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Mudville: February 23, 2024 6:21 am PDT

Typewriter Stories

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Typewriters were the machines that wrote the stories.

Turns out they can tell stories too.

No one tells a better typewriter story than Steve Soboroff, owner of the greatest collection of typewriters that belonged to cultural icons, including legendary sportswriter Jim Murray.

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The Murray typewriter was purchased from Jim’s wife in 2005 and that typewriter was the inspiration for buying other typewriters belonging to everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Andy Rooney to Jack London to John Updike to Hugh Hefner to Shirley Temple to Joe DiMaggio to even the typewriter Barbara Streisand’s character gave Robert Redford in “The Way We Were’’,a 1939 Corona Standard.

Hefner’s typewriter is a 1962 Royal Empress that the Playboy founder used in his research, and there is a photo of Hefner smoking his pipe, typing away. Jack London’s 1902 Bar-Lock No. 10 had separate keys for upper and lower case letters. To type an exclamation point, London would first type a period and then land a capital “I’’ above it.

There is the Unabomber’s typewriter too; Ted Kaczynski owned a 1968 Montgomery Ward Signature Portable 440T.

Hugh Hefner at work on his Royal Empress.

Like keys on a typewriter, the collection goes from “A’’ to “Z.’’

Six of Soboroff’s typewriters are in the Smithsonian, but the other 33 are being auctioned. The World’s Greatest Typewriter collection can be found at Heritage Auctions until December 15th. Here is the link to the Historical Platinum Session Signature Auction:

https://historical.ha.com/c/auction-home.zx?saleNo=6280

It is truly an amazing collection and if you go to the link’s search bar and type in typewriters, the entire Soboroff Collection can be viewed.

“Jim Murray’s typewriter is far and away the least known typewriter in my collection, but it was the first,’’ Soboroff told BallNine this week. “I had just sold a glove that Sandy Koufax wore and I got much more than I thought, so up comes the Jim Murray typewriter and I had to outbid the Dodgers and the LA Times, but their reps had limits of what they would pay without having to call somebody else. I’m sitting there with Vegas money. I got his glasses, too. I got this big painting of him which I gave to the LA Times Sports Department. The typewriter came with his engraved LA Times letterhead and all his cards. Murray was everything. He was as important to the team as Koufax and (Don) Drysdale.’’

Soboroff owned 39 typewriters but donated the magic six to the Smithsonian, including John Lennon’s typewriter. Other typewriters that went to the Smithsonian belonged to DiMaggio, Orson Wells, Maya Angelou, Elia Kazan, and Superman creator Jerry Siegel.

“I want the aura,’’ Soboroff said of the reason for building his incredible collection that includes a 1970 Perkins Brailler that belonged to Andrea Bocelli.

Perhaps it was because I had red hair but Red Smith indulged me. He smiled and answered, “Kid, just put your fingers on the keys and let your wrists bleed.’’

“When you are touching those keys I want you to feel like you are them. Bocelli and Ernest Hemingway and Harold Robbins, they wrote things on those typewriters,’’ Soboroff said. “The typewriter was part of their body and you can feel it when you sit down at their typewriters. The whole thing is based on emotion. Each one of these have remarkable stories and I want these to be continued to be celebrated; but frankly packing up 33 typewriters, and you have to use this company that does all the Disney artifacts, and shipping them to museums and insuring them, and then taking them back. Hey man, I’m 75 years old, so I figured if I put them in the hands of people under the condition that they would take press calls and celebrate the typewriter, it would be better for the typewriters too.’’

Essentially, he is putting up his prized typewriters for adoption.

“I wrote a letter to each of them and I delivered it to Dallas yesterday so whoever gets the typewriters is going to get a letter from me,’’ Soboroff said. “It’s going to talk about that typewriter and what my hopes are. Congratulations, you got a part of American, really worldwide, history here … It’s an emotional thing for me.’’

