Saturday 27 February 2021
Thursday 25 February 2021
She acted as if she Hated Typewriters, but there was no reason for the FBI to Hound Jean Seberg to Death
“You know what I hate?”
--- Jean Seberg, as Christina James, to one of her lovers, British foreign correspondent Walter Beddoes (Stanley Baker), In The French Style (1963). At the time Christina damns all typewriters, she is waiting expectantly in bed while Walter types a news story on an Olivetti Studio 44. Admittedly, Christina later added “international darlings”, airports and telephones to her hate list.
Q: Which American author used an Olivetti Studio 44 semi-portable typewriter to write short stories and a screenplay based on two of those stories, then allowed the same Olivetti to be used as a prop in the movie made from his screenplay? A: Irwin Shaw, the anniversary of whose birth (in The Bronx in 1913) will be marked this coming Saturday (February 27). And the movie in question is 1963’s In The French Style, starring Jean Seberg.
Irwin’s Studio 44 was brand new when in late 1952 he wrote one of the short stories which would later be emerged into the screenplay. It was also called In The French Style and it was published in The New Yorker on January 10, 1953. The other short story was called A Year to Study the Language. The movie was directed by Shaw’s close friend Robert Parrish and was panned by the critics. The New York Times review said Shaw’s “literary penchant for the romance of remorse - for the sentiments of fairly bourgeois people who burn the candle at both ends and have regrets - is exercised too profusely …” TIME was even less charitable. “Year after year, Irwin Shaw wept bitterly in his champagne. The cinemoguls gave him heaps of dough to write movie scripts (Act of Love, The Big Gamble), but a man cannot live by bread alone. As an artist, Irwin earnestly and frequently explained to the press, he was hurt by what happened to his scripts after he turned them in. Words were changed. Sometimes whole scenes were struck out by some thick-fingered fur salesman who had never read anything more difficult than a ledger. Sizzling from Hollywood's ignominies (and loaded with Hollywood's gold), Scriptwriter Shaw last year at last devised a stratagem to baffle the barbarians. He wrote a picture and then produced it himself - at a cost of about a million. This is it and he loves it. ‘For the first time,’ he says proudly, ‘I have a feeling that a movie is mine.’ Well, he can have it. For one thing, his script urgently requires the attention of that fur salesman. Seberg wins the customer's sympathy … she tries so hard. So does Irwin, and he can really use some sympathy. If this picture does as well as it deserves to, he may soon be weeping bitterly in his beer.”
I must admit, as hard as Jean Seberg did try, it’s years since I gave her even a single thought. Then last night I read William Boyd’s Diary column in Literary Review (December 2020-January 2021) and was, quite frankly, shocked to see what became of her. Boyd has had Seberg on his mind a lot lately, because he has based a character in his latest novel, Trio, on Seberg, and that had meant Boyd reading as much as he could about the life of the late star. The character is called Anny Viklund – Anny uses three of the letters in Jean and the Scandanavian-sounding Viklund is simply a play on the invented surname Seberg (Jean’s paternal grandfather, Edward Carlson, arrived in the US in 1882 and decided there were “too many Carlsons in the New World”, so changed the family's last name to Seberg in memory of the water and mountains of Sweden.) Trio is set mainly in Brighton in England in the summer of 1968, with the trio in question being its three main, vunerable characters, all connected to the making of a film. Viklund is a pill-popping American actress, divorced from her American terrorist husband whose escape from prison and arrival in Britain brings personal threats and the unwanted attention of the FBI. It's a beat-up version of Seberg's real life in the late 60s.
Boyd wrote in Literary Review, “Seberg was hounded - and smeared - by the FBI for her left-liberal politics and her support for the Black Panther Party. There is convincing circumstantial evidence that the FBI was involved in her mysterious death. She disappeared from her Paris apartment [on August 30, 1970] and, nine days later [on September 8], her body was discovered [on rue du Général-Appert] in the 16th arrondissement in her car [a white Renault 5 registered 334 APK 75] wrapped in a blanket. It looked like a suicide but the Paris police autopsy pronounced that there was so much alcohol in her body she would have been incapable of walking, let alone driving. There was no alcohol in the car.”
