Welcome to 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 next special exhibit Tools of the Trade, opening June 2019, features more than a dozen typewriters on loan from Steve Soboroff’s impressive collection, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Today, we take a closer look at John Lennon’s 1951 Imperial.
But wait! John Lennon is not American, you say, he’s British! To which we say, yes, it is true he was born in Liverpool in 1940. However, it is also true that in the early 1970s he applied for permanent U.S. residency and was denied for political reasons before finally being granted permanent-resident status in 1976. He tragically was assassinated four years later, dying of a gunshot wound at the age of 40.
Lennon’s time in America and his fight for citizenship had an indelible impact on American culture and writing, which is part of the reason we decided to include his typewriter in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit. His 1951 Imperial, pictured above, dates all the way back to the pre-Beatles days in Liverpool, when Lennon was a young boy just trying to find himself and make sense of the world. He lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, who both encouraged his creative pursuits by supplying him with the necessary tools. Lennon’s friend and future bandmate Paul McCartney recalls from that time:
“I used to go round to Aunt Mimi’s house and John would be at the typewriter, which was fairly unusual in Liverpool. None of my mates even know what a typewriter was.”
Luckily for the world, Lennon did know what a typewriter was and likely used this very typewriter to write early lyrics for his band the Quarrymen, the precursor to the Beatles. Picture a young, teenage John Lennon sitting down at this typewriter — a boy with no idea of where his life was headed and certainly no idea of the worldwide icon he would become. In short, John Lennon wrote at this typewriter before he was John Lennon.
Then the Beatles happened. The rest is, as they say, history, albeit a history and cultural movement largely defined by the Beatles. After the Beatles broke up in 1969, Lennon’s star never diminished and he became an outspoken peace activist, which did not help in his pursuit of U.S. citizenship. Lennon’s immigration attorney Leon Wildes said that Senator Strom Thurmond wrote to President Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell expressing concerns about Lennon’s status as a peace symbol. It was the prevailing notion that Lennon could use his star power and anti-war stance to change the tide of public opinion and hurt U.S. efforts in the Vietnam War.
Which is why it was so difficult for Lennon to achieve permanent-resident status. Ostensibly, the reason Lennon was not granted U.S. citizenship was because of a 1968 conviction in England for unlawful possession of cannabis resin police found in his apartment. But with a talented team of attorneys and character testimonies from prominent names such as Gloria Swanson and Norman Mailer, after a long, public trial, Lennon eventually won the fight and was granted permanent-resident status. In this sense, perhaps more so than in others, Lennon’s immigration battle and his fight for acceptance in this country is as American as they come. This struggle to become American is a struggle that remains all too prevalent.
Tools of the Trade is sponsored in part by the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation. Additional sponsorship opportunities are also available for this exhibit. If you would like to support Tools of the Trade, and receive recognition and benefits in association with this exhibit, please contact Linda Dunlavy, Development Director at 312-374-8762 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.