Being a longtime baseball writer, I met Jim Murray a number of times at Dodger Stadium and idolized his writing, so this collection holds special meaning to me as well. This is much more than a sports story. When I started in the business, I actually used a typewriter to write my stories. The clickety-clack sound of keys stroking paper remains a glorious newspaper sound, for generations the heartbeat of the newsroom and the press box.

I originally worked on a portable Underwood-Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter and remain a proud owner of the sturdy little green machine with carrying case. It looks exactly like a typewriter in the Soboroff Collection, Philip Roth’s, which is a 1972 Lettera 32. Art Buchwald had the same model, the 1965 version. My typewriter is in a hallowed spot in my writing room. Every once in a while I will hit those keys to just hear that sound and be transported to another place in time before soulless computers, laptops, iPads, and phones took over the business of writing a story.

A blast from the past: This is how Kevin Kernan first started writing stories, a portable typewriter. (Photo courtesy Kevin Kernan)

As a young, inquisitive writer I remember sitting with legendary sportswriter Red Smith one day and asking him: “How do you write a great story?”

Perhaps it was because I had red hair but Red Smith indulged me. He smiled and answered, “Kid, just put your fingers on the keys and let your wrists bleed.’’

Pour your heart and soul into the story, into the machine.

That is exactly what Steve Soboroff has done with his collection.

His family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles when he was a junior in high school and Soboroff for the next two years went to every Dodger home game. Back in Chicago he fell in love with the Dodgers because his father had built him a short wave radio. He was able to listen to Dodger games. Then, whenever the Dodgers came to Wrigley Field or Milwaukee to play the Cubs and Braves, Soboroff would go to those games.

When he moved to LA, he devoured Murray’s Pulitzer Prize winning words in the LA Times. So when Murray’s 1940 Remington Model J typewriter came up for sale in 2005, Soboroff jumped on it. Soboroff knows how to get a deal done. He is an LA-based businessman, philanthropist, and civic leader who was a driving force in the building and development of the Staples Center, bringing the Kings, Clippers, and Lakers there. He just completed 10 years as president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. He told me that the men and women who make up the force have such a difficult job: “We had four million calls for service last year and our guys shot their guns 32 times… When you see a cop in your neighborhood say hello, and say thanks for your service. They need to be humanized.’’

As a teenager, Soboroff figured out a unique way to see Dodgers games. “And I never had a ticket,’’ he told me proudly. “I would stand where the rich people parked and I figured if three people got out of a car they had four tickets. And I’d ask for a ticket. Half the games I would be sitting in the first eight rows and the other half I would just buy a ticket for the bleachers.’’

Rihanna and Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff attend an NBA playoff game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on May 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images)

He saw it all. A perfect game by Sandy. He was quoted in Jane Leavy’s tremendous book: Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.

“I thought Sandy was so cool and he was a Jewish guy,’’ Soboroff said.

Soboroff briefly wound up as Vice Chairman of the Dodgers in 2011 in the wild and sad Frank McCourt era, but that’s a story for another day.

He wants each of his typewriters to go to a good home where they will be respected and revered and the new owners will share the stories of the typewriters. Some of the proceeds of the auction will be donated to the Jim Murray Foundation, which gives scholarships to journalism students.

Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, 007, paid $5,000 to type on the John Lennon typewriter, a 1932 Imperial Model T typewriter that Lennon used for some of his earliest songwriting. “I raised a couple of hundred thousand dollars for the Murray Foundation over the years that way,’’ Soboroff said of bringing those typewriters to life again.

Sometimes you get more than you bargained for, like in the Joe DiMaggio typewriter, a 1934 Smith-Corona that DiMaggio purchased in 1954.

“The typewriter rattled so I took it apart and DiMaggio had cut up his credit card and threw it in there to hide it. I Scotch taped the card back together, that’s part of the auction,’’ Soboroff said. He purchased Truman Capote’s 1961 Smith-Corona Electra 110 typewriter from Johnny Carson’s second wife, Joanne. She would keep a writing room in LA for Capote at their home.

