Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Jack London, Ray Bradbury, John Lennon and even Helen Keller’s braille machine – those are just a few of the authors’ typewriters on exhibit in “Tools Of Trade” at the American Writers Museum, running through June 2020. Who knew there was a collector’s market for antique typewriters? Actor Tom Hanks has over 250 of them, and claims to type every day. There are a surprising number of writers who prefer to work on typewriters, indestructible manuals in particular. I completely understand, there being a magical musical rhythm to the sound of those keys clacking away, and for someone working in retro era crime fiction like myself, it’d be a perfect fit. But, being one of those for whom ‘writing-is-rewriting’, I’ll have to stick with switching back and forth between my desktop and my laptop, Apple gear, MSWord software, hyper-speed two-fingered tap dancing across the keys.
We have a typewriter at the day job. No weighty metal Royal, it’s just one of those grey plastic blobs from a big box office supply store. Still, it amuses me to see new hires with the ink still wet on their design diplomas ogle the thing like it’s an alien artifact. The intricacies of Adobe Illustrator and InDesign don’t intimidate them. Typing a 3×5 mailing label or No. 10 envelope on a typewriter does. Go figure.
The American Writers Museum (link below) is just up the street from Millennium Park and The Chicago Cultural Center, which used to be the main Chicago Public Library. Crime film fans have seen that building in Brian DePalma’s 1987 The Untouchables, standing in for a courthouse and a convenient rooftop for Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness to toss Billy Drago’s Frank Nitti off the roof. Well, no one said that film cared much about historical accuracy.
Photos: Freja Beha Erichsen by Paolo Roversi, Perry Mason 1958 paperback with a Rudy Garcia cover, America Writers Museum photos from the AWM site.