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Thursday 24 May 2018

RIP Philip Roth (1933-2018)

Philip Roth was one of the first writers who made me want to write myself. I read Goodbye, Columbus in my early teens, around the time of my "Anthony Marks period", and it remains one of my favourite books. I hoped Roth would produce more of the same, but for me he didn't. He said in 1981, “My autobiography would consist almost entirely of chapters about me sitting alone in a room looking at a typewriter. The uneventfulness … would make Beckett’s The Unnamable read like Dickens.” Little did I know, even back then, that the typewriter he looked at was the same model I often contemplated, an Olivetti Lettera 32.
Philip Milton Roth died on Tuesday at a Manhattan hospital of congestive heart failure, aged 85. He was born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey.
Roth's first gained fame with the 1959 novella Goodbye, Columbus, and he went on to be one of the most awarded American writers of his generation.

Monday 21 May 2018

How Paddy Chayefsky Learned to Type Playscripts

Paddy Chayefsky came out of the US Army's 104th Infantry Division with a Purple Heart and a new first name on February 27, 1946, after almost three years of service in the European Theatre of World War II. He had just turned 23 by a month and was determined to be a playwright.
The passion had been born in him in 1945 when Chayefsky, recovering in an Army Hospital at Cirencester, 80 miles outside London, after an encounter with a land mine at Aachen in Germany, wrote the book and lyrics to a musical comedy, No T.O. for Love. The work, produced by the Special Services Unit, opened at the Scala Theatre in the West End of London. This led to Chayefsky befriending Garson Kanin (1912-1999), already a very well established writer and director of plays and films, who invited Chayefsky to collaborate with him on a documentary of the Allied invasion, The True Glory.
Chayefsky's release from military duty coincided with Kanin's play Born Yesterday opening on Broadway, beginning a run there which would extend to the end of 1948. Back in New York City later in 1946, Chayefsky happened to bump into Kanin and his wife, Ruth Gordon (1896-1985), a screenwriter and playwright as well as a renowned film and stage actress. The couple, impressed by Chayefsky's single-mindedness and enthusiasm, gave the budding playwright $500 to make his start and write his first full-length play, the never-to-be-produced Put Them All Together (aka M is for Mother).
This photograph of Paddy Chayefsky at a typewriter in a garment factory was taken by Michael Rougier for a June 6, 1955, LIFE magazine spread titled "Bride in the Bronx: Chayefsky builds his new play on wedding plans", which began by describing Chayefsky as "the most celebrated of the young TV playwrights". In the event, the photo was cropped to a thumbnail, with the typewriter only just visible.  
How did Chayefsky go about learning to type plays? Well, in the words of Marc Norman in What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting, "To learn drama's rhythm, Paddy typed out [Lillian] Hellman's The Children's Hour word for word." This 1934 drama is set in an all-girls boarding school and is based on a false accusation that two headmistresses are having a lesbian affair.
Lillian Hellman
Norman goes on to write that Chayefsky, in order to "learn comedy", then proceeded to type out the full script of The Front Page. This, of course, was a hit Broadway comedy about tabloid newspaper reporters on the police beat, written by two former Chicago journalists, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and first produced in 1928.
Charles MacArthur at his typewriter
Osgood Perkins and Lee Tracey in the play The Front Page
Chayefsky was born Sidney Aaron Chayefsky in The Bronx on January 29, 1923. He is the only person to have won three solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (the other three-time winners, Francis Ford Coppola, Charles Brackett, Woody Allen, and Billy Wilder, have all shared their awards with co-writers). Chayefsky's Oscars were for Marty (1955), The Hospital (1971) and Network (1976).
Chayefsky in 1957, the year he wrote The Great American Hoax
Chayefsky died of cancer in New York City on August 1, 1981, aged 58.
 Chayefsky in 1976, the year he wrote Network.

Friday 18 May 2018

Proper Post Posture with Remington Portable Typewriter

Emily Post (1872-1960) was an American author famous for writing about etiquette. Post was born Emily Price in Baltimore. After being educated at home in her early years, Price attended Miss Graham's finishing school in New York. She grew up in a world of grand estates, her life governed by carefully delineated rituals. Price met her husband, Edwin Main Post, a prominent banker, at a ball in a Fifth Avenue mansion. Following their wedding in 1892 and a honeymoon tour of Europe, they lived in New York's Washington Square. They also had a country cottage, named "Emily Post Cottage", in Tuxedo Park. Emily divorced  Post in 1905 because of his affairs with chorus girls and fledgling actresses. She produced newspaper articles on architecture and interior design, as well as stories and serials for magazines including Harper's, Scribner's and The Century. She published her first etiquette book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home in 1922. It became a best-seller. After 1931, Post spoke on radio programs and wrote a column on good taste for the Bell Syndicate; it appeared daily in some 200 newspapers. Her books had recurring characters, the Toploftys, the Eminents, the Richan Vulgars, the Gildings and the Kindharts. In 1946, Post founded The Emily Post Institute, which continues her work. She died in 1960 in her New York City apartment at the age of 87. 