Seberg was just 40 when she died. The circumstances were certainly squalid and pathetic, both on account of the FBI’s involvement. There was a bottle of barbiturates and a suicide note beside the corpse. Seberg’s body had “baked in the sun” and the odour was “unimaginably foul”. This was an actress who, at the start of her career, was described as “so unimaginably fresh” and “the golden sunflower girl”. Days after her death the FBI admitted that its agents had plotted to ruin her reputation as part of their counter-intelligence programme, Cointelpro, authorised by FBI founder, J. Edgar Hoover himself. Seberg’s crime, in Hoover’s eyes, was her involvement in political causes and her support of the Black Panthers. In particular, they were suspicious of her close links with Black Power leader Hakim Jamal. Seberg’s involvement with the Panthers came from a chance meeting with Jamal on a flight from Paris to Los Angeles in 1968. When they landed, she gave him a raised fist salute, in full view of the assembled press. Jamal, married to a cousin of Malcolm X, acted as a go-between for the movement and Hollywood, often courting high-profile celebrities for their support. Seberg reportedly contributed an estimated $10,500 to the cause after their first meeting, and hosted a 1969 fundraiser for the Black Panthers party at her home. The guestlist included Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Paul Newman. Seberg also acted as an emissary for the Black Panthers abroad. Her commitment to the values of the movement was in being supportive of the Panthers’ local social initiatives providing education and food to disenfranchised children. But in 1974 Seaberg said, “I’ve analyzed the fact that I’m not equipped to participate absolutely and totally. I had a very, very bad mental breakdown, and now I realise I wouldn’t want a person like me in a group I was a member of, as Groucho Marx would put it.”
A 1970 FBI memo read: “Bureau permission is required the publicize the pregnancy of Jean Seberg, well-known movie actress, by [redacted] Black Panther party, [redacted] by advising Hollywood gossip columnists in the Los Angeles area of the situation. It is felt that the possible publication of Seberg’s plight could cause her embarrassment and cheapen her image with the general public.” The memo suggested planting an item along the lines: “I was just thinking about you and remembered I still owe you a favor. So I was in Paris last week and ran into Jean Seberg who was heavy with baby. I thought she and Romain [Gary] had gotten together again but she confided the child belonged to [name deleted] of the Black Panthers. The dear girl is getting around. Anyway, I thought you might get a scoop on the others.” The plan worked. It was dispiriting but inevitable that some gossip columnists followed the false leads that the FBI dangled in front of them. From the FBI’s point of view, she was involved in radical politics, had contributed financially to the Black Panthers and was therefore fair game.
The story was picked up by gossip columnist, Joyce Haber (seen left in a 1970 photo, with claws out], who referred obliquely to it in The Los Angeles Times. Newsweek also wrote about it and named Seberg. At the time of the leak, Seberg had indeed been seven months pregnant. In the wake of reading the false stories about herself, she went into labour. Her baby daughter was born prematurely and died a few days later, on August 23, 1970. The week after Seberg’s own death, Alistair Cooke said in one of his “Letters from America” broadcasts on the BBC that Seberg took her baby’s corpse back home to Iowa “in a glass coffin as a glaring proof that the baby was white - an excessive reaction perhaps, but in 1970 she knew that the FBI could and did destroy hundreds of radicals and non-radicals”.
Seberg was a pharmacist’s daughter who had grown up in Marshalltown, Iowa. She landed the lead role in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan in 1957, and she really was a special talent. One biographer said, “She had a spontaneity, mischief and lambent grace on screen that immediately enraptured the young critics and would-be filmmakers from Cahiers du Cinéma in France … [she became] the sacred muse of the French Nouvelle Vague.” Seberg was thus more highly valued back in Hollywood. One of her greatest roles was as the beautiful schizophrenic opposite Warren Beatty and Peter Fonda in Lillith (1964), but then Hoover and the FBI set about destroying her. On each anniversary of her baby’s death, she had attempted suicide.
Jean Seberg at home in Paris with her cat in 1970.
