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Thursday 31 January 2019

The Typewriter Lady Who Turned Paris on its Head

Glamorous Prague typist Maria Lani hit artistically vibrant Paris like a tempest in the Spring of 1928. Less than three years later she disappeared, just as mysteriously as she had arrived. Lani had set the city a-tizz, and become known across the globe as “The Lady with 50 Faces” and “The “Muse of Modern Masters”. In December 1929, Vanity Fair called her the “improbable perfection of her sex. [The] genius of Europe has massed against this one objective: merely to claim for art the secret of Maria Lani’s smile.” The New York Times said she was "an international phenomenon”.
The world would not soon forget Maria Lani, and little wonder. She had fleetingly proved to be the very essence of an enigma: 59 artists, including Bonnard, Chagall, Cocteau, Derain, Matisse, Rouault and Suzanne Valadon, had painted, drawn and sculpted her face, and no two images were alike. Only the suspicious Pablo Picasso stood apart from the mob crying out for Lani to pose for them.
Jacqueline Marval's portrait  
Georges Rouault's portrait
Maria Lani was not a 22-year-old Czech, nor an aspiring German film star, as she claimed at the time. She was Maria Geleniewicz, born on June 24, 1895, in Kolno, Poland, and raised in Częstochowa. She was the key part of an elaborate ruse, concocted with her husband, Belarus-born Maximilian Abramowicz (aka Maksymiljan, Maximilian Ilyin and Mac Ramo) and her brother Alexander Jeleniewicz, to convince artists she needed multiple portraits for the plot of a horror movie, The Woman of the Hundred Faces that they claimed to be making. Jean Cocteau fell for the scam and encouraged other artists to become involved. “Maria Lani! Maria Lani! Maria Lani!” wrote the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, who found the cry “repeated through the night, agitating, like the sirens in a factory district.” De Chirico gave up and drew her faceless above a pile of monument columns (below).
The evasive Lani and Abramowicz kept the 76 art works, which they exhibited across Europe and in America, and on March 7, 1941, they escaped war-torn Europe from Lisbon aboard the Excambion, arriving in New York on March 18. Lani, calling herself an actress, and Abramowicz (a "film proudcer"), had managed to get passports issued in Oporto the previous November 20, and had waited on tenterhooks for 13 weeks until they could get a ship to the US. Once there, they settled at 147 West 55th Street, New York City, later moving to 31 West 53rd Street.
Lani’s mystique remained, such that she was to be the subject of a second planned – and this time real - movie, in 1943, co-written by Thomas Mann, Louis Bromfield and Abramowicz (as Ilyin), with Jean Renoir as director and Greta Garbo (or, as one critic claimed Hedy Lamarr) as Hortense Pichat [Lani]. This was never made either.
In late 1945 Lani was found by LIFE magazine working as a volunteer waitress in a patriotic red, white and blue apron at the Stage Door Canteen in Manhattan, a recreational centre for US servicemen.
This charity work aided Lani and Abramowicz (as Ilyin) in getting instant US citizenship on May 9, 1946. But on April 6, 1951, Lani left New York and returned to France alone, docking at Cherbourg on the Queen Elizabeth and telling immigration officials she intended to stay only six months. Abramowicz (as Ilyin) flew to Paris to join her in late April 1953. Describing herself as a mere housewife, Lani lived at 11 Rue des Belles-Feuilles, Paris. Still claiming to have been born in 1905, and therefore only 48 instead of 58, she died of a brain tumor at 2.30 on the afternoon of March 11, 1954, at the Hôpital de la Pitié at 83 Boulevard de Hôpital. She was buried not in a pauper's grave, as some stories suggest, but in the extra muros Cimetière Parisien de Thiais in the Val-de-Marne department of Île-de-France. There, in grave two of the 24th row of the 78th division, she lay beside such luminaries as King Zog of Albania, Kiki the Queen of Montparnasse, and Lev Sedov, son of Léon Trotsky. Abramowicz (as Ilyin) also died in Paris, on February 5, 1964, aged 71.
San Francisco Examiner, November 30, 1930

