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Wednesday 31 August 2016

The Durrells

I was drawn to the ITV miniseries The Durrells by the promo, in which actor Josh O’Connor, playing a young Lawrence Durrell on Corfu in Greece in the mid-1930s, bangs away at a Corona 3 portable typewriter.
"Use  a bloody pencil!" yells James Cosmo as the drunken, dissolute seafarer Captain Creech from downstairs. We've had a few creepy Creeches around here, too
The O'Connor-Durrell character is mercilessly thumping at the Corona's keyboard in utter frustration because his dopey, gun-wielding brother Leslie has chopped off the X key. Leslie can't bear to hear any talk of sex, particularly when it comes to Lawrence's ideas about the needs of their widowed mother Louisa, and has cut the X key to stop Lawrence typing the word sex.
The six-part drama series started last week and, based on what I was able to see of the first episode between ad breaks, I will probably stick with it to the end. Commercials seemed to cut in every four or five minutes, however, and that might well get to me before much longer.
The Durrells is based on Gerald Durrell's three autobiographical books about his family's four years on Corfu. Gerald Durrell (1925-1995) is a 10-year-old when the story begins. He went on to become a famous naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author and television presenter. 
In later life Lawrence Durrell used an Olympia Splendid portable typewriter. These photos were taken by Loomis Dean for a lengthy feature article on Durrell ("The New Four-Star King of Novelists", by Nigel Dennis) which appeared in LIFE magazine on November 21, 1960. "Lawrence Durrell, creator of the superb 'Alexandria Quartet', has burst from poverty and obscurity to wealth and fame."
Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) was indeed a successful novelist, poet, dramatist and travel writer, and his most famous work remains the tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet (1957-1960), particularly the first of the quartet's four novels, Justine.
Josh O'Connor explained that he had tested out typing on the Corona without the X key after filming had started. "I took it back to my hotel room to have a go on it, and got a complaint from the next door room about the noise – 'Can you please shut up? Use a laptop!'"

Tuesday 30 August 2016

RIP Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

Gene Wilder was born in the birthplace of the typewriter, Milwaukee, and died in the birthplace of the greatest typewriter (the Blickensderfer), Stamford, Connecticut. Wilder died at his home yesterday, aged 83, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.
Wilder was born Jerome Silberman on June 11, 1933. A stage and screen comic actor, screenwriter, film director and author, he may be best remembered for the original 1968 version of The Producers, one of the funniest movies ever made. Although his first film role was portraying a hostage in the 1967's Bonnie and Clyde, Wilder's first major role was as Leopold Bloom in The Producers,  for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. It was the first in a series of collaborations with writer-director Mel Brooks, including 1974's Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, which Wilder co-wrote. 

Wednesday 17 August 2016

I Give Up

While I watched a documentary on the debate about the rights and wrongs of restoring the late Keith Haring's mural at the old Collingwood Technical School in Melbourne, this blog last night reached 2.5 million page views. Haring's Australian work stands out among his 31 surviving murals worldwide, because it depicts a human brain trapped inside a computer terminal at the head of a giant corporate caterpillar. The symbolism has been interpreted many different ways, but for me the doco was timely, as the mural seemed to represent what had happened to my blog.
Reaching 2.5 million page views in a little less than five-and-a-half years should have felt like an achievement, but it didn't. Far from it. The reason being that just one of my 2240 posts had been viewed 24,000 times since the weekend. I had tried to take the heat out of it, without success, so in the end I deleted it altogether, because it had created too much of a distraction from what I want to do with this blog. It seemed like the post had been hijacked by people who have allowed their non-functioning brains to become boxed inside computers, so that they themselves operate as mere annexes of the Internet hivemind (and I certainly don't mean collective intelligence).
Interestingly, from 24,000 page views, there were only four comments, none of which were published. Two of those comments alone made me think: What the hell is going on with the world? Have people actually stopped thinking for themselves? Have they locked their brains inside a computer, and let others on the Internet do their thinking for them? Do they retain the capacity to read, but lack the capacity to comprehend? Or are they just too plain stupid to be able to make their own own minds?
I know there are many like me who think the worldwide craze for political correctness has gotten way out of control. What worries me most is that there are people out there, whether simply to be seen to be politically correct or are just too easily led, who are willing to ignore the solid evidence of the truth and allow themselves to believe in a deliberate manipulation of historical facts. It appears to suit their needs to accept lies, so they do. Frankly, if people like this are dominating the worldwide web, I don't want to be part of it. I give up.
The world I grew up in was one in which one was encouraged to listen and to read, to form one's own opinions, but to back up one's ideas and beliefs and opinions by what could be proved to be true. It strikes me that's not happening any more.
The summer edition of Vanity Fair has a wonderful article by James Wolcott about Twitter and its tweetering, mindless masses. Wolcott stresses his concerns about the toxic Twitter - the kangaroo court of social media - by outlining the cases of two non-tweeters, Gay Talese and Calvin Trillin. I stay well clear of Twitter myself, and it concerns me that one doesn't even have to be involved, or have an account, to get bombarded by the baseless indignation of moronic trolls - making relative innocents "cannibal stew", as Wolcott puts it - "So many clapping seals snapping up such puny fish."
Wolcott concludes, "Those who descend the ladder into the average unmoderated comments section will find themselves in a lunatic flophouse of seething illiterates and haters."
All too true, and a horrible reflection on the world today. What right-minded person wouldn't want out?
A week or two ago, this blog became so inundated with constant spambot mail that, reluctantly, I was forced to change the settings so that all comments had to go through the moderation process. I didn't like having to do that. As I have been saying here for years, one always felt safe within the confines of the Typosphere. Step outside it, however- wittingly, willingly or otherwise - and one never knows what one may be getting into.
That's not the real trouble, though. The major distress comes from being made to realise what the world has turned into, to have to deal with the realities of living in a time of mob mentality and hashtag zombies. Whirled back in time by the Internet, we're been returned to the Dark Ages. Instead of the worldwide web taking us further down the path of enlightenment, it has only succeeded in clouding thought and reining-in intellect. In discouraging a dependence on the truth, it frowns on free thinking, free speech, and allows liars, charlatans, cheats and crooks to prosper. So be it. I'm outta here!

