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Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Heaven on a Typebar: A 1966 Olivetti Studio 44 in Brilliant Condition

Shake off the Corona Bug with Dickie Moore’s Jitterbug (and his Underwood Typewriter)

When the great Albert Tangora took umbrage to a $2500 cut in his annual salary and jumped camp from Underwood to Royal in 1935, it was a huge spoke in the wheels of Underwood’s powerful publicity machine. Tangora quickly ended Underwood’s near-30-year stranglehold on the world speed typing title, and Underwood responded by extending its substantial advertising budget to embrace Hollywood and Broadway stars, sports commentators and popular musicians, as well as beauty queens and, of course, its remaining loyal speed typists, like George Hossfield and Grace Phelan. By May 1939, Underwood had signed up Olivia De Haviland, Mary Martin, Frederic March, Joan Bennett, Evelyn Venable, Priscilla Lane, Jean Parker, Bonita Granville (Nancy Drew), Linda Gray, Rosella Towne, a young Jane Withers, Sabu Dastagir (Elephant Boy), William Gargan, Maurice Evans, Jeffrey Lyon, comedians Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson and radio personalities singer Kate Smith and Stan Lomax. All agreed to be photographed using standard and portable Underwoods, and by doing so to endorse the Underwood brand.

Marlene Dietrich with Dickie Moore in Blonde Venus.
Another of the movie stars involved in this Underwood promotion was child actor Dickie Moore, born John Richard Moore Jr in Los Angeles on September 12, 1925. When Moore died, in Wilton, Connecticut in 2015, five days before his 90th birthday, he was one of the last surviving actors to have appeared in silent film. A busy and popular actor during his childhood and youth, he appeared in more than 100 films until the 1950s. Among his most notable appearances were in the Our Gang series and in films such as Oliver Twist, Blonde Venus, Sergeant York and Out of the Past.

Moore made his film debut, aged one, in 1927, in the silent film The Beloved Rogue, left, in which he portrayed John Barrymore's character as a one-year-old baby. He had a significant role as Marlene Dietrich's son in Blonde Venus (1932). Moore went on to teach and write books about acting, edit Equity News, and produce an Oscar-nominated short film (The Boy and the Eagle). In 1984, Moore published Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car), a book about his and others' experiences as child actors. While working on this book, Moore met and later married Jayne Powell.

Jane Powell and Moore at the 1987 Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Moore is also famous for giving Shirley Temple her first romantic onscreen kiss, in the film Miss Annie Rooney (Moore said it was his first kiss ever). It was in this 1942 that Temple played the title role of a teenager from a humble background who falls in love with a 16-year-old rich high school boy (Marty White, played by Moore). She is snubbed by his social set, but, when her father (William Gargan) invents a rubber synthetic substitute, her prestige rises. Her jitterbug dancing skills also impress.




Moore and Shirley Temple in Miss Annie Rooney.

To “America's Pet” Shirley Temple. Below, a younger Shirley

Another child star interviewed by Moore for his book was Margaret O'Brien, below.
William Gargan, below, played  Shirley Temple's father in Miss Annie Rooney.
So let's blow those Covid blues away!

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Smith-Corona S 301 Electric Typewriter: $A359 in 1983, Not Worth A Zack Today

This 1983 Singapore-made Smith Corona S 301 'electro-mechanical'* typewriter (Model 3LRN, serial number 3LRN140483) was so long on my back-burner – more than five years by my reckoning - I’d forgotten what its problem was. Whatever it was, when I finally got to it on the weekend it wasn’t letting on. At least not to just the one problem. The whole thing was going crazy mad, back spacing across the width of the platen on its own accord. A late restyling of the Electra, the S 301 was one product, though an important one, from Smith-Corona’s outlay of $50 million on research and development from 1978-82. For me, this particular machine wasn’t worth the pittance I had paid for it at a local rubbish dump’s recycling centre. (*SC's way of distinguishing it from an electronic typewriter.)

When I took it apart the mechanical construction struck me as being very Japanese, especially in regard to the hallmarks of automated assembly. And SC certainly did admit to at least a fair degree of automation in its Singapore plant. Of course, when this machine was made SC was still at loggerheads with Brother over its 1974 accusation of “dumping” electric portables on the US market. When the Brother brouhaha began, SC had 4000 workers at South Cortland making electric portables, by 1985 the work force was down to 1000. The US Treasury Department had agreed with SC about the dumping accusation, but the Court of International Trade in 1982 did not. When, later, the international court did side with SC, Brother appealed.


While all this was going on, SC lost $8.8 million to the end of June 1981 and $11.6 million in 1982-83. In between, it had decided in June 1982 to close its 73-year-old Groton plant by the end of 1983 and move production from there to Singapore. Eventually, in July 1992, SC, having made 30 million typewriters in the US in 83 years, announced it would close its 420,000-square-foot Cortland plant and move remaining operations to Tijuana, Mexico. SC’s chief executive and chairman G. Lee Thompson said Cortland workers earned $20 an hour, Mexicans were paid $3 to $4 an hour. (When Coronas were first made in Groton, a work force of 11 was paid 15 cents an hour.)

