Tom Hanks And Typewriters: A Love Story

Jan 27, 2017

Tom Hanks has two Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a bit of a typewriter obsession.

The click of the keys. The ding of the margin bell. The charming beauty of writing a message that Hanks says “can never be hacked by the forces of evil.” He loves it all.

So when we put the Academy Award-winning actor in front of a pre-WWII Underwood Champion to talk about his documented enthusiasm for typewriters, he gave Nerdette hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen an impromptu master class on the machines he calls “self-contained printing presses with which you can change the world.”

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Tom on falling in love with typewriters

Well, it started with a free typewriter. My good friend got a brand new Olivetti electronic typewriter and he had this typewriter that he gave to me as his spare. And there was one class in high school that my father insisted I take, which was typing. I don’t think my dad was sure where my high school actually was in the city, but he did say “You’re gonna take typing because that’s a skill you'll use for the rest of your life!” And he was absolutely right. I took a semester of typing, but I did not have a typewriter. And when my friend D.J. gave me his, well then there it was. And I pounded that thing for the better part of five years until it was no longer operating to its maximum.

Tom on upgrading to a Hermes 2000

What I did not realize is that he had given me a really junky, worthless 1970s era machine. And I found this out when I took it to get serviced in Cleveland, Ohio. I walked into a business machine store and there was an old fellow -- I’m gonna say he was German or Slavic or Polish. He had a bit of an accent and he said: “How can I help you, young man?” And I said “I’d like to get my typewriter serviced. It’s got problems with it.” And he said: “Young man, I will not touch this.” And he explained to me that I was in possession of a toy. It was a thing that looked like a typewriter but it was made of plastic. It was a hunk of junk. It was badly designed, poorly manufactured. And then he showed me a wall of his portable typewriters and I ended up walking out of his store with a Hermes 2000 which he sold me for $45. And alas, that typewriter succumbed to a lot of movement and kids who destroyed it and I don’t know where it is now, but I have the same machine. 

Tom on the mechanical genius of the typewriter

What you have there is essentially a word processing machine that you can use every day, that you will never lose the data, and can never be hacked by the forces of evil. And all you have to remember to do is put what you type into an envelope, or hand it over to the people you love, or stick it in the mail. And that’s also assuming that the Post Office remains in existence for a while…

This keyboard right here -- which does not have that many keys on it -- is all you need to recreate everything from Ulysses to the screenplay of The Matrix. This thing is bulletproof. Nigh on indestructible. In fact, if you wanted to murder somebody, you would tape this to their hands and throw them into the pool and they would rest down to the bottom. This thing will drown you. But! The main thing is, all you need to make this thing last forever is a little oil, the ability to either get the ribbons or re-ink them yourself -- which you can do very easily by going onto the internet and ask “How to I re-ink a typewriter ribbon” -- and there you go. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click ‘Play’ above to listen to the full episode.