Thursday 11 August 2016

Here's Johnny's Olivetti Lettera 22 Portable Typewriter

Johnny Carson’s Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter is on display in Chicago as part of the “Here’s Johnny! The Making of the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” exhibition. The portable has been loaned to the exhibition by Carson's long-time assistant Helen Sanders. It has those tell-tale stains on its tartan-lined taupe vinyl zipper case, all too common with the Lettera 22. This exhibition is one of two TV nostalgia shows at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications. The other is “Watching TV in the ’90s”. The Carson exhibition also includes rubber chicken props, Johnny's Rolodex, Carnac the Magnificent's turban and guest coffee mugs.
Here's a younger Johnny with an earlier typewriter - and owl.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Rugby's Road to Rio

Rugby union returned to the Olympic Games this week after an absence of 92 years, when the women’s seven-a-side tournament was staged in Rio de Janiero. Australia’s Pearls won the gold medal, beating New Zealand 24-17 in today’s final. Canada won the bronze and the United States finished fifth.
Tomorrow the men’s tournament kicks off. The last time rugby was in the Olympics, in Paris in 1924, the United States retained the title by comfortably beating France in the final. The US had also beaten France to win the gold medal at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. Australia won in London in 1908 and France in Paris in 1900.
The United States which won in Paris in 1924
It could be said that while rugby’s road to Olympic redemption has ended in Rio, its start was in an equally non-rugby setting: Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Rugby sevens became a Commonwealth Games event in 1998, and the tournament in KL, won by New Zealand on September 14 that year, was such an enormous success it undoubtedly laid the first stones on the yellow brick road to Rio.
I covered that 1998 event, and in more than 40 years of writing about international sport, have seldom experienced such a wonderful sporting occasion. New Zealand beat Fiji 21-12 in the final, with Australia taking the bronze. The New Zealand team included the legendary Jonah Lomu, as well as Amasio Valence, Bruce Reihana, Caleb Ralph, Christian Cullen, Dallas Seymour, Eric Rush, Joeli Vidiri, Rico Gear and Roger Randle. Fiji was led by the irrepressible Waisale Serevi. Australia had the likes of David Campese, Ipolito Fenukitau and Jim Williams.
The late, great Jonah Lomu, centre, performs the haka to celebrate gold.
New Zealand went to win the next three Commonwealth Games sevens gold medals, in Manchester in 2002 (again beating Fiji in the final), in Melbourne in 2006 (beating England) and in Delhi in 2010 (beating Australia). In Glasgow in 2014, South Africa ended New Zealand’s run of success by beating the Kiwis in the final.
The Cantabrians win the first Hong Kong sevens, 1976.
The rise of rugby sevens to such a high level of international competition began in yet another unlikely setting: Happy Valley in Hong Kong, where an annual tournament was started in 1976. It came to be called “the Olympic Games of rugby”. Yet it blossomed in the face of stiff initial opposition from the International Rugby Board and the Rugby Football Union in England to commercial sponsorship in rugby. With the backing of Rothmans and Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong sevens drew many national teams from the region, but in the first instance Australia and New Zealand sent the Wallaroos and the Cantabrians. The latter, a New Zealand invitational team, beat the Wallaroos 24-8 in the first final.
