Sun, Jun 02, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Typewriter aficionados in US rewrite history, slowly

In a digital, Internet-connected world, not only are typewriters not disappearing, there is a surge of demand for old machines to be repaired and brought back to life

By Leila Macor  /  AFP, LOS ANGELES

Ermanno Marzorati, owner of Star Office Machines, poses with an old typewriter in his shop in Los Angeles, California on May 3. The 68-year-old Italian has restored typewriters belonging to Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond), Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and John Lennon.

Photo: AFP

Ermanno Marzorati has rarely been so busy. He is currently fixing a 1930 Underwood typewriter for Tom Hanks. However, there are plenty more ancient writing machines awaiting his tender care.

While the modern world taps away in an ever-increasing frenzy online, the Italian senses a new trend, from his calm Beverly Hills studio in California: the return of the art of slow writing.

Marzorati has restored typewriters belonging to Ian Fleming, Tennessee Williams, Jack London, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, as well as celebrities like Julie Andrews, Greta Garbo and John Lennon.

He proudly shows photographs of some of his best work, including an orange-colored Underwood machine dating from 1926, on which Orson Welles wrote Citizen Kane. It was totally destroyed when he got it.

“To me the typewriter is better than the computer, not because I’m old-fashioned, but because it slows you down. You have to choose the words carefully because you cannot correct,” he said. “It takes a long time to press the key.”

Collector Steve Soboroff says typewriters, unlike computer keyboards, have an intimate relationship with their owners.

“I just love the idea of authors, famous people, would spend hours of their lives on these typewriters, so they are very personal. And there’s only one of them, is not like there are hundreds of them,” he said.

“There’s only one for each,” added the biggest customer of Marzorati, whose studio is full of old printing machines, typewriters and mechanical calculators.

Occasionally Hanks tweets photographs of the vintage typewriters that Marzorati restored in his own collection.

Marzorati has a shelf dedicated to his most famous client, and he currently holds 12 machines belonging to the Forrest Gump star.

In all, the talkative Italian has about 60 machines waiting to be fixed — an enormous number compared with a few years ago. “I’m booked up for six months,” said the 68-year-old, who started repairing typewriters in 2003.

“Collectors are the exception. Most of the people I fix typewriters for are people who are going to use it,” said Marzorati, who was born in Italy in 1945 and moved to Los Angeles in 1969.

“I feel people, honestly, are getting fed up because all these iPhones, all these electronics, they like to get back to the basics,” he said.

However, the obvious question is, why would someone in the 21st century want to type on a heavy and difficult-to-use mechanical device, without the possibility of cutting, pasting, erasing or copying?

Marzorati said the advantages of computers are overrated.

“Writing on a computer is very distracting, because you get e-mail coming in, you type a word, you delete it, you change it, you get stuck,” he said.

His view is echoed by Christopher Lockett, who regularly takes his 1950 Hermes Baby typewriter with him to write in the open air in LA’s Griffith Park, next to the hipster Los Feliz district.

“There are no text windows in blue popping up, you can’t play music on it,” he said. “I shut off my iPhone, I take my typewriter and sit and I don’t worry about the typos, I keep moving forward, and I go dah dah dah dah ding!”

He compares the experience of using a typewriter to riding a bicycle.

“It’s an alternative to the most efficient way of doing something, it’s about enjoying the ride, and nobody gets angry about the notion of a bicycle. But people are like ‘typewriters are impractical,’” he said. “Well, so is a bicycle and people are still making bicycles and it’s not an issue.”

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