Thursday 17 May 2018

AI and Typewriters (Well, EI Anyway)

Artificial intelligence and typewriters? Well, not quite, but "electronic intelligence" was added to the IBM electric in 1956 - at least for tabulation. IBM called it "The first electronic typewriter". "[It] 'reads' business forms and does all the tabulation setting for the typist electronically," the company announced on September 14, 1956 - the same year that the field of AI research was born in a workshop at Dartmouth College.
IBM president Thomas J. Watson proudly exhibited the electronic typewriter at IBM's New York headquarters, as part of what he described as "the greatest new product day in the history of IBM and, I believe, in the history of the office equipment industry."
Watson added that the new electronic tab setter on the IBM electric typewriter will be "a tremendous time and work saver to every typist who works with prepared business forms and documents."
The company explained, "An electronic 'reading' device has been added to the IBM electric typewriter so that typists will no longer have to set tabulating stops while filling in the hundreds of different varieties of forms that are used every day in a business office. Business forms will be printed with vertical lines of electrically-conductive ink associated with each blank fill-in area for which the typist would normally set the tab. These lines, in effect, program the typewriter. No matter what variety of form the typist rolls into the machine, the tabs will be automatically set. All the typist need do is operate the tab key, and the machine, 'reading' the lines on the form, will position the carriage before the next fill-in area."
The sales manager of IBM's Electric Typewriter Division, Henry W. Reis Jr, said "this historic application of electronics to office machines opens many dramatic possibilities. This marriage of electronics to the typewriter promises to be a most fruitful one. Since IBM introduced the first electric typewriter to the business world 23 years ago, many advances have been made in all phases of typewriter engineering, but they are merely mileposts along the road to making the origination of letters and documents easier and faster. Our endowing the typewriter with an 'electronic intelligence' is just one of the many strides we will make as we continue to incorporate scientific developments into the typewriter of the future."
The cost of the machine? A very steep $520 ($4783 in today's money).
The advertisement at the top of this post appeared in The New Yorker on November 3, 1956. The day before, a 30-page supplement called "Open House Edition" was published in The Kingston Daily Freeman, marking IBM's arrival in Kingston, Ulster County, New York's first capital, 91 miles north of New York City. The supplement included this article:
The man largely responsible for the invention was Thurston Homer Toeppen, a University of Michigan graduate who been appointed technical assistant at the IBM electric typewriter engineering laboratory in Poughkeepsie the previous year. Toeppen was born in Chicago on October 11, 1915, and spent time in California before graduating from Michigan in 1938. He moved to New York to be assistant manager of a printing company but later became an inventor and mechanical designer. He joined IBM in 1954 and had a large number of typewriter patents to his name. Toeppen later went to work for Friden Inc in Rochester, again on typewriters. He moved to Tucson in 1997 and died at the hospice Casa de la Luz, on September 25, 2007, aged 91.
Machine testing at Kingston, 1956
 The man in charge of the IBM Selectric development

Wednesday 16 May 2018

RIP Tom Wolfe (1930-2018)

Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr was an American author and journalist widely known for his association with New Journalism, a style of news writing and journalism developed in the 1960s and 1970s that incorporated literary techniques. Wolfe began his career as a regional newspaper reporter in the 1950s, achieving national prominence in the 1960s following the publication of such best-selling books as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (a highly experimental account of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters) and two collections of articles and essays, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Wolfe was born on March 2, 1930, in Richmond, Virginia, and died in Manhattan on May 14, 2018, at the age of 88.
In 1956 Wolfe became a reporter for the Springfield Union in Springfield, Massachusetts. Three years later he was hired by The Washington Post. He won an award from The Newspaper Guild for foreign reporting in Cuba in 1961 and also won the Guild's award for humor. While there, Wolfe experimented with fiction-writing techniques in feature stories. In 1962, Wolfe left Washington DC for New York City, taking a position with the New York Herald Tribune as a general assignment reporter and feature writer. During the 1962 New York City newspaper strike, Wolfe approached Esquire magazine about an article on the hot rod and custom car culture of Southern California. He struggled with the article until his editor, Byron Dobell, suggested that Wolfe send him his notes so they could piece the story together. The evening before the deadline, he typed a letter to Dobell explaining what he wanted to say on the subject, ignoring all journalistic conventions. Dobell's response was to remove the salutation "Dear Byron" from the top of the letter and publish it intact as reportage. The result, published in 1963, was "There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby." The article was widely discussed - loved by some, hated by others. Its notoriety helped Wolfe gain publication of his first book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, a collection of his writings from the Herald-Tribune, Esquire and other publications.
This was what Wolfe called New Journalism, in which some journalists and essayists experimented with a variety of literary techniques, mixing them with the traditional ideal of dispassionate, even-handed reporting. Wolfe experimented with four literary devices not normally associated with feature writing: scene-by-scene construction, extensive dialogue, multiple points of view, and detailed description of individuals' status-life symbols (the material choices people make) in writing this stylized form of journalism. He later referred to this style as literary journalism. Of the use of status symbols, Wolfe has said, "I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status."