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Hef 'n' Tennessee and Their Typewriters

The Hefner Underwood
Hugh Marston Hefner was photographed at typewriters almost as often as Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III. Well, not quite, perhaps, but he was headed that way. And while one used typewriters to put together some of the finest art of the mid-20th Century, the other typed words to go around some of the sleaziest art of the same period. (No prizes for guessing which did which.)
     What else do they now have in common? The inflated value of their old typewriters, it seems. The Underwood portable Hefner used when he lived at 1303 West University Avenue, Urbana, and attended the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (he graduated in 1949), sold at auction last December 3 for $US162,500 ($A225,837). The estimated sale price had been $US2000-$4000.
     One news outlet claimed the Underwood had been used to write articles for the first issue of Playboy magazine in 1953. Hefner, who died on September 27, 2017, aged 91, was photographed at a range of models in his younger days, including Underwood and L.C. Smith standards, and a Royal standard and portable, but not an Underwood portable.
     Proceeds from the auction, conducted by Julien’s in Beverly Hills, California, have gone to the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, which supports organisations that advocate for and defend civil rights and civil liberties. Hefner’s copy of the first Playboy, which featured nude photos of Marilyn Monroe, sold for $US31,250 ($A41,421) and his iconic smoking jacket fetched $US41,600 ($A57,794).
     Earlier in the year, yet another of Tennessee Williams'  portable typewriters sold at auction. Described as “An important artifact in the history of American theatre”, the Remington Model 2 sold for $US37,500 ($A52,113) at Sotheby’s in New York City on June 28. It was purported to be the machine Williams used to write A Streetcar Named Desire, so naturally the estimate had been between $US30,000 and $50,000. Anticipated price aside, however, other aspects of this offering should have raised some eyebrows among typewriter collectors.
The Williams Remington
As Richard Polt, not just a world expert on Remington portables but also on famous writers and their typewriters. says on his Classic Typewriter Page, “This man [Williams] loved to have himself photographed with his writing machines!” Richard lists some of the models Williams is said to have used, or can plainly be seen using: a 1936 Corona Junior,  a Corona Sterling, a Royal KMM standard, a Hermes Baby, an Olivetti Studio 44, Remington Model 5 portable flat top, a Remington Standard M and an Olympia SM8. He might also have offered an Olivetti Lettera 32 and one of two others, including an early Underwood portable and a later electric. But a Remington Model 2 portable?
Sotheby’s offered some evidence of provenance. “This typewriter,” it said, “is accompanied by a large scrap of brown butcher's paper inscribed in red ink by Lady St Just [Maria Britneva], ‘Tennessee Williams' typewriter on which he wrote 'A Streetcar Named Desire': given to Maria Britneva, London, early 1950s.”
Now it is true that Russian-born actress Maria Britneva (1921-1994) was the executor of Williams’ literary estate. Britneva met Williams in 1948 at a party at John Gielgud's house and they became lifelong close friends. However, it seems that nowhere in the book Britneva published in 1990, Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St Just, 1948–1982, is the gift of a typewriter - especially not one as important as this one is alleged to be in literary history - mentioned. Rather, newspaper reviews of Britneva's book about her correspondence with Williams said the playwright used a Remington Model 5 portable flat top to type his earliest plays. Indeed, LIFE magazine's February 16, 1948, feature on the "newcomer" confirmed this, clearly showing him using the flat top.
Yet Sotheby’s claims for the Model 2 stated, “Williams began work on ‘Streetcar’ in the spring of 1947 and continued to revise it right up until opening night in December of same year.” It speculated that as he worked on the play in New York, Charleston, South Carolina, New Orleans and other locations … “a portable typewriter was a necessity. This typewriter was around 25 years old when Williams used it for ‘Streetcar’. It is possible he also used it for earlier plays, short stories, poems and letters.  A later typewriter owned by Williams, an Olivetti Lettera 32 (1963 or later), is in the Tennessee Williams Collection at Columbia University.”
Of course, in the absence of signed provenance provided by the actual author – which admittedly, in the case with the Olivetti Lettera 32 sold at auction by Cormac McCarthy, was very clearly incorrect - there is always bound to be speculation about the typewriters used by great writers. But in the case of Tennessee Williams, such conjecture was fuelled by the sure and certain knowledge about the typewriters Williams did use (and did discuss using, such as the Olivetti Studio 44). That knowledge comes from something irrefutable – photographic evidence. After all, there is surely a limit to how many typewriters one writer can use in a lifetime – provided he is not also a typewriter collector!

