Close-up of typewriter keys

Typewriter Tuesday: Orson Welles

For today’s Typewriter Tuesday we’re taking a look at the 1926 Underwood 4-Bank and its creative dynamo of an owner, Orson Welles. This typewriter is one of many on loan from the collection of Steve Soboroff. You can see this machine and more on display in our special exhibit Tools of the Trade, open now.

The typewriter used by Orson Welles now on display at the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
Orson Welles’s typewriter on display at the American Writers Museum.

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

With no shortage of personality, opinion, creativity, and desires, Orson Welles’ larger than life character truly defies a straightforward or concise synopsis. Nonetheless, in following his own advice — “the enemy of art is the absence of limitations” — we can begin to examine and appreciate Welles’ storied career by showcasing the tool that proved central to his plethora of famed works: his 1926 Underwood 4-Bank.

The typewriter used by Orson Welles now on display at the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
See this typewriter and more in our Tools of the Trade exhibit.

An actor, magician, writer, director, and producer, Welles rarely remained stagnant in both his creative processes and personal endeavors. After a young adulthood that included international travel, impromptu theatrical auditions, Broadway star realization, and impressive writing accolades, Welles first gained mainstream fame by terrorizing the nation with the infamous radio broadcast The War of the Worlds.

After riding this momentum westward to a Hollywood deal, Welles wrote, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane, a film largely considered one of the greatest of all-time. Following up on this success with later films The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, and F for Fake, Welles became notorious for employing unusual albeit revolutionary mise-en-scene, lighting, and narrative forms. Indeed, Welles left his fingerprints all over both the cinematic and literary worlds, and his trusted Underwood.

The typewriter used by Orson Welles now on display at the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
Signature Orson Welles left on his trusty Underwood, now on display.

“Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.”

While his typewriter was sturdy and ‘Standard’, Welles’ adult life was perhaps just as fantastic as the tales he curated. Balancing his international cinematic and television fame with constant movement, three marriages, Treasury Department Campaigns, mind reading, illustration, sketch comedy, magic and more, Welles only added to his both literal and figurative larger than life persona. He followed no blueprint, and refused to settle. On the typewriter’s case, displayed at the Museum as well, is written one of his many addresses, this his residence in Paris.

The typewriter used by Orson Welles now on display at the American Writers Museum in Chicago.
Typewriter case with one of Orson Welles’ Paris addresses on it…road trip?

Through his ample projects, Welles befriended and influenced a great number of writers, actors, actresses, directors, and viewers alike. He has been described as a “magnificent figure of a man,” and received an Academy Award for “superlative and distinguished service in the making of motion pictures.” Said Welles himself, “A writer needs a pen, an artist needs a brush, but a filmmaker needs an army.”

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

A creative dynamo, Welles literally carried his unwavering passion for writing to the grave. The day after engaging in rare nostalgic discourse on the Merv Griffin Show, shortly before a planned shoot for yet another project, Orson Welles was found dead at 70 years old, just hours after one final session on his typewriter. The instrument that had brought a lifetime of art to fruition had remained Welles’ final companion in his waning hours.

The typewriter used by Orson Welles now on display at the American Writers Museum in Chicago.

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.


2 thoughts on “Typewriter Tuesday: Orson Welles

  1. Steve Mcgarry says:

    My mum worked for Taylor’s typewriter company in Chantry land … she sold this typewriter to Orson Wells when he came into the shop in the 50’s

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