It’s fair to say the Hong Kong sevens were ahead of their time and an influential force in the modernisation of rugby union, 11 years ahead of the first 15-a-side World Cup and 19 years ahead of professional rugby.  Famed Scottish commentator Bill McLaren said, "While tournaments like the Hong Kong sevens continue to be played, rugby administrators can be confident that the game will continue to thrive in over 100 countries worldwide."
International sevens rugby got off to what might have seemed an inauspicious start, at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on April 7, 1973. At the end of its centenary celebrations that season, the Scottish Rugby Union organised a tournament in which IRB member nations, France and a President’s team including otherwise ostracised South Africans took part. Scotland, the birthplace of sevens, thought such an event was appropriate for its 100th birthday bash. But it became very clear that Australia and New Zealand, in particular, had very little idea what sevens was all about, and selected teams accordingly. Australia sent big forwards like Barry Stumbles, Garrick Fay and David Duckworth, physically strong but unsuited to the demands of the fast-moving sevens game. New Zealand at least took Grant Batty, George Skudder, Duncan Hales, Ian Stevens and Lyn Colling, but also had big forwards in Alan Sutherland, Alex Wyllie and Alistair Shown.
England emerged from one of the two pools to beat Ireland, which had edged out New Zealand in Pool A, by 22-18 in the final. England had a well balanced team, with Keith Fielding, David Duckham, the fabulous Peter Rossborough, Steve Smith, Andy Ripley and Peter Preece (Fran Cotton, Jon Gray and Roger Uttley were also there). Ireland had sprint champion Vinny Becker, Wallace McMaster, the crafty Mike Gibson, Donal Canniffe, Fergus Slattery, lanky duo Kevin Mays (not a sprinter) and Terry Moore and Seamus Dennison. The President’s team included Andy Irvine, Jim Renwick, Jan Ellis and Piet Greyling.
Rogge with Ghent in 1970.

The play was exciting enough, but there was nothing in it to suggest that 36 years later, in Copenhagen in October 2009, the International Olympic Committee would agree to recall rugby to the Olympics. Perhaps the fact that the IOC’s then president, Count Jacques Jean Marie Rogge, had played rugby for Belgium might have helped the cause. Sevens rugby debuted as an Olympic sport at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing in China in August 2014, when Australia won the girl’s gold medal. 

Saturday 6 August 2016

So Long, Marianne (1935-2016)

Marianne Ihlen, muse for Leonard Cohen's haunting classic So Long, Marianne, died in Norway on July 29, aged 81, and was buried in Oslo yesterday. Cohen met Marianne on the island of Hydra off Greece in May 1960. She appeared, wrapped in a towel and typing on Cohen's pistachio-coloured Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter, and on the back of the sleeve for Cohen's 1969 album Songs From a Room.
Australian authors George Johnston and Charmian Clift befriended Cohen and Ihlen on Hydra. Here are the two couples with the Johnsons' son Jason in October 1960.
Just before she died, Cohen wrote to Ihlen: 
"It's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I've always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don't need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road …"

Friday 5 August 2016

Shame Games: The St Louis Olympics and the Human Zoo

Exhibited for the benefit of fairgoers: 34-year-old Da´naxda´xw (New Vancouver Tribe) carver Bob Harris (Xi´xa´niyus), an initiated Hamaťsa Dancer, in the Human Zoo at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St Louis. Below, Geronimo (1829-1909), leader from the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.