Wednesday 24 February 2021
“Kauri trees mark magnetic flip 42,000 years ago” was the heading on an article by Paul Voosen in last week’s issue of Science magazine. “Using a remarkable 42,000-year-old [New Zealand] kauri tree preserved in a bog, researchers have pieced together a record of the last time Earth's protective magnetic field weakened and its poles flipped - known as the Laschamp excursion - exposing the world to a bombardment of cosmic rays and, a team of scientists suggests, briefly shifting Earth's climate.” Voosen went on to explain that workers breaking ground for a power plant had unearthed a record of a lost time: a 60-ton trunk from a kauri tree with rings which spanned 1700 years, capturing a tumultuous time when the world was turned upside down - at least magnetically speaking. By modeling the effect of this radiation bombardment on the atmosphere, the scientists suggest Earth’s climate briefly shifted, perhaps contributing to the disappearance of large mammals in Australia and Neanderthals in Europe.
So, you are no doubt asking, what has all this got to do with typewriters? Well, the answer is simple: Sir Alfred Hamish Reed.
Sir Alf was one of New Zealand’s most popular 20th century figures. He was its most prolific non-fiction author, writing 39 books on history and travel over a period of 39 years (1935-1974). Six of his books are about kauri trees (The Gumdiggers: The Story of Kauri Gum [1948 and 1972], The Story of the Kauri [1953 and 1964], The Story of Kauri Park ) and New Zealand's Forest King: The Kauri , and the A. H. Reed Memorial Kauri Park scenic reserve, near Whangarei, commemorates his association with that North Auckland district. Reed was also a bookseller and a renowned philanthropist, but perhaps most famous as founder and, with his nephew Alexander Wyclif Reed, owner of one of the Southern Hemisphere’s major publishing houses, A.H. & A.W. Reed.
Alf Reed died in 1975, 11 months short of his 100th birthday. He was born outside London in 1875 and his family migrated to New Zealand when he was 11. Reed spent much of his adolescence digging for kauri gum alongside his father in the far north of the country. The gum was formed by resin from native kauri trees (Agathis australis). Lumps fell to the ground and became covered with soil and forest litter, eventually fossilizing. The shaved gum was sold for up to five pence a pound, and a diligent gumdigger could average eight shillings a day. Reed loathed the isolated gumfields and was determined to find a skill that would allow him to escape into town or city life. He studied shorthand through a Pitman correspondence course, and in a final test achieved 1620 words over 12 minutes at 135 words a minute to pass the qualifying standard.
In October 1895, Reed moved to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, but he found transcribing and newspaper jobs hard to come by. Reed had never seen a typewriter, and soon realised he would need to combine his shorthand with typing skills in order to earn a living. Reed paid two guineas for 14 weeks of typing lessons taught by John Henry Colwill, one of the first office equipment suppliers to import typewriters into New Zealand. Through Colwill, Reed was introduced to Thomas George DeRenzy, a colorful character who, in late 1894, had established the NZ Typewriter Company. Reed began working for DeRenzy on his 20th birthday, for 20 shillings a week. DeRenzy first broached the idea of Reed opening a Dunedin branch of the NZTC in May 1897 and Reed did so in late November that year. Among the 1100 Blicks Reed sold from his Dunedin branch, which came the headquarters of the NZTC, was one to John Joseph Woods, who wrote the music for the national anthem, God Defend New Zealand.
Tuesday 23 February 2021
These 52 images bring to mind some of the weird and wonderful places I had to find to type newspaper copy in various parts of the world – from the banks of the Nile in Luxor, a sheep paddock in Wales, beside Lough Ree in Ireland, in the markets in Tangier, on a muddy field in Queanbeyan, a park bench in Madrid and a beach in Acapulco. The list just goes on and on. I often had to pick the most convenient - but not always the most comfortable - spot to write in order to meet a deadline.
At the August 1959 wedding of Steven Rockefeller to the Rockefeller family’s ex-au pair Anne-Marie Rasmussen in Norway, a journalist found a place on top of a tombstone in the old cemetery surrounding the Temple of Marriage.
After the August 1956 disaster at the Bois du Cazier mine in Marcinelle near Charleroi in Belgium, journalists found somewhere to type their stories - anywhere would do ... The top machine is a Gossen Tippa.
On a visit by John F. Kennedy to France in late May 1961, a typewriter was set up for use in Air Force One.
In October 1965, French writer Lionel Chouchan tries to concentrate on writing on his Hermes Baby.
In September 1967, French singer Antoine has to use his lap (top).
A Zairean soldier types on an Olivetti Lexikon in April 1977.