SC made the shift south of the border in 1994 and completely shut down the Bennie Road site in 1998. This marked the end of typewriter making in America, which went back to 1873. Thompson blamed the George H.W. Bush administration’s trade policies, after it decided to veto a broad House of Representatives-approved bill which would have helped SC gain punitive customs duties on Japanese typewriters. Yet the US did not at that time charge tariffs on typewriters made in Mexico.   

Melbourne Age, May 16, 1983 
SC had announced in January 1973 it would spend $4 million on a new, fully integrated factory on eight acres of reclaimed land in Singapore. As in the case of the justification for the move to Mexico almost 20 years later, SC cited “Singapore’s cheap but relatively skilled labour”. A new range of the Electra (of which the S 301 is a later version) was to be made there – typewriters which didn’t use the cartridge ribbon. Meanwhile, SC persisted with its production at the old Salter factory in West Bromwich outside Birmingham in England, investing $1 million in new machinery but making significant job cuts. SC said the British plant would produce the Coronamatic with cartridge ribbon (introduced in the US in early 1973), with 80 per cent of output going overseas.

Typewriters on 'The Collectors' (2008)

As ozTypewriter approaches its final fortnight of being a regularly updated blog, I've been getting a bit nostalgic about happier typewriter days, days now sadly long gone by. One memorable event was my appearance on the ABC TV's national series The Collectors, filmed in Canberra and Hobart almost 14 years ago. Here are a few scenes from that programme, of which I have such fond recollections. Those were the days!

Monday, 23 May 2022

'That Titian of the Typewriter': RIP Roger Angell (1920-2022)


Roger Angell at a Royal typewriter during his time with the United States
Army Air Forces in World War II.

The last of the great sports writers is dead, at the age of 101. Roger Angell, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, was a baseball writer without equal. Angell, born in Manhattan on September 19, 1920, was the son of Katharine Sergeant Angell White, The New Yorker's first fiction editor, and the stepson of renowned essayist E. B. White. Angell died of congestive heart failure at his home in Manhattan last Friday.

Rob Steen, in Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport (2014) titled Angell "That Titian of the typewriter". Charles Maher of the Los Angeles Times, in reviewing Angell’s baseball book Five Seasons in 1977, wrote, “You may remember how those seasons [1972 to 1976] came out, but that’s not the same as seeing how they came out of Angell’s typewriter. Passing through the machine, baseball history emerges with an appealing new gloss.” Yet, for all that, I've only been able to find one photograph of Angell at a typewriter, and that was taken in his earliest writing days, when he was with the Seventh Air Force and typing a weekly column called "File 13" for the GI newsletter Brief while stationed in the Central Pacific during World War II. Most online references connecting Angell to typewriters are not about Angell's use of them, but White's, or John Updike's use of many typewriters, and Red Smith's battering of his typewriters.

I've elected here to use a fitting tribute to Angell written by my great friend Ron Palenski, of Dunedin in New Zealand. Ron is a brillant historian and author and himself a sports writer in his younger days. This is what he had to say: "Roger Angell, who wrote, like no one else, about baseball, died in New York on Friday, aged 101. To describe him as a baseball writer is to miss the point. He was one of the finest in putting English words on paper; the fact he wrote about baseball was to that sport’s great and lasting benefit. A reader could not know the game very well, not be aware of its traditions and its subtle attractions, but still be captured by Angell’s wondrous way with words. If we’re talking sportswriters of any time anywhere, he was one of the finest, if not the finest. And if we’re talking about users of the English language, he sits with the best."

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Lovely Ladies and Their Typewriters: A Galaxy of Random Photographs

Hazel Suttle (1911-1992)

Bessie Denny (1883-1975)

Anna Häberle (1905-1995)

Anna Durkin (1883-1966)

Annie Albers (centre, 1884-1973)

Lucy Faulkner (1905-1973)

Mattie Scrimgeour (1885-1973)

Carole Peterson (1934-2018)

Doris Mellors (centre, 1909-2007)

Edith Manning (1917-2010)

Estelle McConnell (1890-1976)

Frances Schmitz (Sister Charlotte, 1926-2006)

Hope Craig (1904-1978)

Jessie Cooper (centre, 1889-1985)

Joy Miller (1922-2002)

Laura Getschmann (1903-1984)


Lucy Zdenek (1924-1993)

Mabel Hudson (1892-1975)

Mattie Fassett (1883-1970)

Working for the Remington Typewriter Company, Ilion, New York.

Olga Kaidonova (1867-1953)

Pan Collins (1914-1992)

Peggy Bailey (right, 1927-1999)

Rachel Fardon (1921-2015)

Ruth Hewitt (1933-2001)

Ruth Renkel (1915-1983)

Sally Reese (1922-1992)

Stella Myers (1886-1976)

Vernal Taylor (1902-1960)

Ann Stackhouse (1931-2016)