Monday 28 January 2019

The Gunslinger Who Died at His Typewriter

Old West gunslinger turned New York sports columnist Bat Masterson stands at his New York Morning Telegraph desk with his close friend, Western silent film actor William S. Hart. The photo was taken 18 days before Masterson died at this very desk.
Two of New York's most legendary sports columnists are believed to have died at their typewriters, Bartholemew William Barclay "Bat" Masterson on October 25, 1921, and Henry Grantland Rice on July 13, 1954. Well, in the case of Grantland Rice, that's not entirely true - he actually died some distance from a typewriter, in Roosevelt Hospital at 6.15pm, six hours after suffering a massive stroke. He had written a "Sportslight" column on Willie Mays at his apartment at 1153 Fifth Avenue and gone into his office at 22 West 48th Street, Manhattan, to have his secretary, Catherine Mecca, submit the copy to the North American Newspaper Alliance.  Rice was 73.
Grantland Rice very much alive at his typewriter.
On the other hand Bat Masterson, the infamous Old West gunslinger, did die at his typewriter, suffering a massive heart attack sometime before noon at the offices of the New York Morning Telegraph on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. Masterson, 67, had just finished writing his column, which was duly published two days later. It contained the words, "There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”
Bat Masterson outside his newspaper office.
Newspapers of the day reported Quebec-born Masterson was found slumped on his typewriter, which some said was a Remington. He was found by Sam Taub, who Masterson had hired as a copy kid in 1908,  five years after joining the paper himself. Taub went on to become sports editor of the Telegraph and a boxing writer and commentator.
The New York Times report of Masterson's death.
Masterson called himself a "ham reporter" but readers found his colourful misuse of the English language appealing. His friend Jefferson Davis Orear, editor of the Arkansaw Thomas Cat, said he was "probably the best known newspaper writer in the country" and as someone who "never slops over and stands in the suds, can pack a pause with feeling and put a pressure of power in the silence. His intellect is crystalline - his verb always catches up. He says things."  Masterson's columns were "pregnant with fearsome facts [loaded with] cocktail brilliancy and Tabasco sauce trimmings."
Eighteen days before his death, Masterson was visited in his office by his close friend, the actor William Surrey Hart, who was fascinated by the Old West and was the leading Western film star of the silent era. Masterson and Hart were photographed at Masterson's desk.
Among the many notable journalists who worked with Masterson at the Morning Telegraph was movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who joined the staff in 1918 and found Masterson "a kind-hearted old man, a grand newspaper crony". Another was American Newspaper Guild founder Heywood Broun.
Louella Parsons at her Remington Model 2 portable typewriter in 1929.
Below, Heywood Broun.