In September 1977, French writer Muriel Cerf sits on her bed to type.
On the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean in April 1986, a gendarme, questions a Mahorais.
Catherine Pironi, her SCM and her test-tube twins Didier and Gilles in Rambouillet in June 1988.
Writer Pierre Rey on the beach with his SCM in Malibu in April 1988.
In August 1989 gendarmes question a man following a fire, typing their report on an Olympia.
Street typist in Bombay.
American businessmen took typewriters to a beach in Virginia during the summer heat in 1932.
Nathalie Vadim, daughter of Roger Vadim, on a beach. A Voss?
Italian singer and actress Giorgia Moll, Rome, March 1957
Francoise Sagan in her apartment on the rue de Grenelle in Paris in February 1956, sitting on a radiator.
A soldier types his report among the ruins of Belgrade, 1941.
Harvard graduate Paul Jeffery Hopkins types on an SCM as Lama Geshe Wangyal translates ancient Tibetan Buddhist scrolls he took to the US after fleeing religious persecution in Tibet.
British aviator and air correspondent Victor Ricketts with this Empire Aristocrat in 1938.
Minutes before leaving for New York to attend the installation of archbishop Terence J. Cooke, President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to take along his daughter Luci Nugent and her son, Patrick Lyndon, nine months old. In a rush, Luci grabbed fresh clothes for her son and had to change the boy's outfit in flight. Patrick pecks at the Olivetti Lettera 22's keys of UPI correspondent Helen Thomas during the flight aboard Air Force One.
An Italian journalist en route with his Olivetti Lettera 22 to New York for the World's Fair in 1964.
In June 1960 CBS-TV anchor man Walter Cronkite. I know all about that pigeon-toed balancing act.
Orson Welles and his Underwood Noiseless aboard an American Airlines plane in August 1939.
John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir), eighth from left, playing solitaire while Guy Rhoades of The Ottawa Citizen types his copy on an Empire Aristocrat aboard the SS Distributor during Buchan's visit to the Northwestern Territory of Canada, July 1937. A Margaret Bourke-White photo.
Two New York typists at work in an open air swimming pool during a hot summer in 1938.
Typist next to the Central Park Reservoir, New York 1942.
Australian cricketer-journalist Ashley Mallett with a Remington Monarch in Melbourne, 1977.
Steven Lowe with a Hermes 3000 at the Beat Hotel, Desert Hot Springs, California. Lowe turned the place into a shrine to the writers of the Beat Generation.
Author Helen Rose Hull with a Corona in 1946.
Two students from Iowa with their Hermes Baby, reviewing a trip across the Atlantic to Britain on the Queen Elizabeth for their local newspaper.
Writer James Clavell with an SCM by the ocean, 1977.
An Italian journalist in the garden of the Hotel Al Rasheed, Baghdad, Iraq, types his story beside modern satellite kit during the Persian Gulf War in February 1991.
Female clerks from a London office working in an alley in steel helmets, after being forced outside by bomb damage to their building in 1940.
Fred Krause-Reussen, reporter for Münchner Abendzeitung, writes his report on a Gossen Tippa on Heligoland.
A journalist typing during a visit by John F. Kennedy to military air base in
Langendiebach near Hanau in June 1963.
Typing inside the Graf Zeppelin airship in the 1930s.
Typing with a Remington Model 1 at camp, Tibet, Mount Everest Expedition 1924.
Royal, summer camp 1940.
World speed typing champion Albert Tangora gives lessons on a Californian beach in 1938.
French film actress and screenwriter France Roche with a Hermes Baby in July 1955.
US College student with a Remington, 1958.
In February 1975, German actor Curd Juergens with his Olivetti Lettera 32 on the beach in front of his house on the Bahamian island of Great Harbor Cay.
A summer workshop for jazz and dance, California, 1959
Street artist Carlos, 20, in Bogota, Colombia, March 2018.
Street typist Purushottam Sakhare in Mumbai in February 2011.
Miami Beach, Florida, February 1940.
Movie star Norman Foster with his Royal at his beach cottage. Publicity shot for the 1934 film Orient Express.
US gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell types on her Olivetti Lettera 22 in Venice during the 15th International Film Festival.
One of my favourite images, Bijou, leaving Grad Nord, Paris, late 1920s.