September 12, 2008

Spies, Alger Hiss, and the Literati

Martin Tytell died today. According to his NY Times obit, he was the master of typewriters. His knowledge and familiarity with the machines was so great that he was hired by the US military to convert Siamese typewriters into American typewriters during the manufacturing shortages of WW II, he was hired by the lawyers of Alger Hiss to prove that typewriter print was reproducible on different machines , and he was a friend of American writers who hired him to keep their machines working.

Mr. Tytell was proud of the rarity of his expertise, and relished the eccentric nature of his business. “We don’t get normal people here,” he said of his shop. And he was aware that his connection to the typewriter bordered on love.

“I’m 83 years old and I just signed a 10-year lease on this office; I’m an optimist, obviously,” Mr. Tytell told the writer Ian Frazier in a 1997 article in The Atlantic Monthly, commenting on the likelihood that typewriters weren’t going to last in the world much longer. “I hope they do survive — manual typewriters are where my heart is. They’re what keep me alive.”
It's amazing how many doors the typewriter afforded to Mr. Tytell. The moral of the story: if you do one thing, do it well, and become the best in the world.

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