For today’s Typewriter Tuesday we’re taking a look at Gore Vidal’s 1978 Smith-Corona Classic 12, on loan from the collection of Steve Soboroff. You can see this typewriter on display in our special exhibit Tools of the Trade, open now.
“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.”
Gore Vidal’s 1978 Smith-Corona Classic 12, pictured above, once lived on a desk facing the coast of Italy in a house full of 8,000 books. Vidal bought stately mansions to suit his books, where he could work in seclusion and still play host to an illustrious social circle of celebrities and political figures — Vidal himself wrote several screenplays and twice ran for office, although he lost both times. This typewriter, which he owned well into his career, billed itself as “the world’s most advanced standard portable typewriter.” It’s notable for its extreme customizability, including adjustable line spacing and touch selector, a tabulator, and a patented half-spacing feature for fixing typos.
Vidal was born in West Point, NY, the grandson of a senator and the son of a military aviation pioneer, and began writing as soon as he could read. He wrote his first novel at age seven, declined a Harvard acceptance and joined the army at 17, and published his first book, Williwaw, at 19. Over the course of his career, he would write some 50 books — fiction, non-fiction, and essays — as well as a handful of stage- and screenplays. After his first three novels, controversial for their depictions of homosexuality, Vidal wrote a series of pulp detective stories under pseudonyms, and eventually turned to novels about the satirical and the historical (now under his own name).
Still, we usually know Gore Vidal as an essayist. Even without a college degree, he was incredibly well-read and wrote about anything and everything: politics, history, sexuality, literature, sociology — he has said that “there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
His personal life was equally remarkable. There were public legal feuds with notable authors, including Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, there was possibly an affair with Anais Nin, and there was his 53 year relationship with partner Howard Austen, with whom he remained completely chaste. Vidal became a pop-culture icon, a man of endless mystique, but he never stopped writing, and preferred typewriters or pen and paper until the end.
“Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”
Gore Vidal believed himself to be the last of a dying breed, that “no one reads novels anymore,” and didn’t “see the situation improving.” But still he wrote for an audience whose existence he doubted, and when asked why, he said “the novels I write weren’t written beforehand, I guess.” We’re personally very glad he kept at it, and are thrilled to have this remarkable man’s typewriter on display.
Thank you for reading Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about these trusty machines and the writers who used them. Our newest special exhibit Tools of the Trade, which opened June 22, 2019, features more than a dozen typewriters, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers.