Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Manual Typewriter - Just My Type

John’s early portable Smith Corona has already starred in a former blog, but I felt the desire to revisit the topic, and to praise this machine from my own point of view.

Growing up, we had one typewriter in our house. It sufficed. My mother, who had been a secretary, was an excellent typist. The only other device with a keypad was a new push-button Princess phone.

I learned to type in high school on a portable typewriter in Ms. Lentz’s typing class. She would put on a Beatles record, and the class would tap along to the beat. I specifically recall flourishing to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” In those days (I am referring to the very early 1980s) we didn’t pick up the skill out of necessity to communicate efficiently with our friends via text or IM. Typing back then was an acquired and valued skill that could land a good typist a nice administrative job.

A few more thoughts about this universal icon with timeless appeal...

I think old typewriters are romantic. Movie set designers know this well, and use these bygone machines in period dramas or when depicting passionate, sentimental writer types. My vote for the most romantic use of an old-fashioned typewriter is in Baz Luhrmann’s "Moulin Rouge." The story takes place in early 1900s Paris, where a penniless Bohemian writer falls in love with a captivating yet terminally ill courtesan. Armed with an Underwood, the writer/poet taps out a love story, with plenty of internal struggle, in a light-filled dilapidated garret.

I think old typewriters can be a bit scary too. Screenwriters know this well, and have equipped some of the nastiest screen villains with them. Criminals have a notion that they are less likely to get caught if sending machine-made ransom notes or threats. In “The Jagged Edge” for example, lawyer Teddy Barnes is smitten with the man she is defending of murder until she discovers a Smith Corona hidden (not very well) in his closet. She quickly feeds the paper around the platen and types, “He is innocent.” The “t” is raised in exactly the same manner as the “t” in the anonymous typed notes she has been receiving throughout the trial. Teddy takes the machine, makes a speedy exit, and later despairingly tells her deceitful and murderous lover, “I found the typewriter.”

I think there’s always a way to recycle cool old things like typewriter parts. Jewelry designers know this well, and repurpose the graphic keys to make stylish bracelets, earrings, cufflinks, and pendants. I have a bracelet that reads “edit.” A close friend of mine who is an Adjunct Professor, clinical psychotherapist, and appreciator of the past has a set of typewriter key earrings. When she bought the pair, it brought her back 50 years. In Professor Deborah Grayson’s own words:

“I used to love the sound of the clicking and tapping of the ‘stadium seating’ keys on the vintage, black Remington of the 1960's as my Mom would masterfully type out our term papers in high school- zing! zing! zing! All of the sounds of the keys tap dancing were sheer music, especially the zip, zip, zip of the paper carriage moving the words up and out of the typewriter. I can only imagine how she would've tweeted, blogged or texted! She was fast. I remember that in those days, she typed 180 words per minute. I love keeping those memories close...”

(this last photo was taken by me while watching "Moulin Rouge" for the 87th time.)


BBat50 said...

Typewriters as scary? I guess I haven't watched the right films.

I'm thinking of installing the app so that my computer sounds like a typewriter.

Jane Dagmi said...

Perhaps scary isn't quite the right word. but in the hands of a maniacal screen villain, a typewriter can be used as a tool of deception. But alas, with all that finger tapping, hence fingerprints, it can also be the biggest crime buster.