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Editor Harvey Kurtzman, who claimed the image of Alfred E. Neuman for MAD magazine in 1954
Alfred E. Neuman was named by MAD's second editor, Al Feldstein, in 1956
Why did I wake up this morning thinking of Alfred E. Neuman? It took me a while to work it out, but then ...
Australia, a constitutional monarchy ruled by a 92-year-old great-grandmother of German descent, who lives in London (which is a very, very long way from Canberra), is in another one of its mindless frenzies about a wedding to which no Australian has been invited. This one will take place at a Norman castle in Berkshire, England, on Saturday. At least I'm a direct descendant of the Normans, which the couple getting married are not. But the apron strings of old Mother England are still proving too tough to cut.
The wedding is between a fellow called Harry Wales (sounds like something from John le CarrĂ©), the nephew of a lady who came to one of my own weddings (as plain Jane) and a Los Angeles divorcee called Meghan Markle, who in order to dig her mits into the mostly ill-gotten imperial gains had to be baptised into the Church of England, take out British citizenship and virtually disown her own father. If this seems strangely familiar, think very strange and Wallis Simpson, except blow-hard Bessie was from Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, and was twice divorced.
It is, as I say, a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world.
What most of those who are getting their knickers in a twist about Saturday's wedding don't realise, however, is that Harry Wales is the son of Alfred E. Neuman. Well, to be fair, since Alfred E. Neuman doesn't actually exist, the inspiration for Alfred E. Neuman. Yes, in 1958, when Harry's alleged dad, a chap called Charlie Windsor, was nine, readers of MAD magazine and Marie Claire realised that Charlie and Alfred were identical, and wrote to MAD expressing their discovery.
 Shortly thereafter, an angry letter under a Buckingham Palace letterhead arrived at the MAD offices: "Dear Sirs, No it isn't a bit - not the least little bit like me. So jolly well stow it! See! Charles, P." The letter was authenticated as having been written on triple-cream laid royal stationery bearing an official copper-engraved crest. The postmark indicated it had been mailed from a post office within a short walking distance of Buckingham Palace.
MAD writer and artist Wally Wood covering a "royal wedding". What I think of it is below:

Tuesday 15 May 2018

The Typing Lady of the Lines

Today's Google Doodle features Maria Reiche Grosse-Neumann, the "Lady of the Lines", a German mathematician, scientist, archaeologist and technical translator who revealed the significance of the mysterious Peruvian Nazca Lines.
In the Maria Reiche Museum in Provincia de Nazca, Peru, there is a wax figure of Maria at her typewriter.

Maria was born into a middle-class family in Dresden on May 15, 1903, and studied mathematics, astronomy, geography and foreign languages at the Dresden Technical University. She spoke five languages. In 1932 she worked as governess for the children of a German consul in Cusco, the ancient Inca capital in the south of PeruIt was then that she first began to explore the Andes and the high desert plains, which made a lasting impression on her. In 1934 she moved to Lima to teach German. 
The mysterious lines in the plains of the desert around Nazca, some 250 miles (400km) south of Lima, were first discovered in the late 1920s by the Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Maj'ia Xesspe. Maria's interest in them began in 1940, after Maria met Clorinda Caller Iberico at the National University of San Marcos in Lima. She typed scientific translations from German and English for the Chair of Anthropology, dictated by Dr Julio C. Tello and Clorinda.
She became an assistant to the American Paul Kosok, an historian from Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, and the two began to map and assess the lines for their relation to astronomical events. Maria developed the theory that the lines formed a large celestial calendar, one representing the constellations of the southern hemisphere. After Kosok left in 1948, she continued the work of mapping the area. She used her background as a mathematician to analyse how the Nazca may have created such huge figures. She found these to have a mathematical precision that was highly sophisticated. Maria published her theories in the book The Mystery on the Desert (1949), which in 1993 was followed by Contributions to Geometry and Astronomy in Ancient Peru, and the following year UNESCO declared the Nazca lines part of the patrimony of humanity. Maria described the site, which covers more than 225 square miles (365sq km), as "a huge blackboard where giant hands have drawn clear and precise geometric designs". She dismissed the theories of Eric von Daniken that they must have been some kind of sign to extra-terrestrials, saying it as an insult to the engineering capacities of the ancient inhabitants of Peru. 
Maria died of ovarian cancer on June 8, 1998, in an Air Force Hospital in Lima.