Sunday 27 January 2019

Why Australia Day Should Be Celebrated On Typewriter Day

This folder of typewritten copy and letters, written by Australian journalist Keith Murdoch during World War I, was donated by his son Rupert to the National Library of Australia in Canberra, where I photographed some of its contents. The letter below, typed by Keith Murdoch on a Corona 3 portable typewriter, is a justification for Murdoch's famous "Gallipoli Letter", which led directly and instantly to the commander of the Allied forces in the Dardanelles, Ian Hamilton, being relieved of his duties, in large part because of the unnecessary sacrifice of thousands of Anzac troops in the August 1915 Offensive. In this document, there is proof positive that Murdoch's typewritten letter was mailed to Australia, not cabled, as generally believed. If Gallipoli truly represents the "birth of the Australian nation", then surely typewriters were the midwives. 
Today, January 26, is Australia Day. It’s still called Australia Day because on January 26, 1788, 231 years ago, the First Fleet of British ships arrived at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the Union Jack, the Flag of Great Britain, was raised at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip. When I first came to Australia, going on 50 years ago, all of this seemed to be universally accepted. Now, however, a growing number of Australians are seeing January 26 as marking “Invasion Day”, or “Survival Day”, as the idea that Australia began life as a nation on January 26, 1788 – with the arrival of the first white people - is obviously a complete nonsense. Various alternative options have been put forward, and among the more sensible are: that Australia Day should be moved to January 1, marking the date of Federation in 1901; March 3, marking the 1986 Australia Acts (cutting some ties with Britain, but not the Union Jack from our flag); April 25 (Anzac Day, see below); May 27 (1967 referendum to change the constitution to allow First Australians to be counted in the census), or December 3 (Eureka Stockade uprising, 1854).
       My suggestion, to settle this issue once and for all, is that Australia Day should be celebrated on June 23, to coincide with World Typewriter Day. I don’t agree that June 23 is the appropriate date for this anniversary, but it is what it is – the date in 1868 when Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Willard Soulé were granted the first patent (US79265A) for what would later become the Sholes & Glidden typewriter. I would have thought a more suitable date for World Typewriter Day might be March 1, when this typewriter first went into production (1873), or July 1, when it first reached the market (1874). But someone else settled on June 23, and so it remains.
       Regardless of all that, there is one salient reason why I think Australia Day should be marked on Typewriter Day. Anzac Day, which marks the anniversary of the first attack by Australian forces on Turkish soil in 1915, has come to be seen as celebrating a coming-of-age for Australia as a nation, or as marking the advent of Australian nationhood itself. While many Australians have more lately come to regard January 26 as “Invasion Day”, the idea that events at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, heralded “the birth of the nation” has been around for more than a century. It was a favoured – indeed romantic - notion that a nation should be born amid oceans of blood and gore – or, as Henry Lawson wrote, “the lurid clouds of war”. Lawson also claimed, “We boast no more of our bloodless flag, that rose from a nation’s slime.”
       The truth of the matter is, however, that Australians would have had little comprehension of its staggering losses, of the amount of its young blood that was spilled at Gallipoli, if it wasn’t for the typewriter. It was only through typewritten accounts of the full horrors of Gallipoli – written first by British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett on a green Empire aluminium thrust-action typewriter, and later by Australian journalist Keith Murdoch on a Corona 3 folding portable – that Australians (and Britons) got to grasp the full extent of the Gallipoli slaughter. This much, at least, is recognised in Robert Manne’s 2014 book (written with Chris Feik) “The Words That Made Australia: How a Nation Came to Know Itself ”
Ashmead-Bartlett at his Empire.
       Ashmead-Bartlett typed his letter on September 8, 1915, in the fortnight following the abysmal failure of the August Offensive (Battle of Sari Bair) on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the massive loss of Allied life. Ashmead-Bartlett wrote the letter on Imbros (now Gökçeada) in the Aegean Sea, at the insistence of Murdoch, who was briefly visiting the Dardanelles. Murdoch took the letter with him, intending to personally deliver it to British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith at 10 Downing Street, London. British military authorities were tipped off that word of their incompetence was on its way to Asquith, and intercepted Murdoch at Marseilles, relieving him of Ashmead-Bartlett’s revealing letter. Murdoch continued on to London, where he typed his own version of the Ashmead-Bartlett letter, using his recollections of it as well as his own brief observations of the situation at Gallipoli. The Murdoch Letter was mailed (not cabled) to Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher in Melbourne.
       Given the immediate impact of the Murdoch Letter, in both Australia and Britain (where it had already been printed and circulated to Cabinet members before it reached Fisher) the use of typewriters is of enormous significance. Without them, and without knowledge of what had been typed on them, the subsequent course of World War I may have been very, very different. And if an Australia nation was, as many still contend, born amid the blood on the beaches of Gallipoli, it was the typewriter which got word of that birth out to the world.
       I thereby rest my case. Australia Day and Typewriter Day should be celebrated together – starting this very June 23.