VER the next two weeks, much will be written and said about past Olympic Games. One of the previous 30 summer celebrations in the Modern Olympics era will not, however, be mentioned - the utterly shameful 1904 Games held in St Louis, as part of the centenary celebrations of the Louisiana Purchase. Louisiana was actually acquired from France (for $15 million) when a treaty was signed in Paris on April 30, 1803. Missouri was part of Spanish Louisiana until then. That the St Louis World’s Fair did not start until the 101st anniversary of the Paris settlement says plenty about the Missouri’s unpropitious organisation of the Olympics.
           Among the seven “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” that open the Olympic Charter, the International Olympic Committee’s position on racism is spelt out. Principle six says, “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” It wasn’t always so. The farcical 1904 Games stand as the worst example of racial prejudice and “the most distasteful aspects” of Olympic history.
        The St Louis Olympics made use for “sport” a human zoo which had been put together for the World’s Fair by American anthropologist and ethnologist William John McGee (above, 1853-1912). McGee and Games director James Edward Sullivan (below, 1862-1914) arranged for “Anthropological Days at the World’s Fair … the First Series of Athletic Contests ever held, in which Savage Tribes were the Exclusive Contestants.” Sullivan, a founder of the Amateur Athletic Union in 1888, was its secretary from 1889-1906 and president from 1906-09.
        McGee’s Human Zoo comprised “exotic” people, premature babies and schools of “defectives” from around the world. They were classified according to their “stage of development” and referred to as “the primitives”. They included Native Americans, Patagonians (Tehuelche), Ainu from Japan, Cocopás from Mexico, Turks and pygmies from the then Belgian Congo. Sioux children attended a model school where they demonstrated how well they learned “civilised ways”. More than 1000 Filipinos were grouped according to ethnicity and religion – Christian Visayans, Mohammedan Moro and Bagabos. Classed as “savages” were Negrito and Igorots (Cordillerans).
Dancing with an Igorot.
        Fairgoers had photographs taken with the “savages” and watched the Igorots kill and cook dogs. Science and entertainment emerged in the baby incubator exhibits, where paying customers watched premature infants fighting for their lives. Newspaper advertisements said, “See the mites of humanity whose lives are being preserved by this wonderful method.” After viewing the “feeble human creatures”, visitors could buy souvenir baby-shaped soap and have lunch at the Incubator Café. All the fun of the American fair, as they say …
        In “sport”, the “Anthropological Days” of August 12-13, 1904, came to be called the “Savage Games”. They included races over 100 yards, the quarter mile and mile, hurdles, shot put, javelin, bolos (“Patagonians only”), long and high jumps, archery, baseball, tug-of-war and pole climbing. 
        Sullivan included them in his Olympic report in the January 1905 issue of Spalding’s Official Athletic Almanac: Olympic Games Number, the most complete original record of the 1904 Games (the Lucas Report covers just track and field events). He wrote that the Savage Games were “wisely” staged at a time when “many physical directors and gentlemen interested in scientific work could be present and benefit by the demonstrations. Scientific men will refer to [the events] for many years to come. [They] taught a great lesson. Lecturers and authors will in future omit all reference to the natural athletic ability of the savage, unless they can substantiate their alleged feats.”
        Yes, Sullivan used, abused and then rounded on the inhabitants of the Human Zoo – for falling well short of expectations. The mere fact that none of these unfortunate people had ever played or prepared for any sort of organised sporting contests seemed to be beyond his comprehension, limited as it obviously was. Sullivan wrote, “We have for years been led to believe … that the average savage was fleet of foot, strong of limb, accurate with bow and arrow and expert in throwing the stone. The whole meeting proved conclusively that the savage has been a very much overrated man from an athletic point of view.”
        Subsequent events, at these very same St Louis Olympic Games, were to show just how wrong he was!
Len Taunyane, right, and Jan Mashiane
Just 17 days after the Savage Games, Len Taunyane (called Lehouw, and a Zulu and “Kaffir” by Sullivan) finished ninth in the marathon in the Olympics proper – even after losing eight minutes from being chased off the course by a dog. And this was without any training whatsoever for such a gruelling event. Tau, a Tswana tribesman who was part of a Boer War re-enactment assembled for the Human Zoo, had finished third behind “Americanized Indian” Black White Bear and Turk Yousouf Hana in the much less exacting mile race in the Savage Games.
                                     Jan Mashiane (Yamasani) nears the finish line in St Louis.
                   Len Taunyane, second rom left, as a Boer Prisoner of War on St Helena.
        Tau, who had been a Boer prisoner of war in real life, and fellow Tswana tribesman Jan Mashiana, who also ran in the marathon in the real St Louis Games (he was 12th among the 14 who completed the course)), were two of the first black Africans to compete in the Olympics. Their efforts in the 26-mile race were extraordinary, but a non-white African winner of the Olympic marathon did not emerge until Algerian Ahmed Boughèra El Ouafi won for France in Amsterdam in 1928. Modern Olympics founder Pierre de Coubertin was not, happily for him, in St Louis to witness the Games descend to their lowest level. But he warned the disgraceful “Savage Games” would lose their appeal “when black men, red men and yellow men learn to run, jump and throw and leave the white men behind them”. At least that was in part prophetic.
Miss Zamora, the native Filipino teacher, instructs an Igorot pupil
in reading in the St Louis Human Zoo.