In Hemingway’s typewriter, a 1926 Underwood Standard, Soboroff found photo negatives that he originally thought were strips of aged bacon. Turned out be negatives from when Hemingway was a child.

Soboroff has gone to great lengths to make a typewriter deal. When he found out one night that Andy Rooney’s Underwood No. 5 was going to be sold in a Rooney family garage sale the next day in Norwalk, Ct. he went to the chamber of commerce page and looked up the realtors, knowing that it was late at night back east, and also knowing realtors always pick up the phone, and hooked up with one, who just happened to live three doors down from the Rooney household.

Yes, Divine Intervention.

Andy Rooney's 1929 Underwood No. 5. (Image via HeritageAuctions.com)

It gets better. This realtor was retired CIA.

There was a 400-deep line in the front yard the next morning to get into the house, and Soboroff told his man, “Hey, you were in the CIA, just get in the house.’’

His man did just that, going through the back, and wound up giving $5,000 on the spot for the typewriter that was offered at a starting bid of $500.

Mission accomplished. But there’s more.

An hour later CBS lawyers called, wanting the typewriter. CBS was willing to pay $125,000. Soboroff turned them down, knowing that CBS owned the typewriter that was in Rooney’s New York office. Soboroff owned the typewriter from Rooney’s home office. The stories it could tell about the curmudgeon, but beloved, writer. More than 60 Minutes’ worth.

Soboroff purchased Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s typewriter from the FBI with part of the proceeds going to the victims and their families.

After working with the LA police department for a decade, Soboroff knows how important it is to verify each purchase. Through the years the collection would rotate to different museums, universities, and exhibits.

“I wanted them to tour,’’ Soboroff explained. “The reason people would sell them to me from the families, I would bug them for years. ‘Hey, you are leaving that in the closet, what does that say about Jerry Siegel who invented Superman, I celebrated it. I will get it all over the country.’ ’’

The John Lennon typewriter came from Lennon’s aunt. Soboroff casually added, “Yoko wanted it.’’

Yoko didn’t get it, Soboroff did.

He loves that the typewriters sent to the Smithsonian are in exhibits and that “8,000 people a day are walking by these things.’’

They were appraised at $1.5 million.

When he put his collection on display at the Paley Center for Media in New York, it was such a hit that a four-week exhibition turned into 14 months. Included in the collection is Bing Crosby’s 1925 Corona No. 3. Crosby was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates for decades.

“I didn’t think I deserved to own those typewriters,’’ Soboroff told me of the Smithsonian typewriters. “In other words, sometimes something happens that is bigger than you and those typewriters belong to America, not to me. I also thought that those typewriters would shine a light on the rest of the collection, which it did. It was named the finest typewriter collection in the world.’’

The Jim Murray typewriter spent some time in the Vin Scully broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, where writers could come by and type a page and in doing so make contributions to the Murray Scholarship fund.

Soboroff has always been the caretaker so others could enjoy the collection.

As for his beloved Koufax, who possessed the Left Hand of God, I have a small typewriter story myself. When I worked in San Diego, the great sportswriter Phil Collier was still writing baseball. He began covering the Dodgers in 1958 when they moved west. One night Phil told me his Koufax retirement story. Sandy and Phil were good friends and Sandy wanted Phil to have the retirement story, so Sandy gave him his quotes on why he retired.

But there was a catch. Sandy was not yet ready to retire and continued to pitch for another year.

Phil, who died in 2001, dutifully wrote up the story, and carried the typed press ready pages in his portable typewriter case until one day, Sandy called him and told Phil: “It’s time, Phil. Run the story.’’

Collier immediately filed the ready to go retirement story that he had carried in his typewriter case. I only wish I had the hard copy from that story. Phil Collier was a gem. Hopefully, his family still has his typewriter.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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