In a first-of-its-kind exhibit that conjures up captivating tales of writing and history, 14 iconic typewriters once owned by John Lennon, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Kaczynski, and other celebrities and notable 20th-century figures are now on display at Northeastern’s Gallery 360. Over the years, the fingers of such visionary writers, Hollywood celebrities, and provocative newsmakers have graced these keys to type letters, song lyrics, screenplays, and more.
The exhibit, called “Celebrity Type” and running through Sept. 25, marks the East Coast premiere of the machines from collector Steven Soboroff, a Los Angeles civic and business leader. Located in Ell Hall, Gallery 360 is free and open to the public Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., during which time visitors can view and even touch the typewriters. Soboroff will attend the exhibit’s opening reception, which is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 5 from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
In today’s digitally connected world, the popularity of tablets and smartphones continues to soar. But these sleek and resourceful devices don’t transmit the charm and historical meaning of the typewriter—the oldest of which displayed in the exhibit dates back nearly 90 years.
Soboroff’s adoration for the typewriter continues to grow. Mobile devices, he acknowledged, “make life more efficient, faster, and easier to multitask.” Yet there’s an important lesson to be learned from an era when typewriters were paramount. “You didn’t have the ability to cut, paste, and delete like you can today on a computer,” he said. “So you were forced to slow down and think.”
Soboroff acquired his first typewriter in 2004 in New York City’s Sotheby’s auction room. He’d just sold a Sandy Koufax glove that the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher had worn while throwing a no-hitter in 1963. The item sold for higher than expected, and the next item up on the block was a typewriter used by Pulitzer Prize-winning sports journalist Jim Murray. An immense fan of Murray, Soboroff outbid the Dodgers and The Los Angeles Times for the item.
Soboroff has since amassed an impressive collection of rare pieces previously owned by the likes of acclaimed writers Ray Bradbury, John Updike, and Tennessee Williams and Hollywood icons Orson Welles and Julie Andrews. Other typewriters on display at Gallery 360 include those once owned by Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio, longtime 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney, and the controversial Jack Kevorkian.
What makes an item worthy of his pursuit? Soboroff has a simple rule of thumb. “It’s got to be someone who knocks your socks off,” he said.
Each piece in his collection has a rich and unique story, he explained. One played a prominent role in the Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford film The Way We Were. He said the “creepiest” typewriter he owns is that of Kaczynski, the man known as the “Unabomber”; the machine was one of three confiscated by the FBI during a raid of Kaczynski’s Montana cabin in 1996.
These are the stories that Soboroff, whose daughter attends Northeastern, is eager to share with visitors at the Sept. 5 opening reception—an event that will also feature a live performance by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.
Visit the Gallery 360 Facebook page for more information.