 1869 -April 5, 1913)
A Syracuse real estate broker.
(June 16, 1882-March 1, 1967)
By a long way the last survivor of this group, Brown was a young mechanical engineer at the time of his first involvement with the Conger syndicate. He came from Elizabeth, New Jersey, and had been educated at Pingry School and St Paul's, New Hampshire (1896-1900). He gained a civil engineering degree in 1904 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Brown became general manager and treasurer when the Standard Folding turned into Corona. After the merger with L.C.Smith he was Smith-Corona’s vice-president of manufacturing. He retired in 1953 and died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The chimney stacks were still smoking at the end of the street in 1941 ...