Thursday 24 January 2019

How the Gift of a Rented Underwood 5 Typewriter Brought America’s Old West Back to Life

Louis L'Amour at his Olympia portable, at a time when he
was able to afford to buy his own typewriters.
Charles Almeth Donnell died at Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, on March 30, 1939, almost exactly seven years after his act of generosity in Oklahoma City had helped bring America’s Old West back to life.
In 1932 Donnell, a former Remington Typewriter Company manager in Oklahoma City, ran the C.A. Donnell Typewriter Company at 210 North Harvey Street in “The Big Friendly”.
On February 2 that year, a struggling 23-year-old would-be writer called Louis LaMoore from Choctaw came into Donnell’s store and rented an Underwood 5 standard for $2.50 a month, one month’s payment in advance. The terms of the typewritten contract were strict: LaMoore agreed to return the typewriter in good order at the end of the rental period; if LaMoore failed to keep up the rent, he authorised Donnell to enter his premises in Choctaw without consent to remove the Underwood.
As it turned out, LaMoore paid the rent for several months, but then fell behind. He wrote to Donnell explaining his straitened situation. He didn’t hear back from Donnell. “No bill, no nothing. That typewriter meant more to me than anything else that happened. I was able to go on working.”
LaMoore came to consider the Underwood a gift from Donnell. It’s more probable Donnell had shut up shop in Oklahoma City (too many defaulters?) and had moved with his family west to California. He was in no position to reclaim the Underwood. Maybe he had creditors, too. Donnell lived in the Stanley Apartments on South Flower Street in Bunker Hill and by 1936 he was claiming social security in Los Angeles. He was dead at age 54.
Meanwhile, back in Oklahoma, Louis LaMoore was on the way to fame and fortune – thanks to Donnell’s Underwood 5. Except he wasn’t known as LaMoore any longer. He was typing frontier stories under the pen names of Tex Burns, Jim Mayo and, more lastingly, Louis L'Amour.
Louis Dearborn LaMoore was born in Jamestown, North Dakota, on March 22, 1908. He, too, was to die in Los Angeles, from lung cancer at his home on June 10, 1988, aged 80, almost certainly unaware his 1932 benefactor was buried in the same city. It’s also likely that Louis L’Amour had no idea Donnell had been born (on November 17, 1884) on the Rio de los Brazos de Dios (“River of the Arms of God") in Texas and grew up in Fort Worth and El Paso, places L’Amour would make internationally famous through his writings (Killoe, Shandy et al). L'Amour is indeed honoured with a star on the Texas Trail of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyard.
At the time of L’Amour’s death almost all of his 105 existing works (89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and two full-length works of non-fiction) were still in print, and he was regarded as one of the world's most popular writers. His work had sold more than 320 million copies by 2010, in more than 10 languages.
L’Amour grew up skinning cattle in west Texas, baling hay in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico, working in the mines of Arizona, California and Nevada, and in the saw mills and lumber camps of the Pacific Northwest. He met Old West characters, an experience which, allied to his extensive travels through the Old West, enabled him to vividly and accurately recreate the past.
Settling down in Choctaw, L'Amour and his Underwood 5 produced a story, “Death Westbound”, which was published in the 10 Story Book magazine. He started to get paid for stories, with “Anything for a Pal” in True Gang Life. Then in 1938 his stories began to regularly appear in pulp magazines. Two years later he found his richest vein, the Western genre, with “The Town No Guns Could Tame”. After World War II service as a lieutenant with the 362nd Quartermaster Truck Company in Europe, L’Amour resumed writing in April 1946 with “Law of the Desert Born” in Dime Western Magazine (April 1946). L'Amour's first novel was Westward the Tide in 1951.
Critic Jon Tuska, surveying Western literature, wrote: “At his best, L'Amour was a master of spectacular action and stories with a vivid, propulsive forward motion.”