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Tech Perdu: Frank D. Gilroy 


[Editor's introduction: Consider the dinosaur. Although it has not made the fern-bar scene or feasted on its fellow colossi since the late Cretaceous, it remains vital to the world’s imagination. As every kid, palaeontologist, and movie producer knows, there is something inherently lovable and enthralling about these vanished Gargantuas, as well as something that evokes pathos—when we contemplate their lost, lumbering grace, their great dignity and gravity, we often have the nagging sense that what has replaced them has not necessarily been for the better.

So, too, for the dinosaurs of communications technology. The digital gizmos that have made them obsolete have nothing of their charm, nobility, or romantic allure—at least not according to the seven writers assembled here, who offer bittersweet encomiums to the typewriter, the rotary phone and the phonebooth, letter-press printing, black-and-white photographs, 45rpm records, telexes and telegrams, and writing and receiving letters via good, old-fashioned snail mail. Read on, and be here then.]

Call me Luddite, sentimental, whatever. I’ll never part with my Royal Portable, purchased with crap game winnings on the troop ship home in May 1946.

Everything I’ve written (including this piece) has issued from her carriage. “Her” ever since we did a movie together in France, where machine a écrire is feminine, which, given our amorous connection, seemed appropriate.

We’ve shared swanky digs and the occasional fleabag (literally) from coast to coast and abroad.

We’ve worked at every Hollywood movie studio, where I resisted the lure of dictation to comely misses, ladies, women.

We’ve spent countless days and nights racing deadlines on innumerable plays, movies, TV scripts.
We’ve written for love and/or money.

We’ve known triumph and disaster, but our relationship has never faltered.

Encouraged to join the 20th century, I tried an electric typewriter. Accustomed to resting my fingers on the keys between inspirations, I found it upsetting that at the featheriest touch the electric machine began chattering. A machine that works faster than I do? No way.

Back to my darling, until the increasingly difficult quest for replacement parts and ribbons, plus mounting family harassment, prompted an effort to join the 21st century via computer.
It didn’t take.

I missed the sound of the Royal: the reassuring clack that meant something was being accomplished, if only effort. After so many years of looking down at the keys and words, I found looking up at the computer screen a pain requiring Advil.

Stuck keys, tattered ribbons, the visible dent in the space bar made by my thumb deepening, it’s me and ma belle machine a écrire to the end.

My wife transfers all I write to a computer. But that’s another story.


Playwright, screenwriter, and memoirist Frank Gilroy won the Pulitzer Prize for The Subject Was Roses. He wrote and directed four independent films, including Once in Paris and The Gig. His latest book is the memoir Writing for Love and/or Money.

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  • An ode to a familiar item from the pre-digital age: The typewriter.

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